Economuseum network from Quebec

Jan 30, 2017

Created in 1992 by M. Cyril Simard, Ph.D., the stated mission of the ÉCONOMUSÉE Network is to conserve, develop and present traditional trades, and to set up a country-wide network in order to provide the public with a high quality cultural tourism product There are now three economuseum networks in Canada –in Quebec, in Atlantic Canada, and in British Columbia (there is also one member museum in Saskatchewan). The economuseum network in Quebec comprises 13 regions (with a tourism circuit) and 33 members, the Atlantic network is spread over all four provinces, although most of the 8 economuseums in the region are in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The economuseum network in British Columbia is the newest in Canada, and currently consists of 4 members, with more to come.  Bildspel-1

In Europe, the Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme (NPA) program of economuseums was funded by the European Union from 2008-2011. The project was renewed in 2014 until 2020, and includes museums in the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Northern Ireland.

Economuseums are a relatively new form of economic development for museums in North America.  My objective on this summer’s trip to Quebec was to visit 12-14 well-established economuseums in the Quebec City-Charlevoix region in order to understand how they functioned, possibly with a view to transferring the concept to Ontario (particularly in northern and rural regions).  Economuseums may be a good way for a number of artisans or artisan-based museums in Ontario to generate economic sustainability.  Economuseums combine culture, craft and tourism to create an economic platform for craft artisans practicing traditional techniques.  A number of museums in rural Ontario are struggling to stay open. Establishing a network in Ontario for economuseums could help to ensure sustainability.

From August 17-21, 2015, I visited 13 economuseums in the Quebec City-Charlevoix-Lac St. Jean region (See below for my itinerary). The goal of these visits was to meet with the proponents of the Economuseum Network – local artisans running these businesses – to discuss the economuseum model with them.  The outcomes of the trip were intended to include: understanding why the economuseum model has not taken root in Ontario; understanding how the economuseum model might enable museums in the province of Ontario to become more sustainable; exploring how the model might promote the northern region’s economic and cultural tourism goals; and possibly facilitating closer ties between Ontario and Quebec museums.

Description of visits (meetings with other organizations described below):

  1. Cassis Monna & Filles: I met with Anna Monna on site at the salesroom/restaurant.  The physical plant of this small producer of blackberry liqueurs (cassis) and associated products also includes a packaging area, a bottling plant, and a large barn which is about to be converted into a larger bottling plant with a public viewing/tasting area.  Anna’s great-grandparents founded the cassis producing business, and Anna and her sister, Catherine, are the family’s fifth generation to take it over. The Monna family recently received a large grant to improve their property and to expand the business.  Anna believes that belonging to the Economuseum network is a “mark of quality” and also helps them to market their product. They are very busy in the summer, especially in the tasting room and restaurant, where they sell and serve foods that include blackcurrants. They also sell their cassisat the SAQ (in the government-controlled liquor board run shops).
  2. La Forge à Pique-Assaut: I met with Sylvie Lavoie at the boutique and showroom for the Forge.  Sylvie and Guy Bel joined the Entreprises Économusée network in 1996. The interpretation area adjacent to the workshop provides information on the Iron Age, the blacksmith and his specialties, raw materials, and techniques.  Guy Bel, born in Lyon, France, has been involved in the trade since the beginning of the 1970s. He is a self-taught art-metal worker using traditional techniques, with a background in studies at the École des Beaux Arts in Lyon and training in sheet metal work. His work can be found in Québec City at the Citadelle, and at the historic sites of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia, Fort Chambly and Fort Lennox in Saint Paul on Île aux Noix. Their boutique next to the interpretation centre sells metal work and local ceramics.  Sylvie and Guy have put their business up for sale because they are finding it difficult to continue to run the economuseum – Sylvie told me that they work 6 days out of 7 and do not have help.   They would prefer to sell to a blacksmith/artist who would carry on the tradition at the forge and the site.
  3. Cidrerie Pedneault: I looked in at the Cidery tasting room, but tours of the site did not seem to be on offer.  The manager of the economuseum had told me that he would not be available that afternoon. I had a look at the ciders in the tasting and salesroom, and at some trees that demonstrate grafting techniques onsite behind the sales room.  Although the cidery does have interpretive information available – both in the tasting room and in a separate classroom, complete with a video – the museum side of the operation seems less important than the cider sales and tasting room.  Guided tours are available upon appointment for groups of more than 10 people according to their website.  The Cidrerie also has two boutiques in Quebec City, including one at the Marché du Vieux Port de Québec. Their product is available at IGA and Metro stores all over Quebec.
  4. Les Moulins de L’Isle-aux-Coudres: Caroline Perron was not available for a private tour or discussion but she did leave instructions with the front desk about my visit.  I decided to take the public tour.  Les Moulins de L’Isle-aux-Coudres were the second enterprise to become an economuseum in 1996.  The mills are situated on an historic site and they receive grants from the Quebec government for this reason.  The dam, mills, miller’s house and gift shop have all been upgraded and refurbished fairly recently.  They seem to receive a great deal of visitor traffic – the tour I was on included at least 25 people, mostly Quebecois families vacationing in the area. The guides, who impersonate the miller and his helpers, are well-trained, articulate and seem to enjoy their jobs.  They answer questions readily, and visitors seem interested and engaged, asking intelligent questions, and enjoying the demonstrations. Mill machinery is a good draw for the men, and women and children enjoy climbing up and down the various staircases in the cottage and mills, as well as strolling around the grounds.

