Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site management planning consultation report, 2020

Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site

Table of contents


The management plan for Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site is currently being reviewed and finalized. As a part of this revision, the Parks Canada Agency offered the public and community stakeholders the opportunity to give their opinions on the management approach and objectives proposed for the site for the next ten years. This public consultation was held from May 15 to July 15, 2019 (8 weeks).

This document outlines this consultation process and presents a summary of the opinions expressed by the public, community stakeholders and regional representatives that were consulted.


The consultation had two objectives:

  • To make known the management approach and objectives proposed for the draft management plan.
  • Obtain the views and comments of the public and partners to allow Parks Canada to improve and adjust the proposed management plan.

Consultation process

The national historic site’s planning team developed a “public consultation newsletter” that covered the following points:

  • The historic significance of the site;
  • The operation of the site;
  • The key achievements since the 2001 management plan came into effect;
  • The vision for the site; and
  • The proposed management approach for the next ten years, including key strategies and objectives.

The newsletter, published in French, English and Simplified Chinese was posted on the historic site’s website. The public and partners were invited to read it and make comments and suggestions by email or mail between May 15 and July 15 2019. The consultation was shared on the Town of Gravenhurst, My Muskoka Now and MooseFM Facebook pages that collectively have over 30 thousand followers. A link to the online consultation was posted on the Consulting with Canadians website:

Personalized emails were sent to elected officials and partner organisations inviting the parties to share their comments. A public open house was held on Monday June 3rd, 2019 from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. The issues and objectives targeted by the draft management plan were presented, and all comments were recorded.

Since there is an increased focus on partnering initiatives in the updated management plan, the site reached out directly to 64 partner groups for comment. Among these groups were representatives from ten local school boards, twenty local attractions, along with many national and international partners, as advised by Global Affairs Canada (Greater China Policy and Coordination Division).

A workshop was held with municipal partners and comments were received from 35 national and international partners. The site also received 14 emails or comments from members of the public.

Separate from the broader public engagement process, the site management team reached out to the Moon River Métis and the Wahta Mohawks, and made a presentation to the Chippewas of Rama. The Moon River Metis have shown an interest in using Bethune Memorial House as a meeting site for future community gatherings. Moving forward, the site will continue to engage with Indigenous partners to integrate Indigenous perspectives into the site’s narrative.

Summary of the main comments received during the consultations


The partners and general public participants generally agreed with the proposed vision and were especially moved by the connection to Bethune’s legacy in inspiring future generations. There was also wide support for Bethune Memorial House to continue to be a bridge between Sino-Canadian relations through meaningful partnerships and programming that resonates with all visitors. The majority of the feedback received focused on the site’s visitor experience program and partnering opportunities. This is consistent with the key strategies that have been proposed in the management plan.

“I really like the idea of using Bethune’s story to inspire others to look beyond their differences and collaborate for a better world.”

“As a hero and role model of his era, Norman Bethune encourages us to not forget our aspirations, to remember our ultimate mission, to move forward and promote his legacy, to explore and investigate the profound accomplishments of his legacy, and to tell his story properly.”

—General public participants

Key strategy 1: Facilitating a personal connection to the Bethune legacy through visitor experience

“We hope that in the future, Bethune Memorial House will have an expanded site, display a greater number of detailed and accurate historical materials and artifacts, have forums for more communication and exchange, and provide a more accessible setting.”

—General public participants

Objective 1.1 to create experiences that connect with and inspire a diversity of visitors was met with positive feedback during consultation. Dr. Norman Bethune holds immense spiritual and personal meaning to visitors of Chinese descent, from Canada and abroad. Feedback received during the consultation period acknowledged that Parks Canada needs to do more to increase awareness about Bethune’s legacy in Canada. Feedback also indicated that the site should develop more experiential and family-friendly programming, with a potential focus on Bethune’s connection to art.

Many respondents agreed with Objective 1.2 that a wider range of visitor experiences should be featured at the site. Some participants suggested that an emphasis to off-peak visitation periods and year-round visitor offers should be explored, with the support of partners, in order to draw a local audience and increase local familiarity with the site, (e.g. school programs, Christmas program, or a free day for the local community). Other suggestions proposed that Parks Canada present the elements of Bethune’s life and legacy that are still relevant today including his push to socialize medicine and his humanitarianism.

“Do not lose sight of the fundamental asset...the house is what gives this site the magic. To walk into the house and feel you might meet the occupants at any moment preparing dinner, entertaining parishioners or young Norman tearing through is, to my mind, the desired effect, and this has been, and is being done admirably.”

—General public participants

During consultation, visitors and partners commented that the authenticity of Bethune Memorial House is valued. Objective 1.3 states the importance that visitors have authentic experiences, that they feel transported back in time, and that historic objects be well cared for and displayed. Feedback from the participants suggested that more could be done to enrich this element of the visitor experience program.

Key strategy 2: Partnering strategically to benefit visitors and Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site

“I believe your updated management plan will allow the site to become a platform for spreading Bethune’s legacy, a source of friendship between China and Canada, and a bridge for Sino-Canadian exchange and communication.”

—General public participants

This key strategy focuses on the need for a strong partnering strategy, as defined by objective 2.1. This strategy resounded well with participants in public consultation. The most common feedback received during the consultation period regarded partnering opportunities. Suggestions were also provided on a local, regional and an international scale. Locally, the site has strong municipal support and there is great interest in connecting the site with the downtown core, with community initiatives, and in cross-promotional opportunities. Internationally, the site is revered as a link between Canada and China. Many organizations in China expressed their interest in continuing to work with Parks Canada in the future. It was also suggested by various partners that the recognition of Bethune’s impact on Spain is growing, and that the site could benefit from deepening ties with Spain.

