Juggling Time and People in Heritage Jobs

DSC_1390Years ago I volunteered in the collections department of the Dufferin County Museum and Archives.  I remember being amazed at how well the collections staff handled frequent interruptions that came with working in an open office space and being responsible for a small army of volunteers.  Working in an open office situation or in a position that involves interruptions is something that is fairly common in many heritage positions.  Roles that involve this type of work environment can take some time to get used to and might be something that many new heritage professionals don’t consider when applying for jobs.

You might expect an museum technician, collections manager, or archives tech position to be very focused on the organization’s holdings and not subject to so many external influences.  This is true in some cases.  But many heritage jobs involve multitasking, interacting with people, and sometimes working in the open.  This is particularly true in smaller organizations where one person is responsible for a huge range of activities and might be jumping from cataloging artifacts to answering reference questions.

I like the interaction that comes with working in an open office and I like the fact that it can contribute to working on a wide range of projects and having more interaction with the public.  But it can at times also mean it’s hard to get a chunk of quiet time to work on more detail oriented projects.  Some of the strategies I’ve used to keep on track while working in an open office space include:

  • Being able to select the type of work you’re going to do on any given day can be important.  For example, if you know you’re going to have a day filled with interruptions pick work that is easy to put down and pick back up.
  • I keep a list of ongoing projects broken into specific tasks.  This helps me manage my workload but also is a spot I can leave notes for myself to remind me about project details.
  • Know your working style and try to fit that into your surroundings.  Quiet time in the mornings are very important to me, I often come in a bit earlier than other people so I can have a bit of time to get settled in the morning.  This helps me orient myself for the day and get started in the right mind-frame.
  • Communicating with coworkers can help a lot with finding the right balance of being open and accessible.
  • Earphones are your friend.  For music and white noise. They can also be used as a signal to others not to interrupt you.
  • Having a separate space to take long phone calls or meetings is helpful.  Many organizations that have moved to open offices have found that providing meeting room and conference room space is essential to open offices working long term.

Have you worked in an open office space?  Did you like it? How has office layout impacted your working style?

NCPH 2016 Plans

The National Council on Public History (NCPH) conference for this year is almost here.  Next week I’ll be heading to Baltimore, MD for NCPH 2016.  It looks like it’s going to be a great conference with a wide range of panels, walking tours, workshops, and other events.  The full conference program is available on the NCPH website. I planning on taking in a variety of events including:

Wednesday March 16

  • 8:00am-12:00pm “Daring to Speak Its Name” Workshop
  • 5:30-6:00pm I’ll be attending the “First Time Attendee and Mentor/Mentee Pre-Reception” as a Mentor.
  • 6:00-7:00pm Opening Reception

Thursday March 17

  • 7:30-8:00am As part of the membership committee I’m attending the NCPH New Member welcome.

Friday March 18

  • 10:30am-12:00pm I’ll be presenting as part of the “Finding the Embedded Archivist” panel.  The panel is focusing on archival instruction, partnerships between faculty and archives, and teaching about archives in substantial ways.
  • 1:30-3:30pm Membership Committee Meeting
  • 6:00-7:00pm The Uprising in Focus: The Image, Experience, and History of Inequality in Baltimore public plenary.

Saturday March 19

  • 8:00-10:00am NCPH Awards Breakfast and Presidential Address

I”ll also be attending a variety of sessions but if you’re at NCPH in Baltimore and want to connect I’ll definitely be at the above events.

Friday Reading: Gender and Outreach

A weeks end look back at some of the archives, public history, and library world readings that I’ve been pondering on this week.

Gender in Libraries:

  • “If You Give a Librarian A Cookie” a great post by Dani Brecher Cook on the gendered work, the challenges of letting gender expectations control actions, and the need to find balance between doing traditionally gendered work you enjoy and being seen as a professional.
  • “Knausgaard Writes Like a Women” An interesting piece on gendered writing and the idea that you can tell if someone is male or female based on their style of prose. Link found via Allana Mayer (@alanaaaaaaa) and her thoughtful twitter discussion of gender in LIS

Outreach in Academic Libraries and Archives

I’ve been thinking about different ways to promote university archives in engaging, informal, and low costs ways.

  • An older post on the Mr Library Dude Blog on general outreach initiatives at the UW-Green Bay Library  is about general outreach at the UW-Green Bay library.
    • The slideshow is worth looking at, particularly for the linked videos within it.  I particularly enjoyed the video of the edible books contest they held as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations.
  • I’ve also started looking at institutional twitter and Instagram accounts.  Do you have a favourite archives or special collections social media account?  Is there an institution that does a particularly good job of promoting their collections through social media?  Is it worth the effort?