The mills include a museum area that exhibits primitive art woodcarving from the region, some of it rather lovely, in traditional glass cases. There is also a photography exhibit about early life in the region, dedicated to a famous artist from the area, in the event space at the back of the miller’s cottage.

I believe that the mills are, in fact, a more traditional type of museum, in spite of the fact that they do sell various types of flour and related products that are produced onsite in their gift shop.  The flour produced in the mills is sold only on L’Isle-aux-Coudres at several other economuseums, a bakery and a grocery. It is a novelty product, rather than a staple or a luxury foodstuff.

  1. Laiterie Charlevoix: Dominique Labbé sat with me in his office to answer a series of questions that I had sent to the museums I was to visit.  He seemed sceptical of my interest at first, but he did give me an excellent tour of the small museum and grounds. Dominique and his brothers are the 3rdgeneration of dairy farmers and cheesemakers and their nephews are involved in the business.  The Laiterie is actually a fromagerie founded in 1948 by the Labbé family. Their cheeses include the award-winning cheddar-like Hercules (L’Hercule de Charlevoix) and the 1608 – produced from milk from the Canadian cattle breed introduced from France in the 17th century. These products are sold all over the region, and in various Provigo stores and they certainly fly off the shelves in the dairy’s salesroom.  The showroom and salesroom also include locally produced food products from all over Charlevoix.

The Laiterie Charlevoix economuseum was begun in 1997. There are information placards about the cheesemaking process in the sales area, but the economuseum itself is actually on the second floor of the building.  The museum includes information about milk processing through the life of the farm, and various historic methods of pasteurization and cheese production.  This is a successful agro-tourism business – the grounds include a small restaurant/dairy bar (housed in a restored historic house, la Maison Charles Simard) with seating for approximately 25, the cheese production area has viewing windows for tours, and there are educational placards in the viewing area. The Laiterie Charlevoix economuseum has, perhaps, an advantage over other locations in being situated right on Highway 138, just up the road from Baie St. Paul, a well-known and popular vacation area.

The sustainability crown jewel of the business is a methane treatment plant which includes a greenhouse processing unit, including plants and fish. The methane gas produced from whey (a byproduct of cheesemaking) is used to heat a hot-water reserve that produces enough energy to fuel the entire cheese-making process.  The excess treated water is then discharged back into the La Mare river. Recovering the factory’s waste and the associated energy production constitute two essential elements of the enterprise’s sustainable development. Laiterie Charlevoix won a Mercuriade Prize in the SMB Sustainable Development category for this process in 2012.unnamed2

  1. Papeterie St. Gilles: The Papeterie St. Gilles was the very first economuseum created by Cyril Simard (inventor of the economuseum model).  Founded as a labour of love by Archbishop Felix-Antoine Savard in 1965, and subsequently as an economuseum in 1985 by M. Simard, the handicraft paper mill produces paper products of different types made from cotton fibre. Claude Letarte, a retired administrator, is the executive director of the Papeterie.  Claude was hired to revamp the administration of the economuseum, because it has been difficult for the Board to keep the business out of a deficit situation.  One of the main sources of income for the economuseum is a “membership” in an art club that draws on local artists (some of them very famous) works.  The Papeterie prints 100 copies of an artist’s work, members purchase the works, and they become part of their own collection of limited edition prints.  The economuseum’s art print collection is displayed prominently on the walls of the silkscreening salon – where workers produce the paper and silkscreens in demonstrations to the public. The Papeterie’s museum is actually an art gallery – some of the works on paper are historical, but one wall is dedicated to contemporary artworks by local artists that are for sale.  Group tours are available, and tours are also available in conjunction with the Maritime Museum across the road.  The Papeterie is situated very close to the ferry to l’Isle-aux-Coudres (see above).
  2. Verrerie D’Art Touverre: Giuseppe Benedetto owns and operates the glassblowing and gem-polishing economuseum. He arrived in Quebec in 1967 from Italy, and originally studied sculpture at the University of Quebec in Montreal. The two adjoining showrooms are situated on the main lakeshore road of Boulevard de La Grande Baie Sud in Saguenay. Although the signage is not obvious, the glassworks location makes it fairly easy to find.  Giuseppe is clearly a showman – the glassblowing oven workshop is essentially a theatre for his art and, along with his assistant, Marc André, he does demonstrations for groups and families in the workshop every day.  While I was there he made a suite of four standard artworks for sale in his shop – a glass bubble, a fish, a beluga whale, and a snowy owl – over about an hour and a half for a group of about 6 people (not including me).  Visitors pay a nominal sum ($3) to watch the demonstration, which explains how colours are produced and the basic ingredients of glass.  The gem-polishing showroom also includes two polishing machines that are available for use by the public.  Children greatly enjoy this hands-on aspect of the workshop, but Giuseppe indicated to me that he may curtail this activity due to safety concerns. The economuseum seems well-integrated with the business, although apparently some of the informational materials were moved to make room for more items for sale in the showroom.


