Article by Suzanne Moase

N 1831, THOMAS BARNETT opened his museum of curiosities and natural history to the viewing public in Niagara Falls. The Niagara Falls Museum, considered to be Canada’s oldest museum, was one of the first substantial buildings along the road that faces Niagara Falls. A guidebook printed in 1835 declared that the museum rooms were ‘calculated to delight the eye, improve the understanding and mend the heart.’

Barnett’s museum was the quintessential cabinet of curiosities, displaying thousands of specimens, both foreign and domestic, by the mid-nineteenth century. As a trained taxidermist, he was known to mount the creatures that local people brought him, including their beloved pets and animal oddities they encountered. Like the great Falls themselves, the museum was a place where people could marvel and learn about the world around them.

Excerpted from Fall/Winter 2015 Ornamentum. Click here to subscribe.

Suzanne Moase is Curator, Niagara Falls Museums.

Victorian insect art
Walnut corner block frame
Circa 1850
56cm x 76cm
accession # 2015.030.64

photograph: Niagara Falls History Museum