Fridays by the Fire

Wood burning fireplace at the Old Stone House

Last week I was an invited speaker to the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site’s Fridays by the Fire series.  This series runs January to April on Fridays and invites local folks to have lunch in the ‘summer kitchen’ room of the Ermatinger Old Stone House while listening to a speaker.  The name of the series comes from the fact that the centerpiece of the room is a fireplace (pictured above). The series’ speakers cover a range of community perspectives and focus on various historical topics.

My talk was focused on the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC) and the legacy of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.  This talk was a variation on some of the introduction discussions I provide when offering site tours of the historic Shingwauk site.  The emphasis was really on explaining the long history of residential schools locally, the changing landscape of the Shingwauk site, and on-going impacts of residential schools.  I also touched on some of the cross-cultural work that is being undertaken by Algoma University and its partners. To close off the talk I discussed the power of community archives in shifting narratives and the history of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association.

For me these community based outreach opportunities are extremely important.  It is a form of outreach that is all about meeting people where they are.  For example, a number of the participants were regulars at the Old Stone House but had never visited the SRSC and weren’t aware of the public programming we offered.  This talk also allowed me to field some of the myths around local history and to promote ongoing initiatives of the SRSC.  As an added bonus, the talk was recorded by our local Shaw TV station and will have extended reach through that programming.

I am grateful for Ermatinger Clergue staff member Will Holingshead and his willingness to collaborate between our organizations.  I really do love the ability of cultural heritage organizations to help and uplift each other, I think that collaboration is so important.

The Bushplane Revisited: A Parent’s Perspective

Plane that visitors can climb into.
Example of one of the planes that visitors can climb into.

I’ve written a few times in the past about visiting the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre (locally known as the Bushplane Museum) for non-heritage events, namely for musical performances and a community craft show.  In both cases the admission to the Bushplane was either free or the proceeds when to the performing artist.  Those events were an example of a heritage space renting out their space to generate revenue.

A couple of weekends ago my family and I visited the Bushplane Museum during their regular operating hours as part of their “Family Fun Day.”  In addition to their regular attractions the day included half price admission and a range of additional activities such as a magic show, crafts, community tables, and special guests from the popular kids show Paw Patrol.  Basically it was a day designed to bring more people through the door.  Given the fact that at numerous points throughout the day there was lineup to get in, I think they were definitely successful in that regard.

This visit also marked the first time I visited the Bushplane with a child. My daughter wasn’t terribly interested in all the extra things that were going on as part of the day, but she loved the planes and some of the interactive exhibit pieces in the museum.  The Bushplane has a number of planes that are accessible to visitors and my daughter loved climbing in and out of them, sitting in them, and asking lots of questions about how things worked.  One of the nice things about her enthusiasm around the planes was that it meant it gave me some time to read description labels, check out some of the digital interpretation, and generally just take in the museum.

I’m still adjusting to how your experiences at museum and heritage site visits change when you’re accompanied by a child.  I am also becoming increasing appreciative of museums that do a good job of integrating child appropriate exhibits or special child focused programming into their services.  Having dedicated space for children or children friendly interpretation can be a huge selling point when families are deciding where to visit.  Sometimes this can be hugely elaborate programming but other times simply having colouring station or a touch/feel artifact section can go a long way.

What are some of your favourite examples of family friendly museum programming?

Self-location and Concepts of Place

Wikimedia commons image used under cc-by-2.0

During a recent workshop on active archives and archives in the classroom my co-presenter brought up the idea of using self-location as a starting point for talking about residential schools and reconciliation. In subsequent days I’ve had a few conversations with colleagues about the value of using self-location as an instruction tool and how it can be used in teaching history.

The fact that the university I work at is located on the site of two former residential schools can deeply shape how conversations about place unfold. The history of the institution is directly tied to the legacy of residential schools.  How students, visitors, and faculty interact with spaces on campus today says a lot about how the site evolved from a residential school and the fact that the physical space has tangible connections to the past.  How people interact with campus history can be emotional, triggering, and challenging.  But we need to have those difficult conversations and  talk about how the legacy of residential schools interacts with the space we occupy as an institution.