  1. Le Chevrier du Nord: Régis Pilote and his sisters run the Chevrier du Nord economuseum as a true family artisan business – producing mohair products from the angora goats that they raise on the property.  Régis, my guide to the economuseum, is an agronomist, and is very knowledgeable about the eco-climate of the Saguenay area.  The farm was started in 1960 by Camille and Hélène Pilote, and was taken over by their children as an economuseum in 2000. Goats, rabbits and a curly-haired horse are housed in the big (very clean) barn, and visitors are welcome to visit and watch as the wool is gathered, cleaned and processed. The economuseum also participates in a number of artisan events in the Region. Local knitters, weavers, and crocheters contribute to the production of mittens, scarves, coats, and felt bootliners, but the design part of the business is led by Annie Pilote, who creates artistic variations on the basic styles of garments for sale in the shop.  Yarn, knits, woven garments, and felt are all produced in the tiny shop factory on the farm. The economuseum is well-integrated with the business, and informational placards are visible at each work area, including in the shop.
  2. Boulangerie Perron: When I sent out my initial email to all of the economuseums that I intended to visit I did not receive a response from its baker proprietor, M. Beaubiens. As it was on my way to other economuseums, I dropped in at Boulangerie Perron but did not stay long.  The bakery itself produces a bland, white bread from a hundred-year-old recipe that was apparently typical of the area for many years, but it would not normally be considered an artisan bread. I do not know whether they use stone-ground flour, or local ingredients, but I suspect that they do not. The economuseum is part of the tearoom at the front of the bakery, and houses some interesting bakery artifacts.
  3. Taxidermie/Pelletier Bilodeau: Mario Bilodeau started doing taxidermy when he was 8 years old.  Since then, he has built a successful international business, in both taxidermy and furriery, and the small factory in Normandin (population 3,000) also makes fur boots.  Like Giuseppe, Mario is a showman, and as he guided me through the salesroom, the small museum, and the factory itself, his enthusiastic spiel was contagious.  Mario is very proud of his employees, and has named several rooms in the facility after long-term staff.  The factory is multi-purpose, for example, in one section of the plant, staff make fur hats and boots for the Canadian army and, in the taxidermy section, staff were currently working on creating a walrus-skin mount for a private collection in Belgium. The company also consults for, and produces taxidermy for, zoos and museums.  They make costumes for the movie industry – the cavemen costumes in “Night at the Museum 2” were made by Bilodeau. Fashion accessories and fashion boots are sold in the salesroom, which is a nice mix of clothing for sale and economuseum informational placards, including a large stuffed moose accompanied by recordings of moose-calls.

Mario also emphasizes the sustainable nature of the business – buying from local trappers and employing local workers.  The things that they produce use as much of the animal as possible, including all of the fur, teeth, claws, and bones.

