Remembering the Iconic PC Museum
An incredible establishment that was unique to Brantford's cultural landscape.
Rob Michalchuk, January 18, 2023 // Brantford, OntarioA portion of Syd Bolton's amazing colletion at the PC Museum. Photo Rob Michalchuk.
It was a February day in 2007 when I first stepped foot in Brantford's Personal Computer Museum, the 10th to be even more specific. At the time I was the collections manager for the Brant Museum And Archives and I had heard about another new museum in town that showcased old computers. The bait was set. I'd already been a huge retro computer user and hobbyist and definitely wanted to check out a museum locally that was dedicated to the same thing I enjoyed.
Walking through those doors for the first time was jaw dropping for me. So many computers from my past were there, they were functional and you could use them. I spent quite a bit of time looking at all the old machines the Museum had running that day. I was hooked and I had to come back. I introduced myself to Syd Bolton, the owner and curator of the Museum. I told him that I was from the Brant Museum. I'm trying to recall what he said to me after I said that, something like, "oh the one with the really old stuff you can't touch". I'm totally paraphrasing, but something along those lines. He delivered it with his usual humour. Right away I liked where this guy was coming from. I told him how impressed I was of the Museum he had and asked if he'd like a new volunteer. That was how it started for me and I remained a volunteer till the Museum closed its doors for the last time in 2018 after Syd had passed away.
Syd had a story he would tell to people new to the Museum. He told them that by the time he was 16 he actually had 16 computers. He wanted a computer for each year he had been alive. It wasn't too long until he had more computers than he had years on the Earth. He had a goal to open up a place to showcase the computers when he was in high school. Fast forward some years later and he opened the PC Museum in 2005 in an out building behind his home. The Museum's focus was on the home personal computer, which now is as ubiquitous as a smartphone, a TV or any other bit of major tech common to our homes. He wanted to show people the rapid pace at which computer technology changed over the decades and give them a visceral experience with the machines. It was also a connection to the past that the people could relate to. It wasn't like a traditional museum where artifacts would be hundreds or thousands of years old and from a different civilization that was a distant memory. It was a museum where people could go and experience something from their own past again. People's personal histories to the technology they used.
A sea of unique and timeless personal computers. Photo Rob Michalchuk.
I witnessed so many people taking that nostalgic trip down memory lane bit by bit. Not only was it always a treat to hear people's stories of the computers they used in the past but to see a younger generation come into the Museum and use older machines to see where we came from. Watching a five year old use a Commodore 64 and play a game on it, seeing someone ask where the mouse is on a computer that never had one and soon realizing you had to type everything. It's those types of things that the Museum was for.
Many who knew Syd also knew that he was heavily into collecting video games. Actually, heavily is an understatement. He had one of the largest collections in North America. He had complete North American collections for many systems. It was very rare that you could stump him on a game that he didn't have, and when you did he was pulling out his phone and looking it up online to get. A few times a year, Syd would open up his home and the PC Museum for one of his infamous Game Nights. They started out small in the beginning and eventually got to hundreds of people lining up to peruse his vast game collection and try out some games on virtually any system you could imagine.
The PC Museum was unique to Brantford's cultural landscape. It brought in many computer and technology enthusiasts from near and far. It's unfortunate that its time was limited. It was a place that gave back to the community, be it through learning about history, or supporting people in need who didn't have a computer. The PC Museum gave away a couple thousand computers during its time through its computer giveaway program. The Museum was always open to donations of e-waste. Some of it would make it into the Museum's collection, a portion of it was diverted to recyclers and another part of it was refurbishing newer computers to give to people who otherwise couldn't afford a computer.
Photo from one of the PC Museum's free community events. Photo Rob Michalchuk.
I still think very fondly of my time volunteering at the Museum and the people I met through it. Syd had a charm for wanting to share a story about technology with you. Even if you were not technically inclined he had a way of telling a story to them and making it interesting and relatable. The Museum was an amazing place to visit and a unique bit of Brantford that is missed as well as the person behind it all.
Sadly, the collection is no longer available to view in Brantford. It was given to the University of Toronto and is called the Syd Bolton Collection. It now lives on in teaching students about technologies past and is still being catalogued.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rob Michalchuk is a long time Brantford resident and archivist of local history and lore. He also is an artist, musician, small business owner and community builder.
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