National Archives as a Destination

National Archive Building, Washington

When planning a family trip to Ottawa a visit to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is on the itinerary of very few Canadians.  The lack of visitors center and recent cut to open research hours makes visiting LAC difficult for researchers, let alone tourists.  LAC has no formal tourism competent and many Canadians would be hard-pressed to pick out the LAC building in Ottawa.

Conversely, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) building in Washington does an excellent job of packaging the Archives as a destinations for visitors.  For many visitors the main draw to the NARA are the historic documents that are on display — the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence all reside inside the Rotunda of the NARA.

However, aside from these documents the NARA features a permanent exhibit  in an area called “The Public Vaults” and a rotating temporary Exhibit Hall.  The Exhibit Hall was closed during my visit but I did have a chance to visit the Public Vaults and the Rotunda. The Public Vaults display a number of interesting and historically significant documents and provide insight into archival practice.

What I found most compelling about the Public Vaults exhibit was the extent to which the exhibit educated the general public about the NARA.  For example, there was an interactive display that focused on what records are collected by the NARA and how to go about finding those records.  This display included sections such as “If my grandfather was in WWI would he be in the archive?” and “My ancestors immigrated to the United States, would they be in the archive?”  I liked this element of the exhibit as it highlighted the tangible uses of archival records and introduced people to archival research in a friendly way.

The Public Vaults also included an interesting section on conversation and preservation.  This section included information on the damage of light to paper records, fold damages, and the challenges of preserving so many different formats.  This section also highlighted the reasons why photography isn’t allowed in the NARA and the damage that photograph could have on documents.

My love of archives might make me a bit biased, but I really think the NARA building in Washington is well worth a visit.  Seeing documents that helped shape the United States is an experience in itself.  Additionally, the public vaults exhibit at the NARA is well throughout, educational, and includes a number of electronic or hands on components.  The building is not  merely a place to look at paper in, it’s a space that facilitates the active engagement of the past.

French River Visitor’s Centre

Despite having driven by the French River rest stop and Visitor’s Centre on Hwy 69 dozens of time, I hadn’t been inside the facility until this past week. I was thoroughly surprised by Centre’s content — it has more interactive displays than most small museum curators dream of –one of the benefits of Provincial funding I suppose.

The current exhibits showcase the history of the French River area, the natural heritage of the area, and the stories of First Nations, French, and English explorers who came to French River.  The displays highlight the unique architecture style of the building and features like the section of glass floor showcase the natural landscape of the area. 

In addition to the centre, the rest stop includes great walking trails that follow the French River.  There is also a walking bridge that crosses the river and provides and excellent view of the surrounding landscape.   The French River Provincial Park also includes 290 campsites, canoeing routes, and fishing areas.

June’s #builtheritage Chat

The topic for June’s #builtheritage twitter chat was heritage tourism.   The chat was moderated by @PresConf and @jonaskayla.  The chat provided an interesting look into the planning, organization, and success of heritage tourism.

The first portion of the chat focused on the question What tips do you have for starting a heritage tourism program in your community? Some of the suggestions included: starting by hosting an event that will engage the local community, gain the support of the local tourism board, and strive for inclusiveness of organizations in your community.  @lloydalter brought forward the example of the Doors Open events as a successful heritage tourism program.  This example created an interesting side discussion about what causes Doors Open to be so successful and how to raise money for a free event.

The second segment of the chat focused on the question What strategies do you have for building out your heritage tourism program?  Some suggestions included working with the chamber of commerce, partnering with regional tourism programs, and promoting diverse programming.  @jonaskayla mentioned Heritage Toronto’s great walking tour program that is run entirely by volunteers.  This walking tour program is a great example of a grassroots and low cost heritage tourism effort.

The third question in the chat was What is your favoruite heritage tourism place and why? A lot of great examples of heritage tourism sites were brought forth in this section, including: the Byward Market in Ottawa, the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, the distillery district in Toronto, and the Toronto railway heritage centre.

The final section of the chat focused on the question How do we ensure that heritage tourism is authentic? There was a ride range of responses to this question, but a number of them emphasized the need to find a balance in authenticity and accessibility. One of the more intriguing points in this portion of the chat was the idea that the authenticity of a building isn’t always the same as an authentic visitor experience.

 The next #builtheritage chat  is scheduled for August 4th at 4pm, the tentative topic is under-served communities.