Look Back and Look Forward

Unlike in some previous years this December I didn’t participate in reverb or any similar end of year reflective writing practice.  But I do want to look back at some of things that made 2015 a memorable year and my plans for 2016.

Looking Back:

The Future:

  • Continue to develop my academic writing practice.  I did an okay job of sticking to a weekly writing regime in 2015 and want to keep building on that foundation.
  • Create meaningful learning opportunities for students who are working in the archive.  I’ve been consistently trying to do this but I want to continue to focus on nurturing scholarship in ways that build skill sets.
  • Be active.  This falls under my growing understanding of self-care.
  • I’m looking forward to being at NCPH 2016 this year.  I’m presenting and helping with some of the membership committee events.  This is by far my favourite conference and I’m sure Baltimore will be a fantastic experience.

Onward to 2016.

Brewing Monopoly in Ontario: Northern Breweries Ltd.

Soo Falls Brewing Company, Sault Ste Marie, 1932. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries
Soo Falls Brewing Company, Sault Ste Marie, 1932. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries

Northern Breweries Ltd. was a Canadian brewing company founded in 1907 by the Doran, Mackey, and Fee families. Located in Northern Ontario the company played a significant role in many northern communities and the built history of these facilities are still being considered locally.

The company originally started in Sudbury as the Sudbury Brewing and Malting Co. in 1907.  They later expanded throughout Northern Ontario by purchasing Soo Falls Brewing Co in Sault Ste Marie in 1911, Kakabeka Falls Brewing Co. in Fort William in 1913, in 191 they established a division in Timmins, and in 1948 they purchased the Port Arthur Beverage Co.

Prior to 1960 each of these breweries operated under their independent names.  In 1960 they were amalgamated and became collectively known as Northern Breweries.  Each of these local operations have distinct community based histories but the Northern Breweries company as a whole also has a history that has implications outside of the communities it operated in.

From 1942 to 1992 the breweries eventually known as Northern Breweries had a monopoly on draught beer in Northern Ontario.  If you were at a bar in the North and asked for a pint you got Northern Breweries beer. The first 30 years of this monopoly was provided by an agreement amongst brewers and the LCBO.  The last 20 years of protection was mandated under Ontario provincial legislation.

The Second World War resulted in the protected Northern Ontario draught market. The Wartime Alcoholic Beverages Order limited brewery production and to limit transportation resources in May 1942, wide distribution of beer in Ontario and Quebec was prohibited. Specifically, the order proclaimed,

No brewer shall sell or offer for sale or deliver any draught beer, ale, stout or porter which has been brewed in any brewery in the Province of Quebec or in any part of Ontario lying to the south of the 46th parallel of latitude, to any retail liquor store or place which is situated in any part of Ontario lying to the north of said parallel of latitude.

A similar provision prohibited breweries north of the 46th parallel from selling to the south. This measure effectively ensured the protection of Doran’s draught market. When WWII ended the Wartime order ceased however brewers and the LCBO continued to respect the artificial line separating Northern Ontario from Southern Ontario brewers.[i]

This informal agreement was brought into question in the 1970s with the sale of Northern Breweries to Canadian Breweries Limited.  This sale fundamentally changed the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ and Southern brewers indicated new interest in selling in the North.

In 1972 Arthur Wishart authored “Report of the Inquiry Into the Brewing Industry, Northern Ontario by A.A. Wishart” on the daught brewing industry in Northern Ontario that looked at the economic and social impacts of opening the North to competition.  Brewing in the North came a point of public debate.  The report emphasized the geographic nature of Northern Ontario and the high cost of shipping draught beer to the North, suggesting that the Southern brewers had little to gain from Northern expansion.

The fact that in 1972 the Ontario government passed legislation that essentially made Doran’s Northern Breweries a monopoly in the North is somewhat unusual.  The main argument for keeping the monopoly was the need to preserve Northern Ontario jobs and the potential negative socio-economic that allowing draught competition would bring. It also highlighted the contributions from the North to Provincial and Federal coffers and Doran’s submission to the report emphasized the role of the brewer in Northern communities and its place as a good ‘corporate citizen.’ Ultimately the monopoly was preserved because the Ontario government was “committed to a policy of encouraging industry to locate in northern Ontario.” Regional development took precedence over free enterprise.[ii]

Even with the protected draught market Doran’s sales began to drop. Coinciding with this decline in sales, in 1977 employees of Doran’s Northern Ontario Breweries purchased the Company from Canadian Breweries becoming the first employee owned brewing company in North America. Under this new leadership the company began to market outside of Northern Ontario. In the 1980s craft brewing also developed in Ontario creating a whole new set of regulatory discussions on the provincial level.

