Historical Beer: Black Creek Brewery

For Christmas I gave my partner a membership to a beer of the month club.  Since January we have been enjoying the surprise of randomly selected craft beers delivered to our door.  This month’s selection included two beers from Black Creek Brewery. After reading up on the brewery I was surprised to discover that it was located on a heritage site in Toronto.

Located at the Black Creek Pioneer Village heritage site the Black Creek Historic Brewery opened in 2009 and employs the techniques, tools and recipes used by Ontario brewers in 1860s. In the 1860s there were 155 registered breweries in Ontario.Black Creek Historic Brewery is the first to recreate the brewing processes of this era.

Each batch is created entirely by hand, uses no electricity, and much of the equipment is made from wood and cooper.  The beer ferments in wooden casks, barley is shoveled by hand, and filtration is done in the ‘old style’ using barley husks.

For those interested in learning more about brewing in the 1860s you can visit the Brewery as part of the Pioneer Village and they run a program where you can ‘brew with the brewmaster‘ for a day.  A visit to the Brewery is an added cost ($4.50) to admission to the Pioneer Village and includes tours of the hop garden, cooperage, mill, brewery, and beer samples.  For those living further afield the Brewery maintains a blog, The Black Creek Growler, which is filled with interesting historical and beer related facts.

The two Black Creek selections we received from were ‘Brilliant’ and ‘Marzen’.  What struck me most about Brilliant was the cloudy nature of it.  The old style filtration process means that the beer is almost akin to unfiltered beer and has a dense slightly opaque look.  As far as taste goes the Brilliant was light, kind of sweet, and fairly smooth drinking.

In contrast Marzen was red in colour, had a fruity smell, and a delightful hoppy malt taste.  The Marzen falls under the brown ale category of beer that would have been brewed in the 1860s. It was interesting to sample beers that were brewed using historical techniques and in a brewery that is part of an active heritage site.

This post was cross-posted from Oslicken Acres

Community Space: Craft Show at the Bushplane Heritage Centre

Yesterday the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre hosted the second annual holiday gift and craft show.  Held inside the museum the show featured over 100 local craft and artisan vendors.  This was my first time attending the show, it was a great way to spend a couple of hours on a rainy Saturday.

The event brought hundreds of vendors and local residents into a heritage site.  Walking through the craft show I was struck by the contrast of the permanent displays (eg. large airplanes everywhere) with tables setup for the vendors.  It was interesting to see the space being so well utilized for a public event and great to see a local heritage site supporting local artists. The event’s location also made the craft show a bit more child friendly – I saw a number of children eagerly climbing into and enjoying many of the bushplanes on display as their parents took in the crafts.

Additionally, admission to the craft show was by donation and all donations went toward the Bushplane operating costs.  I’ve now been to a couple of larger non-heritage related events at the Bushplane. The space is often used for concerts, weddings, community fundraising activities, and other activities.  The space is essentially a large airplane hanger with a large open floor space making it a large venue with lots of capacity and potential for community events. 

The revenue model of using heritage spaces as event spaces definitely isn’t unique to the Bushplane.  But it is one of the more prominent and successful examples in my community.  Hosting community events at heritage and cultural sites have the potential to bring in extra revenue, expose the general public to the site, and raise the community profile of a site. 

The holiday season brings a wealth of opportunities for heritage sites — Christmas parties, craft shows, and special holiday programming using the site.  What innovate community uses of heritage sites have you seen recently?

Museum Visitor Experience and Learning Styles

The majority of my visits to museums, art galleries, and other heritage sites are undertaken with people I’m connected with through work, by myself, or with my partner.  These visits are normally slow paced and allow for plenty of time for reading and contemplation. 

I enjoy looking at displays, reading text panels, checking out different exhibit techniques and just taking in the whole experience.  It’s been a long time since I visited a museum with someone who didn’t hold similar interests or explore museums in a similar way to me.

My recent trip to ROM was with my partner and two other people who I hadn’t previously visited heritage site with.  The experience reminded me of how individual visitor experiences at a heritage site can be drastically different. The best heritage sites engage visitors in a variety of ways that appeal to different learning styles and different interests.

 For example, one of the people I was with was drawn to anything involving technology or a touch screen.  He seemed to enjoy learning through watching videos and interacting with digital components best.  Long text panels and endless rooms of display cases didn’t seem to engage him – regardless of what was in the display case.

Many museums include tactile components or activity stations geared towards children and youth.  Dress up stations and colouring tables are some of the most common examples of simple but effective hands on activities.  But many adults like the interactivity and become more engaged when they are doing something more than passively looking or reading. 

One of my favourite parts of visiting Fort St. Joseph a few years ago with my parents was the dress up station.  In addition to having children sized military uniforms and hats there were adult sized clothes. My 60+ year old dad and I had a grand time dressing up while my mom looked on in amusement.  Not every interactive component has to be digital it just needs to be well thought-out and inviting to visitors.

Visiting a museum with people who were not nearly as excited about museums as I typically am was an interesting learning experience.  The experiences reminded me of the challenges in developing exhibits (interactive or otherwise) that appeal to a wide range of audiences.  It’s impossible to please everyone and even more so on a limited display budget. But shifting away from solely using exhibit cases and text to developing different styles of programming is something many effective heritage sites have started to do.

First Nations and Inuit Collaboration In Museums

As my recent post on “Community Engagement in Commemoration” mentioned I’ve been thinking a lot about community involvement in the practices of museums and heritage sites.  The recent issue of Muse contains a short piece, “Redefining First Nations and Inuit Involvement in Exhibit Planning,” by Jameson C. Brant that focuses on similar questions of engagement.

