DesBrisay Museum began in 1860 when a young lawyer, Mather Byles DesBrisay, born in Chester, Lunenburg County, 1828, and who later became M.L.A. and Judge of County Courts, started an artifact collection. Unfortunately most of that small collection was destroyed by fire in the boarding house in which he lived in the Town of Bridgewater. DesBrisay added to those few salvaged artifacts and eventually assembled another collection in his residence, "Ivy Banks", on Pleasant Street. By 1880 this collection had grown to such proportions that it attracted the attention of local citizens, students and tourists. A letter dated 1880 written by a schoolteacher thanking Judge DesBrisay for the courtesies extended to her class during a visitation to his Museum, sets the founding year of the Museum.
Following the death of Judge DesBrisay in April 1900, the collection was purchased by Mayor E.D. Davison from Mrs. DesBrisay in 1901, and presented to the Town of Bridgewater. It was then moved from the DesBrisay residence to the Court House in Bridgewater and placed under the care of William E. Marshall, L.L.B. In 1938 the need for extra space at the Court House made it necessary to move the collection elsewhere. Thus in 1938 the Women's Institute of Bridgewater took care for the collection on the second floor of a building occupied by them at the rear of the present (1975) Royal Bank of Canada Building on King Street.
In the early 1950s, a committee consisting of one member each from the Women's Institute, The Lunenburg County Historical Society and the Town of Bridgewater constituted an advisory executive, supported by a yearly grant from the Town of Bridgewater. In 1961 when the building was condemned and dismantled, the collection was put into storage at Acadia Gas Engine's warehouses in Bridgewater. It remained there until 1966 when it was moved to Bridgewater's completed Centennial Project and the Museum's current home on Jubilee Road. In the same year (1966) Town Council appointed Glen I. K. Feindel as Curator as well as a Board of Trustees.
At an inaugural meeting of the newly appointed Board on February 18, 1966, it was resolved that the Museum theme should be – "Interpreting and communicating to the general public the history of our country (especially Lunenburg County), our cultural growth and our achievements in the field of the arts and crafts." To this end, through the assistance and guidance of the Nova Scotia Museum, the museum collection was arranged chronologically to tell a story of Lunenburg County and its people. The Museum has the distinction of having the oldest municipally owned collection in the Province of Nova Scotia. Canada's Centennial Commissioner, John Fisher, officially opened the new Museum building, on June 7th 1967.
In 1972, The Chairman and the Curator of the DesBrisay Museum were chosen as a committee to investigate the need for additional facilities to the existing building. Construction of a new wing encompassing an exhibit centre, workshop, storage facilities, etc. was completed in 1974.
On October 1987, members of the community met to form the Friends of the DesBrisay Museum, a volunteer organization to support the Museum and its programs. They were officially incorporated in January 1988 with Mr. Brook Taylor as Chairman.
The need for more space to hold meetings and events was again realized with a fund raising campaign undertaken by the Museum Commission and Friends' volunteers. On May 14, 1997 the breezeway campaign to enclose this area and make a Multipurpose Room was officially opened. A new Gift Shop Area and reception was reconfigured, and a new entrance door was installed with a glass foyer.
Lt. Governor Myra Freeman visited the museum on July 9, 2002 and presented the museum with a certificate for recognition of outstanding efforts over the past 100 years. In March 2004, the Museum restructured its exhibit space and constructed a wall to divide the gallery space in two. This allowed for an area of Visible Storage on the back wall and an open space for exhibits in the front area. In June 2006, the former Exhibition Gallery was partitioned off to create nine separate rooms and the space was renamed the Heritage Gallery. The smaller space across from the reception area was then created to make the Temporary Exhibition Gallery.
The Museum is currently governed by a Commission of the Town of Bridgewater and is managed by a Director with additional staff positions of Curator, Program Director and Maintenance Technician.
From sources by G.I.K. Feindel, Curator, September 1975
and Linda Bedford, Curator, March 8, 2007