Curator brings Murney Tower to life

A decade working in museums, art galleries, and heritage sites across the United Kingdom, Canada, and Turkey has led Simge Erdogan-O'Connor to Kingston where she is now working as the manager and curator of the Murney Tower Museum.

Simge Erdogan-O'Connor, manager and curator of the Murney Tower Museum

She, along with assistant curator Jjoanna Dermenjian has created a new exhibit, The Voices of Murney, a unique journey into the history of the Martello Tower. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Rideau Canal and Kingston Fortifications, the museum is operated by the Kingston Historical Society and is the oldest operating museum in Kingston with over a thousand domestic and military artifacts.

Martello Towers are squat, round towers with a gun platform. Despite their relatively small size, these little fortifications were adept at preventing attacking ships from landing.

“I am now a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Science but I’ve loved museums all my life,” Erdogan-O'Connor says with a smile. Her PhD research focuses on museums as sites of relevance and social change and explores the links between museums and global citizenship. “Creating this unique exhibit at the Murney Tower was an amazing opportunity and a chance to tell the story of the Tower.”

Built in 1946, the Tower was never needed in combat, but it did not sit empty. The Tower was used for decades as a barracks for soldiers and their families. At one point, she explains, six families lived inside together. Using interesting and unique artifacts housed within the Tower, Erdogan-O'Connor has recreated that life so visitors can really appreciate the cramped living conditions and the challenges that came from living in the Tower.

“The Tower has a very social history as the families that called this home lived, slept, and dreamed in it,” she explains. “There were at times 22 people living on one floor in the town with a communal cooking, sleeping, and living area. A baby was even born here in 1882. The men did take civilian jobs including cobblers, farmers, and blacksmiths so they were able to leave the Tower during the day.”

Along with The Voices of Murney exhibit, Erdogan-O'Connor has mounted the exhibit #hopeandhealing Canada by Métis artist Tracey Mae-Chambers. Currently on display at the Murney Tower’s gun platform, the project features a series of site-specific art installations across Canada. Each installation is made using crochet, knit, and woven red yarns. This ongoing body of work is used to illustrate connections between Indigenous, Inuit, and Métis peoples with Canadians, while also addressing the decolonization of public spaces.

“I was really inspired by this exhibit and am exploring options for an artist in residency program and also featuring more art installations in the Tower,” she says. “My idea is to make this space accessible to everyone and ensure the Tower is used for much more than a display of military history. This space could become a focal point in Kingston.”

There are currently four Martello Towers in Kingston: Shoal Tower, Fort Frederick, Cathcart Redoubt, and Murney Tower but only Murney Tower is operational and open to the public.

To learn more about Murney Tower Museum, visit the website. The Tower is open from Wednesday to Sunday between 10 AM and 5 PM. Admission is by donation.