Self-location can be a simple but nuanced a way to discuss how individuals came to be in a place, connections to a physical space and concepts of community.  Where did you come from? How and why did you come to this place?  What is your relationship to this place?  How do you define community in relationship to this place?

In terms of reconciliation discussions about self-location can be a starting point for conversations about land, marginalization, and colonization.  It can also help in the acknowledgement of what background experiences are being brought into a dialogue.  This is also a great way to start conversations about local history, community history, and Canadian history more broadly.  I could also see self-location discussions being shaped to fit students at a variety of education levels depending on how the conversation is framed.

Have you used the idea of self-location as discussion tool before?

Mining History at Dynamic Earth

As part of my recent visit to Sudbury I spent some time at Dynamic Earth.  I remember years ago visiting Sudbury as a child and I have a vague recollection of going underground as part of that visit. But I haven’t been back to Dynamic Earth as an adult or visited since it received a substantial renovation.

The main floor during my visit featured an exhibit on Megalodon, the largest shark that ever existed.  This was an interesting exhibit that had a number of interactive panels and well researched text, but I struggled with it being at Dynamic Earth.  The content didn’t relate to Sudbury or mining and it seemed out of place.  I think it would have worked better as a special exhibit at Science North, where the focus isn’t as narrow as at Dynamic Earth.

The lower floor of Dynamic Earth has a number of interactive exhibits all focusing on mining.  Visitors can pan for gold, remotely operate mining equipment, and learn about local history.  There is also a large mining themed indoor play area geared explicitly to children.

My favourite part of our visit was the underground tour.  The tour is over an hour long and takes visitors underground to learn about mining from the 1800s to now.  I was surprised by the production values of the tour, they have put a lot of money into interpretation including video screens, special effects, and reconstruction of historical looking mining conditions.

Our tour guide did an excellent job of talking about local history, the impact of social history (women’s rights, workers rights, environmental legislation) on mining, and the technical changes in mining. It was informative but also done in an engaging way that invited questions and was suitable for all ages.  I’d recommend it to anyone interested in learning a bit more about mining, Northern Ontario history, or who is just looking for a fun family outing.

Public Spaces and Indigenous Land: Whitefish Island

My latest post, “Public Spaces and Indigenous Land: Whitefish Island,” can be seen over at Active History.  The post looks at the history of Whitefish Island and the challenges of preserving the history of a space when it is located in a high use area.

Gerald Richardson – Life Through The Lens

While visiting the Dufferin County Museum and Archives (DCMA) recently I was able to take in the Gerald Richardson – Life Through The Lens exhibit that was in the Silo Gallery.  The exhibit featured many photographs by Richardson that are on loan to the DCMA.

Richardson was from Orangeville, Ontario in Dufferin County and is well known for his photographs of the British Royal family, the Canadian navy, and Canada at war.  Richardson famously photographed the Royal tour of  1939 and 1951.  Richardson started his career as a photographer taking family portraits and went on to serve in the the Royal Canadian Navy as the first Photographic Officer.

The Silo Gallery at the DCMA is named that because it is literally located in the top portion of a silo. The rounded small space has beautiful views of the surrounding area but is challenging as an exhibit space.  Despite the small rounded area I’ve seen a number of successful art, photograph, and print based exhibitions in this space over the years.  The Richardson exhibit did an excellent job of highlighting his connections to Dufferin County, displays some of his more well known works and iconic photographs of the Royal family.  The exhibit had both local, national, and international historical content making it an exhibit which would appeal to most visitors.

City of Greater Sudbury Archives

This morning CBC radio’s Morning North featured a segment on a recent donation to the Sudbury Archives.  Hearing about community archival donations on local media is a rare occurrence so it was nice to see community interest in the Sudbury Archives. Details on the recent donation can be seen here.