By the 1990s Northern businesses wanted to offer a wider range of draught beer. Starting in 1991 licensees were able purchase draught outside of the North if they transported it themselves. In 1992 the draught market in Sudbury was opened to all brewers, the rest of Northern Ontario followed in 1993.

The 1990s saw the decline of Northern Breweries sales even further. A revival of the company was attempted in 2004 when it was purchased and rebranded by an investment group. But in 2006 Northern Breweries closed its doors for the last time.

Today, many of the communities which housed Northern Breweries buildings are considering how to preserve this part of their local labour history.  In Sault Ste Marie, Riversedge Developments purchased the historical ‘Brewery Block’ and is in the midst of tearing down parts of the building and working on adaptive reuse plans for other portions of the site. Right now the Soo Falls brewing stack still stands as a reminder to locals of the rich brewing history in Sault Ste Marie.

[i] Daryl White. “Draught, Development, and Discourse: The Northern Ontario Draught Beer Monopoly, 1972-92.” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’études canadiennes 47, no. 2 (2013): 5-28.

[ii] Wishart, A.A. 1972. Report of the Inquiry Into the Brewing Industry, Northern_Ontario. by A.A. Wishart Q.C. n.p.: Toronto: : s.n, 1972., 1972.

Passing Laws, Just Because: Sault Ste Marie Language Resolution

Downtown there’s a parade
But I don’t think I want to go
Smart as trees in Sault Ste. Marie
I can speak my mother tongue
Passing laws, just because
And singing songs of the English unsung
-“Born in the Water”, The Tragically Hip

If you’re not from Sault Ste Marie you might not understand the local reference made by The Tragically Hip in their song “Born in the Water.”  The song is about the Sault Ste Marie Language Resolution and the historical connections of the city to the French community.

On January 29, 1990 the Sault Ste Marie City Council passed the Sault Ste Marie Language Resolution which resolved that English was the sole working language of the city government. This resolution was not the only its kind to be passed in Ontario. But Sault Ste Marie was the largest community to pass this type of legislation. The Language Resolution drew national coverage to the City and the issue came to the forefront during the Meech Lake Accord debate.

The French Language Services Act in Ontario protects the right of individuals to receive provincial government services in French in specific areas of Ontario. The act outlines 26 designated areas which guarantee French language government services. In these areas Francophones make up a minimum of 10% of the population.  Services provided by municipalities are not covered under the act and it’s up to each municipality to decide if they offer services in French.  The French Language Services Act was adopted on November 6, 1986; and came into effect in 1989.

Sault Ste Marie is included under the act as all of the Algoma District is a designated area. The timing of the Sault Ste Marie Language Resolution, less than a year after the Services Act came into effect speaks volumes.

Coinciding with the timing of the French Language Services Act in 1987 local controversy erupted when a group of local Franco-Ontarians lobbied for a French school to be opened in Sault Ste Marie. In 1988 a group of Franco-Ontarian parents led by Solange Fortin took their case for a French language education environment to the public board of education.

In response to this lobbying the Sault Alliance for the Preservation of English Language Rights (SAPELR) was formed and began working with the Alliance for the Preservation of English in Canada (APEC).  APEC was actively campaigning against the French Languages Services Act and ultimately was successful in convincing 47 of Ontario’s 839 municipalities to pass resolutions similar to the Sault Ste Marie Language Resolution. In Sault Ste Marie SAPELR and APEC were responsible for a petition being brought to city council demanding English only services.  The petition was signed by 25,000 people out of a population of approximately 85,000.

At the time of the Resolution about 4% of Sault Ste Marie’s residents identified as Francophone. But historically Sault Ste Marie has strong ties to the French community, was founded by French speaking missionaries, and once served as a meeting place for traders and travellers from a range of cultures In the days following the resolution Sault Ste Marie was on the national news and served as a flash point during the Meech Lake Accord.  The anti-French backlash was felt by many Francophones in the region and a number of French families moved away from Sault Ste Marie as a result.

