World's Largest Public Corn Flower Glassware Collection Undergoing 'big Upgrade'

The rare blues and purples found in the world's largest public collection of Corn Flower glassware is expected to sparkle even brighter once the Dufferin County Museum and Archives wakes from a winter hibernation.

From now until spring, the museum will be closed to the public as it undergoes a $450,000 renovation project for its W.J. Hughes & Sons Corn Flower Limited glassware collection.

"A lot of people that have Corn Flower collections in their home might not realize that it came from Dufferin County," said Dufferin County Museum and Archives (DCMA) curator Sarah Robinson, noting the museum's collection of more than 2,000 pieces features some of the rarest Corn Flower items around.

"We have groupings of blue and purple (Corn Flower glassware) that are especially rare," Robinson said. "Very few collectors across North America that would have the pieces in our collection." The Corn Flower brand will forever be linked to Dufferin County, as its founder, W.H. Hughes, was born in Amaranth in 1881. Hughes' mother would die when he was a young boy, leaving his father to care for six children. His family would move to Melancthon, where they lived in poverty.

By 1907, Hughes had learned the art of glass-cutting while working as a silver measurer at Roden Brothers Silversmiths in Toronto. He would later begin cutting glass in the basement of his home at 212 Wychwood Ave. in Toronto, circa 1912-1914.

He then packed up the glassware in his car to show and sell his wares at jewelry and gift stores in Toronto and in smaller towns around southern Ontario. He also frequented stores in Dufferin County.

Hughes would run the business for several decades before his son-in-law, Pete Kayser, took over operations. Kayser would play a significant role in Corn Flower becoming a household term throughout Canada.

"He was an artist. He was an innovator. He was a businessman,"Robinson said of Hughes. "Most importantly, he came from humble beginnings in Dufferin County." It has always been the DCMA's goal for several years to create a permanent exhibit to showcase its Corn Flower collection, as well as tell the story and legacy of Hughes and his company. The renovations are coming a bit earlier than expected though.

In 2017, the DCMA managed to obtain a $150,000 grant through the Canada 150 Infrastructure Program. That has sped the project's timeline up.

"We're putting in state-of-the-art cabinetry, a whole new lighting system. The exhibit itself will be a little bit more interactive. It is going to tell the entire story of Corn Flower," Robinson said.

"It will start from the beginning of the business all the way through to the end and show you decades of glass and various styles," she said. "It is the story behind the glass that really is the value to a museum." The DCMA is currently raising funds and receiving donations to cover the project's remaining $300,000 cost. It is already budgeted for, but Robinson said the DCMA's goal is to complete the project at no expense to taxpayers.

"We've been very carefully putting away money and there have been a lot of generous donations over the past 20 years. Of course, the Canada 150 grant as well," she explained.

"This is a big upgrade. It has been 25 years since we've done any renovation of this quality and size," Robinson said. "To be responsible as a museum and keep putting out wonderful exhibits, we want to fundraise so we can replace that money." Any donations made to the DCMA are tax deductible and receipts will be issued for any donation of $20 or more. For more information, call 519-941-1114, or visit dufferinmuseum.com for more details.

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