  1. Les Délices du Lac: Based on selling products made from the justly famous Lac St. Jean blueberries, Delices du Lac began as a jam-making enterprise headed up by a former marketing employee of Bilodeau, Inc. Emilie, her sister Marie-Soleil, who keeps the books, and their mother, Lisette, make the delicious jars of blueberry jam, chutney, jellies, and butters in their small industrial kitchen on-site.  Marie-Soleil sat me down and plied me with various kinds of blueberry tea (with wintergreen or without) and jam products. She also told me a story about some Japanese tourists who had purchased large bottles of blueberry juice as a medicinal product. The blueberry paste, which is rather like jujubes but in sugared squares, is interesting and unique.  I admired the showroom/tasting room which is decorated with blueberry-picking artifacts, a mural blow-up of an artist’s blueberry watercolour, and the swinging doors to the kitchens are cut into the shape of a blueberry. This economuseum was the only one where I watched two videos about the enterprise and blueberry industry in Lac St. Jean. Like Laiterie Charlevoix, Délices du Lac has a website that makes you instantly hungry and their products are beginning to be sold as souvenirs of Quebec, in commercial venues such as the airport.
  2. Atelier Paré: Atelier Paré is a museum and a woodworking/sculpture business in Sainte- Anne-de-Beaupré, where the cathedral has become a pilgrimage site for many Roman Catholics.  The original sculptor, Alphonse Paré, passed away in 2002. M. Paré became well-known for hisreligious works, especially those made from carved wood using a special burning technique around the edges. Three of his most famous works are in the Vatican, and many churches and basilicas in Quebec own works by the artist.  Alphonse Paré’s workshop in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré was purchased by Françoise Lavoie and Scott Kingsland 30 years ago, and became the second economuseum after Papeterie St. Gilles. Scott and Françoise see the museum as partly a legacy to Alphonse Paré, but also as an educational opportunity for local schoolchildren and tourists.  The storytelling room is multi-functional, as is the lovely garden. Group tours are also welcome to eat lunch in the covered sitting area outside. The woodworking/sculpture part of the business displays objects which draw on the folklore and stories told in the museum.  Objects are made in the visible workshop and all stages of the process can be explained through hands-on work. Scott and Françoise are fairly outspoken about the need for marketing that will connect them to tourists who have money to spend.
  3. Chez Médé/Ferme Langlois: Nathalie and her brother Médé Langlois run the farmstand and conserving business in Neuville. The family is the 12thgeneration to run the farm. Thanks to a micro-climate on the banks of the St. Lawrence River the area is famous for its corn – particularly sweet corn. Melons are also a specialty.  Nathalie explained that they were trying to grow things more organically than in the past.  On a short walk through the corn maze (a favourite with local children), she showed me packets of eggs which hatch a wasp that attacks corn-borer worms.  The corn maze also includes an amusing wire-twist scarecrow in a top-hat, and illustrated informational placards that discuss the history of corn. Large replicas of Mason jars are the “exhibit cases” for the farmstand and shop, and these illustrate the history of the farm, its functions, and the history of uses of corn from the area. The Ferme Langlois is a recent addition to the economuseum roster, and is the only economuseum that does not pay a membership fee.

unnamedQuebec museums have a reputation for excellence that is not invalidated by the economuseum network. Artisan businesses that showcase the past through exhibits and by using techniques that have been successfuly employed for centuries are a nice addition to the roster of their museums. The Ministry of Culture (Quebec) does not fund economuseums (at least, not directly) as they are seen as for-profit enterprises and are therefore not eligible for museum funding. They have, however, received money as agricultural tourism enterprises, and, they could also be seen as a way to train and employ youth in rural areas, as they are in Northern Europe. Economuseums thrive best in areas where they can be visited as a group, and where visitors staying in the area can easily visit several in a couple of days. — the Baie St. Paul area with Laiterie Charlevoix, Papeterie St. Gilles, Moulins de L’Ile aux Coudres and Cidrerie Pedneault is a good example of this symbiotic relationship.

There doesn’t seem to be a reason why the economuseum model has not taken root in Ontario. It may be simply that the model is seen as a product of Quebec, but there are probably franco-ontarian artisans who might adopt it, and Anglophone artisans who would certainly be interested in the concept. I don’t believe that language is a barrier, since the model seems successful in Europe, and the Atlantic provinces, as well as in British Columbia and now Saskatchewan. It may simply be that it has not been promoted or marketed well to Ontario artisans, who may view it as an unnecessary complication, making it difficult perhaps for them to obtain grants or other government subsidies.

The economuseum model might enable museums and artisan businesses to combine forces in Ontario in order for both to become more sustainable – particularly in places where agro-tourism and artisanship are valued and promoted. Prince Edward County, the Niagara area, and perhaps Manitoulin Island spring to mind as places where the model might flourish, since artisan businesses already exist in these areas, and a network that supports them and regional tourism could be useful.

What might be worth exploring also is how the economuseum model might promote the northern region’s cultural tourism goals – in Quebec I saw that a taxidermy/bootmaker/furrier business (Bilodeau) could be very successful, but it needed Mario Bilodeau to understand the potential of such an enterprise. More research would need to be done to discover whether there are artisans who would be interested in the model, and whether it might be viable in the region.

*Elka Weinstein (Toronto). Profesora Visitante en el Máster en Museos: Educación y Comunicación de la Universidad de Zaragoza