In 1994 the Language Resolution was struck down and in 1999 the city council minutes were amended to show that the 1994 Resolution was unjust. In 2010 City of Sault Ste Marie Mayor John Roswell apologized to French Canadians for the City’s actions. One might be able to brush this instance off as the fault of a misguided city council and blame APEC’s influence for the passing of the Resolution.  But the damage to the local French community and the tensions which underpinned the resolution still exist today.

This past summer a Service Ontario outlet in a small community east of Sault Ste Marie was threatened with closure because of its non-compliance with the French Language Services Act.  The outlet is staffed by a single person and provides a vital service to a community that would otherwise have to drive an hour to renew license plate stickers and access other Service Ontario programs. The sole staff person at this location does not speak French.

Currently if someone requests French language services another Service Ontario outlet where French speaking staff are available will be contacted using speaker phone. In the past five years this service has not been accessed once.  After much local lobbying, including a Rick Mercer style YouTube rant, the Service Ontario outlet is staying open.  Many of the people protesting this incident were concerned about the impact on access to services in the community and were not anti-French in their comments.  But some were quick to complain about bilingualism and “French privilege”.  Personally this incident highlighted how quickly things can escalate and the ongoing tension between French and English speaking Canadians.

Today French Language education is available in the Sault, the Le Centre francophone provides French language community programming, city hall flies the Franco-Ontarian flag, and the Franco-Ontarian community continues to preserve its rich heritage.  And almost every time The Tragically Hip come to town they play “Born in the Water” and remind a community of misguided past decisions.

Creating Exhibits with Small Budgets

It is fairly common for archives, local heritage groups, historical societies, and small museums to have relatively small budgets (or no budgets) for creating displays.

Everyone likes the ideas of displays and of putting items from the collection into public view, but finding money for this type of work can be challenging.  When I first started creating low cost displays I was fortunate to work with a colleague who was passionate about exhibits and who was infinitely creative in coming up with affordable ways to display material. I learned a lot from her and have been able to reuse some of the display ‘tricks’ she showed me.

I am definitely not a ‘crafty’ person. But I’ve learned a few simple things that can help in creating basic exhibits:

  • A decent printer, cardstock, and basic digital design skills can be a life saver.  Creating labels, small text blocks, and basic signage in-house is often much cheaper than sending things out to a printer. Though doing things in-house does mean you may be limited in size and unable to print large format items.
  • Creating template styling and formatting  that can be used on all your labels can help make your work look uniform.
  • Basic sewing skills can be useful.  Some broadcloth and stuffing can create simple display pillows or props to support small artifacts or books.
  • X-Acto knifes can do a lot.  From creating stands out of coroplast to trimming labels and shaping foam supporting it’s a handy tool to have around.
  • Create things that can be reused or re-purposed for future displays.  Be this signage, stands, or design templates.
  • Purpose built display cases are really expensive.  They might be worth the cost but cheaper alternatives might work when you’re just starting out.  Retail or home display units that are made of glass can often be suitable alternatives.
  • Purchasing a few multipurpose display stands that can be reused can help up the quality of your displays. Things like book cradles, book stands, and basic object stands can be reused again and again.

What are some of your favorite low cost display hints and tips?

Contested History and Multiple Chronologies

While  driving  being a passenger on the drive to London I finally finished reading through the August issue of The Public Historian.  A couple of the articles in this issue sparked some reflection on my historical practice, including Charles W. Romney‘s “New City Guides and Anachronic Public History” article.

Romney examined historical cities guides including the Cleveland Historical app, the Infinite City atlas, the book Map of Perceptions, and the Wildsam field guides. This examination looked at the ways in which each city guide uses multiple chronologies to tell the history of a place.  Romney makes a number of interesting points about contested chronologies that are applicable to many public history projects. His analysis is applicable to many historical narratives outside of city guides.

Most public history initiatives adhere to a single timeline or chronological framework.  This can commonly be seen in written narratives, museum exhibits, living museums, and preservation projects.  A single chronology often works well to deliver simplified narratives and can serve as an organizing idea.

However multiple chronologies have a place in some public history projects and can be beneficial to project looking to highlight a range of perspectives.  As Romney notes

multiple chronologies can enhance public that stress relationships between different developments and that connect events from different time periods.  Multiple chronologies also improve public projects showing uneven spatial and temporal shifts.

Fragmenting time and presenting multiple narratives that are intertwined can allow for a diversity of experience and voices to presented in a project.  When reading this article I was struck by how this approach would be particularly useful when discussing contested spaces and to bring forward the voices of marginalized groups.

