bathing Aurora’s Cheshire cat

Last week I attended the annual presentation of Aurora’s premiere tragicomedy, by which of course I am referring to the Aurora Historical Society’s annual general meeting.

Instead of risking breaking a limb or neck trying to negotiate the completely inaccessible entrance to Hillarity House like last year this year’s meeting was held at the Aurora “Cultural” Centre.

Another noticeable change from last year was the complete absence of an annual report.

That’s right, the Aurora Historical society held an annual meeting and did not create or distribute an annual report.

I had to ask for a paper copy of the 2014 financial statements, and when I inquired about Performance Metrics I was actually told that the financial statement “is probably one of the strongest performance indicators we have–showing us where we need to improve as well as where we have had some modest success.”

You can’t manage what you don’t measure, so it’s a puzzle to determine exactly how the society managed their 2014 year, complete with a $70,000 grant from the Town of Aurora if they failed to measure their operations with KPIs. If they did measure, then the question becomes why would they not share these findings with their membership and the public at large during their only annual event which is held for this very purpose.

In the absence of being provided any numbers I looked around and started to jot some of my own.

Including myself the attendance for the meeting totaled a overwhelming 37.

The breakdown of that number includes 3 press, the guest speaker, 2 members of council, 1 staff from the center and 1 town staff. It was later revealed that the board of directors for the AHS numbers 12, so assuming they were all present that leaves a total of 17.

I suppose that could just be chalked up to their inability to get the word out and not their non-existent value proposition:


Putting bums in seats is a huge problem for the Historical Society as I’ve witnessed time and time again, but don’t take my word for it, a cursory google search found a quaint infographic compiled at the halfway point last year showing that the total # of visitors to Hillary House at that point was 226. You can see that here:

Almost half of those are unidentified, simply labeled “other”

Spread 226 visits over 206 days and you barely get more than 1 visit per day.

Not exactly a success story for a National Historic Site whose fence continues to crumble. Equal to or faster than its foundation is unknown as assessment of its foundation, which was listed as a key activity in the society’s most recent strategic plan was never conducted:

No mention of that at the meeting, neither was the fact that the Historical Society operated the entire 2014 year without the change of use permit I commented on here: Something the Town confirmed for me last week.

This can hardly be considered best practices for a heritage asset that is soliciting bookings small weddings, bridal and baby showers, business meetings, luxurious dinners, recitals, rehearsals, photo shoots and more:

The possibilities are certainly endless given they are encouraging high risk sports on their property:

There’s no surprise that insurance, like other expenses has gone up. Just as there is no surprise that revenue has not increased to match it.

Admission and program revenues have fallen 18%.
Grants are down 7% and Sales and other income are down 10%
Donations are also down 16%

In fact if the Society wants to claim the fact they operated in the black this year as a modest success, then that number needs to be scrutinized as well.

Excess of revenues over expenses shows $19,373.

So if revenues are down and most expenses are up where did this excess come from?

The loss of their Manager/Curator last year which came on the heels of the loss of their assistant curator.

Savings: $77,692 in salaries and benefits.

Yet spending $58,319 of those savings is considered a success?

The Aurora Historical society has surrendered the Aurora Heritage Center, The Aurora Collection and now has lost its ability to retain and pay staff.

Even its annual fundraiser is outside at a golf course outside the town leaving the only thing of substance to be a National Heritage site that they are woefully unable to sustain.

At one point in Lewis Carroll’s Alice and Wonderland the cat disappears gradually until nothing is left but its grin, prompting Alice to remark that she has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat.

With all of the Historical Society’s epic failures re-branded as “modest success” come budget time the Town of Aurora is the one left to pick up the pieces and the expense of putting them back together.

The sight of which is not too dissimilar from watching someone bathe a cat.


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