Objective 2.2 highlights the desire to improve awareness among visitors and Canadians about Bethune Memorial House. Feedback received was in agreement and resulted in several ideas for increasing awareness through marketing, cross promotion and outreach opportunities. It was suggested that the site could benefit from a marketing plan to successfully reach target markets in the Greater Toronto Area and to align with federal and provincial tourism strategies. Participants expressed that partnerships and outreach activities should be an important priority for Bethune Memorial House. Many partners identified the need for the site to be present at conferences, in schools, and with tourism associations.

“If Bethune were alive today, we are sure he would turn his attention to more local matters, especially the plight of our First Nations People. Bethune’s work should remain active here and his story should be told in Canada.”

—General public participants

Most respondents agreed with objective 2.3, that connections to the First World War and to Indigenous histories are important to emphasize the importance of Bethune’s story on both a national and an international scale. Among the feedback received, there was wide support for the presentation of Bethune’s connection to the world wars, and a link with Indigenous stories.

It was also noted that the importance of capturing Bethune’s spirit and his legacy was well documented in the proposed vision, but that this element was not as strong in the main strategies and objectives of the plan.


The consultation exercise proved to be a positive one and enabled Parks Canada to improve its approach to the management of the national historic site and to its work with the public and stakeholders. As a whole, the people who participated in the consultations expressed that they were in favour of this approach and supported the management objectives proposed by Parks Canada.

The results of public consultation reinforced the vision and key strategies laid out in the draft Management Plan for Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site. Feedback was heavily centred around and in favour of increasing relevance through visitor experiences, and leveraging partnering opportunities. While considering this feedback, edits have been made to the draft plan to include further details on the importance of developing authentic and accurate experiences for visitors as well as building and maintaining a strong network of support with partners. Given the participant’s comments, the draft management plan was also edited to include further details on the importance of the inspirational nature of the Bethune story. The management plan now states that the site will strive to be recognized as a “place of inspiration”, where visitors, volunteers and virtual visitors continue to be inspired by the legacy of Dr. Bethune. The management plan will be finalized by the end of 2020.

Parks Canada would like to thank all the participants that took part in the consultation exercise for having submitted their ideas and vision concerning the future of this national historic site.

Appendix I – Partners consulted/engaged

Cultural heritage/Special interest groups
  • Bethune Bai Qiuen Canadian Alliance (BBCA) (Canada-wide, Winnipeg & Vancouver based)
  • Centre Internationaliste Ryerson Fondation Aubin (Montreal based)
  • Henry Norman Bethune International Alliance of Canada
  • In bound travel host companies
    • Sunny Tours
    • Bulk GTA day trip companies (e.g., Tai Pan)
  • The Canadian Museum for Human Rights
  • MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders)
  • Canada-China Friendship Society
  • Ostler Library of the History of Medicine

Tourism groups
  • Destination Ontario
  • Discover Canada
  • Discover Ontario (Corporate and Travel)
  • Explorer’s Edge (RTO 2)
  • Gravenhurst Chamber of Commerce
  • Muskoka Tourism

  • Global Affairs Canada (Public Affairs and China)
  • Chinese Government in Canada
    • The Chinese Consulate in Toronto
    • The Chinese Embassy
  • Department of Canadian Heritage
  • Members of Parliament - Federal
    • Tony Clement, MP Parry Sound - Muskoka
  • Members of Parliament – Provincial
    • Norm Miller, MPP Parry Sound - Muskoka
  • Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture
  • Town of Gravenhurst
    • Mayor and Council
    • Heritage Committee
    • Tourism Department / Business Retention and Attraction

Indigenous groups
  • First Nation - Chippewas of Rama (Ojibway)
  • First Nation - Wahta Mohawks
  • The Moon River Métis Council

Other area attractions
  • Museums of Muskoka

Educational institutions
  • Norman Bethune College at York University
  • Dr. Norman Bethune Collegiate Institute in Scarborough
  • Concordia University
  • McGill University (holding his archives)
  • University of Toronto (Bethune graduated from U of T)
  • Local school boards

  • Bethune International Peace Hospital
  • Bethune Memorial Hall (museum twinned with BMH)
  • Bethune Military Medical College of the People’s Liberation Army
  • Bethune Spirit Research Association
  • Jesus Majada (Partner in Spain)
  • Municipality of Tang County (twinned with Gravenhurst)
  • Soong Ching Ling Foundation
  • The City of Rivas Vaviamadrid (Partner in Spain)
  • Norman Bethune University of Medical Sciences
  • Norman Bethune Health Science Center of Jilin University
  • Bethune Specialized Medical College (Shijiazhuang)
  • Bethune International Peace Hospital (Shijiazhuang)

  • Andrew Beckett
  • Bethune relatives (Toronto and California)
  • Colin Old
  • Jeffrey Brown
  • John Wilson
  • Jordan Paterson
  • Larry Hannant
  • Maryellen Corcelli
  • Roderick & Sharon Stewart
  • Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson

Appendix II – Summary of topics

Topics from consultation

Topics raised Number of participants
Work with partners 14
Visitor experience/Program 11
Resources (Marketing and promotion) 11
Outreach/Youth 10
Local interest 10
Bethune's legacy and relevance 9
Indigenous stories 7
Cultural resources and authenticity 6
Open year round/Off-peak 5
First World War 4
Technology 3
Knowledge of Bethune in Canada 3
Facilities/Rental 3
Volunteer program 2
Connection with Spain 2
Resources (Staffing) 1

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