Brant’s writing focuses on This Is Our Story: First Nations and Inuit in the 21st Century a new permanent exhibition at Les Musées De La Civilization in Quebec City.  Brant maintains that the success of This is Our Story comes from the Museum’s practice of consultation and inclusion of First Nation and Inuit people in the exhibit process. She notes, “the messages in this exhibition are fresh and inspiring because they are raw.  The content breaks through the stereotypical barriers that have in the past separated museums from First Peoples.”

The exhibition content was developed over a two year period and saw the museum working with the 11 Aboriginal nations of Quebec.  Consultation meetings were held with representatives from each First Nation and Inuit community as well as various Indigenous organizations. The result was an exhibit that shares the world view of contemporary Aboriginal people.  It showcases every day objects, artwork by Aboriginal artists, and integrates the sounds and stories of communities through audio visual components.

This Is Our Story highlights the importance of approaching exhibits and community collaboration with respect, cultural sensitivity, and patience.  As Brant notes the exhibition planners “have overcome many of the challenges faced by museums today…creating an educational experience that satisfies the demands of varying audiences.  These not only include families, school grounds, tourists as well as the museum’s frequent visitors, but also the First Nations and Inuit people themselves.”

Creating an exhibit that reflects the desire of the community and provides serves the broader community is a huge task and a tremendous feat when done successfully.  It’s great to see museums becoming more aware of the importance of building relations and involving community in all stages of exhibit development.

Rolling the Dice With Guided Tours

Our group with our tour guide at the Ermatinger Site

Interpretation can make or break a museum visit.  Context, signage, and interpretation strategies are essential to creating a heritage environment which is inviting, educational, and ultimately enjoyable.  Properly trained interpretive staff can infuse a visit with enthusiasm, context, and information that isn’t always accessible to the average visitor.  Untrained or less than great interpretive staff can also make a museum tour seem boring or uninformative.

One of the most surprising guided tour experiences I’ve had recently was at the Ermatinger-Clergue Historic Site in Sault Ste Marie.  I had previously visited this site with a co-worker who had previously worked at the Ermatinger site.  That visit was great, my co-worker talked a lot about the development of the Historic Site and institutional practices at the Site.

My most recent visit was with a larger group of 12 people and we had a formal tour provided by the Site’s curator (who was in period costume for the occasion).  Our guide focused mainly on the history of the area, fur trade politics, and First Nation-Settler relations.  The majority of the group I was visiting with was from out of town and learned a lot about local history from our guide.  I was impressed by how well she geared her discussion and annotates to the interests and learning levels of our group.  The guided tour allowed me to learn more about the site than I had on previous visits and allowed our large group to partake in a shared experience that we could then discuss in a educational context later on.

Deciding to take a guided tour at an institution can be a dice roll between getting a tour leader/interpretive staff member that is knowledgeable or one who seems to dread their job.  Which leads to the question, is participating in guided tours worth the effort?  It depends on what type of museum visitor you are and what type of institution you are visiting.  Some people like to move at their own pace and read every artifact label in sight, making a guided tour too fast paced and broad sweeping for their preferences.

Many guided tours provide collection and institutional overviews.  This can be great if you have limited time, want to learn more about contextual factors that aren’t mentioned in current exhibits, or as a new way of seeing an institution you have visited many times.  Guided tours are also great if you are visiting a museum in a large group, as it allows for a shared learning experience that is sometimes missing from large group visits to museums.

One of the easiest things to do is ask museum staff about the tour prior to taking it.  Ask about tour length, depth, exhibits/spaces covered — does the tour let you into spaces that you can’t see as a solo visitor, and about the staff leading the tour.  Alternatively, a lot more institutions are now posting detailed tour information on their website, making it possible to look into tour options before you arrive at an institution.  I find knowing what type of tour I’m entering into saves me a lot frustration and helps manages my expectations.

What was your best or worst guided tour experience? 

Hands-On: Experiential Learning at Heritage Sites

The idea of experiential learning (the process of learning through doing) is being heavily promoted in education systems right now. Hands on activities, active involvement in learning exercises, and anything other than listening to people talk are all types of experiential learning. 

Living history sites are excellent examples of heritage organizations which utilize experiential learning.  Visitors to living history sites are often engaged in what life was like at a certain time period.  This might include learning a period dance, learning a song, baking bread the ‘old-fashioned way’, helping harvest a heritage garden, spinning wool, or numerous other activities. Living history sites are designed to immerse people in the past and often do so through experiential learning.

How can (and do) heritage organizations other than living history sites engage visitors in types of experiential learning? Art institutions often provide classes which introduce visitors to a particular art form – be it pottery, drawing, or painting.  An example of this is the Whitney Museum of American Art‘s drop in drawing class, which situates participants in a gallery and provides drawing instruction.

An increasing number of museums are also offering experiential learning based educational programs.  At times these programs take on a feel of a living history and allow visitors to learn a historical skill or participate in a period celebration (eg. Christmas in the 1800s).  Museums also utilize educational reproductions to allow hands on experience with collection material. The Norwegian-American Museum‘s curator for a day program is an example of a museum program which fully dedicates itself to experiential learning.

Some archives have also moved to providing a more experiential based outreach programs for schools.  These programs often focus on introducing students to the value of historical photographs and documents.  For example, students can be sent on a source ‘scavenger hunt’ where they search through reproductions of newspaper clippings, photographs, and other material to find particular information. 


Do you have memories of a particularly good (or bad) experiential learning program at a heritage site?

Photo credit: Olds College