The Manitoba Electrical Museum & Education Centre: Celebrating 20 Years
Updated: Jun 15
2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the Manitoba Electrical Museum & Education Centre (MEMEC). The MEMEC was established in 2001 to present the history of electrical development in Manitoba and to educate visitors about new and emerging energy technologies, energy conservation, and sustainability. Exhibits showcase electricity from when it was first introduced in the 1870s up to the present day, while also teaching about the safe use of electricity and how electrical energy works. The exhibits feature a replica c. 1909 Winnipeg streetcar, a recreated 1940s farm kitchen, a robot made of appliances, and many interactive displays.
The Museum has its origins in the Historical Interest Committee, which was formed in the 1970s by a group of Manitoba Hydro employees. The Committee was formed because they saw a need to collect artifacts, archival papers, and photographs that told the story of electricity in Manitoba as well as the corporate history of Manitoba Hydro. The Committee started a collection and built a mobile exhibit, taking it to events around the province, but identified a need for a facility that could house permanent exhibits and provide educational programming. The Historical Interest Committee eventually evolved into the Manitoba Electrical Museum Inc., and was incorporated in December of 1999. A converted Manitoba Hydro electrical substation at 680 Harrow St. was obtained and is still the home of the MEMEC today.
The MEMEC has been able to operate since its establishment thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers, made up mostly of retired Manitoba Hydro employees, who contribute to providing tours, serving on the Museum’s board, and maintaining and refurbishing the collection of over 4000 objects. The collection consists of objects, ranging from industrial pieces to small appliances, and memorabilia as well as a large collection of photographs and archival material. The collection also contains three cars: a 1936 International Harvester Gas Utility truck, a 1952 Hydro Stake body truck, and a 1976 Renault Electric Car. Volunteers restore, maintain, and operate these cars and showcase them at off-site events and parades throughout the province.
Since the Museum’s opening in 2001 it has welcomed over 115,000 visitors. The MEMEC plays an essential role in Winnipeg and Manitoba’s museum community being the only museum in Manitoba dedicated to electricity. It has been a destination for many school and community groups over the years and has attracted visitors from around the world. The MEMEC has also participated in many off-site events both in Winnipeg such as the Santa Clause Parade, Red River Heritage Fair, and Kids Fringe Festival, as well as events throughout the province, attending the Royal Winter Fair in Brandon, the Threshermen’s Reunion in Austin, and the Roland Pumpkin Fair. By attending these events MEMEC has been able to reach thousands of people who may not have the opportunity to visit the museum.
The MEMEC has put on many in-house events over the years, but the most well-known is All That Glows: Then and Now, an annual display showcasing electrical holiday lighting and decorations from 1882 to the present. The event was introduced in 2005 and has since grown to include both indoor and outdoor displays. The Museum collaborates with a local radio station to broadcast a synchronized radio show that accompanies the outdoor light display in front of the museum. All That Glows attracts thousands of visitors ready to get into the holiday spirit every year.
Over the years the Museum’s exhibits have received a number of updates and refreshments. Information has been updated as technology and statistics evolve and interactive components have been added to displays as well. In 2005 Honouring the Veterans, a small display honouring the Manitoba Electrical, Gas and Transit employees that had served in World War I and II, and the Pole Dwellers, an exhibit acknowledging the line crews who brought electricity to farms in rural Manitoba, were installed. Legends of Electricity, which highlights 10 significant contributors to electricity, was installed in 2007. In 2008 an operating scale model of a wind turbine was installed. A self-guided audio tour was introduced in 2010 to further expand the visitor experience.
In addition to producing its own exhibits, the MEMEC has collaborated with other museums on events and exhibits. The first was Powering Up Rural Manitoba in 2004, which told the story of rural and farm electrification, in coordination with the Virtual Museum of Canada. With Dufresne Furniture the MEMEC held the ‘Oldest Refrigerator Contest’ in 2006 to search for the oldest working refrigerator in Manitoba. The contest was won by Robert Arbuckle of Souris who entered a 1927 General Electric refrigerator, which is still on display at the MEMEC. In 2007 MEMEC worked with the New Iceland Heritage Museum in Gimli to produce Power Up on Electrical History. The exhibit highlighted electrical development in Manitoba and the role Manitoba Hydro plays in the community and featured artifacts from both museums. The MEMEC collaborated with the St. Boniface Museum in 2009 to produce Power for the People: The Social Impact of Electricity on Everyday Life in Manitoba, which showcased early electrical artifacts in the home, outside the home, and in the community.
Presently, the Museum continues to grow and evolve. In 2019 MEMEC had to relocate its entire collection as the facilities where the collection was then stored were being repurposed by Manitoba Hydro. The move of over 4000 objects was completed entirely by the volunteer Shops Group, earning them an Award of Excellence from the Association of Manitoba Museums. The collection is now housed in two buildings, one just down the street from the MEMEC and an off-site warehouse.
Currently, a new exhibit on sustainable development is in the process of being installed. Since 2019 the MEMEC has been working on designing a new exhibit, that will encompass the lower level of the Museum. Sustainable Development: Caring for Our Common Future will explore how the energy we use and produce impacts sustainable development of the earth’s natural resources, with a focus on indigenous and environmental stewardship. The exhibit has a tentative launch date of September, 2021.
As the MEMEC looks into the next 20 years, more projects are on the horizon. The storage building located down the street from the Museum at 720 Harrow St. will be turned into a ‘Museum Annex.’ The building will open to the public and volunteers will offer specialized tours showing the storage methods of the museum as well as artefacts that are not displayed frequently. This is still in the planning stages and will likely open once the pandemic is over.
Since its opening in 2001 the Manitoba Electrical Museum & Education Centre has been able to reach hundreds of thousands of people, creating memorable experiences for students, volunteers, and visitors. The Museum and its exhibits have evolved over the years changing along with electrical technology, but the mission is the same, to educate visitors about the history and development of electricity in Manitoba.