The obvious example in my work is residential school buildings that are now used by mainstream organizations.  These spaces have multiple narratives to tell and many are still evolving as living history spaces.

In some cases collective memory is contested.  Presenting a timeline of  a contested space might involve imposing an unaccepted chronology on a project.  There may be better ways to display history for this type of project than using a chronological order.  Multiple chronologies, unstable and changing chronologies, and contested timelines all have a place in public history.  It’s up to public history professionals to think critically about the best ways to interpret and present historical narratives.

Archives and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Workshop

I recently facilitated a workshop on Archives and the TRC as part of Huron History Day: An Active History Pre-Conference for High School and First Year Students.

The workshop focused on the history of residential schools, the unique challenges of residential school archives, the TRC, and reconciliation more broadly.  When planning this workshop I was a bit worried about the range of backgrounds that might be attending and how to include survivor experiences.

Typically when working with high school students at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre I have invited a survivor into the archive or classroom and students learn through their discussion with the survivor.  In the case of this workshop the time constraint and location meant this wasn’t possible.

This ended up being a blessing in disguise.  It caused me to think critically about engagement and turn to other great educational resources.  I modified and incorporated two of the activities from the 100 Years of Loss edu-kit created by the Legacy of Hope Foundation and drew on Project of Heart resources.

One of the activities I modified from the edu-kit focused on examining the before/after photographs of Thomas Moore.  I used a different set of before and after photographs but employed the same type of questions to the workshop participants.  Questions about identify, why the photographs were taken, and the impact of residential schools on culture all sparked meaningful discussion. This simple activity worked really well to introduce the topic of residential schools in an engaging manner.

I also incorporated an activity that allowed students to read a first-hand survivor statement about their experience in residential school.  This activity brought home the importance of incorporating survivor experiences into the archival record and highlighted the impact of residential schools on individuals, communities, and all of Canada.  Allowing students to speak about what they read in small groups and then as a larger group allowed for a range of participation and discussion.

I closed the workshop with a discussion of the Project of Heart and we debriefed while students decorated wooden tiles in memory of a residential school student.  This artistic activity allowed me some time to interact with the participants on an individual level and check in on the feelings of the group.  There were also a handful of teachers participating in the workshop and this activity served as an introduction into the Project of Heart and allowed me to invite them to engage their classes in the POH initiative.

Overall I was very please with how the workshop went.  A short workshop is by no means long enough to cover residential schools in depth.  But I feel as though participants left with a deeper understanding of the legacy of residential schools and many of them left with a desire to learn and do more.

Days Gone By: Built Heritage and Church Closures

Memories can be deeply connected to a specific place or building. When a place that is the foundation of many memories is closed, dismantled, or significantly changed it can be challenging for those who hold the place dear.  Last week I attended the closing service a local united church.  It was an emotional and moving morning that highlighted the power of place to invoke collective memory.

The closure of this church is not unique – United Churches (and churches of all the main stream Christian denominations) are struggling across Canada with declining membership and declining financial resources.  The closure of United Churches is currently so common place that the United Church of Canada (UCC) has published a Liturgy for the Closing of a Church and has openly discussed how to support congregations that seeing their church building being closed.

The service I attended borrowed bit from the liturgy published by the UCC. There were many opportunities for people to share memories about the building and much laughter and a few tears were seen throughout the morning.  The building was full to capacity with extra seating added in the aisle and people standing at the back.  A stark change from the average Sunday of recent years where 15-20 people in attendance was the norm.

The huge number of people who returned from far away or who came from neighbouring communities to attend the closing speaks to the importance of place and how memories are often intertwined with built heritage.  Churches were once meeting places for communities, locations where all important life events were marked, and central in the day to day functioning of communities.

As congregations dwindle or amalgamate the question of what to do with the church building comes to forefront.  Deciding the fate of a building that is so connected to a community’s identity is not an easy task.  Discussions around church closure can divide congregations and be emotional for all involved.  Place is a powerful thing.

In the case of the little white church in Little Rapids the congregation has amalgamated with another local United Church and will worship in a larger church ten minutes away.  These two congregations had been part of a two-point pastoral charge for a number of years and have been holding joint services for the past few years.  This may not make the loss of a building any easier but it perhaps makes the congregational transition easier.

For now the  church still sits intact – the portable furnishings will be re-purposed -but the exterior of the building remains untouched.  A for sale sign sits on the front lawn and the future of the building sits in limbo.  For now the closed church sits as visual reminder for the local community of days gone by.