The Sudbury Archives was established relatively recently.  In 2008 the city hired a professional archivist and the City of Greater Sudbury Archives opened to the public in May 2012.  The Archives houses municipal government records as well as private organizational, business, and personal papers. Personally, I was surprised by the relative newness of this community and municipal archive.  Naively I assumed that Sudbury would have long ago established an archives to preserve it’s documentary heritage — even if that archive was simply part of a local museum.

The Sudbury District Archives Interest Group was instrumental in partnering with the City of Greater Sudbury to establish the Sudbury Archives.  The Interest Group became concerned about the destruction of Sudbury land records and played a key role in advocating for a community archives. 

The portion of the holdings of the City of Sudbury Archives are available online via Archeion.  The items that are available online are well described and include ample contextual information.  Some of the online records also include images.  A list of the microfilm available for reference in the reading room is also available online.

One of the interesting (albeit a tad cheesy) parts of the Sudbury Archives website is a game called Grandma’s Attic which is designed to teach students about the difference between archives, libraries, and museums.  The game is simple by design but is a great example of an interactive way to teach people about archives. 

Local History and Artwork at the Galway City Museum

It rained a lot while I was in Galway.  The rain seemed to come in bursts, it would rain for ten minutes and then it would be sunny, twenty minutes later it would rain for another ten minutes.  In my mind a rainy day is a perfect day for a trip to a museum.  The Galway City Museum located near the River Corrib by the Spanish Arch was a great way to spend a couple of hours.  Admission is free and the Museum is well worth a visit. 

The permanent galleries focus on the history of Galway, with the main floor’s exhibitions focusing on prehistoric Galway and medieval history.   The mixture of explanatory text, historical photographs, and archeological artifacts was well done in this area.  This space concisely explains the geographical formation of the area and the early settlers.

In the large atrium of the museum is a Galway Hooker that was made for the museum by Pat Ó Cualáin and Micheál MacDonncha from An Cheathrú Rua.  The boat is named Máirtín Oliver in honour of the last King of the Claddagh village.  The boat is an amazing piece of craftsmanship and the placement of it makes it impossible to miss during any visit to the museum. 

During my visit there was a couple of temporary exhibitions that I particularly enjoyed.  The Derrick Hawker: An Islands’ Retrospective exhibition was a great example of a city museum incorporating local artists into the space.  The exhibition focused on the paintings and sketches done by Hawker with an emphasis on his work showcasing the Connemara region and the Ballynakill Lake in Gorumna. 

The Hawker exhibition was complimented by an exhibition of ceramics and glass works on loan from the University of Limerick.  The exhibit contained works from around the world and the vast majority of them were practical ceramics such as vases or bowls.  The catalogue of the collection which was the basis of this exhibit can be seen here.

Other than the exhibitions I really enjoyed the physical space of the museum.  A number of the walls of the museum are glass which allows for great views of the city from the gallery spaces.  It was also interesting to see that most exhibition text was in both English and Gaelic.  I would be interested to know how many of the exhibition visitors read the Gaelic text over the English.

During my visit there was also a curatorial meeting doing on in one of the exhibition spaces that was under renovation.  The public historian and exhibition in installer in me couldn’t help but listen in briefly.  It was neat to see staff actually collaborating in the exhibition space and actively considering how the space would work with the flow of the museum overall.

Forgotten Sites: POW Camps in Ontario

Bill Waiser‘s  recent “Parks Prisoners” article in Canada’s History  examined the role POW camps had in the parks system, with a particular emphasis on the impact of POW labour on the western expansion of Canadian parks.

Waiser’s article got me thinking about the existence of POW camps in Ontario during World War II.  Many of these POW work camps existed in Northern Ontario but there are few formal monuments to the camps and few people know of their existence.

Internment camps in Ontario during World War I:

Camp Location
Dates of Operation
Niagara Falls
Sault Ste Marie

Internment camps in Ontario during World War II:

Camp Location
Dates of Operation
Kingston/Fort Henry

For those interested in learning more about a specific camp Library and Archives Canada has a guide to the history of internment camps in Canada. A map of the camp locations and smaller off site work camps can be seen here.

I was surprised by prevalence of camps in remote communities and the use of POWs in lumbering, farming, road building, construction, and pulp mills. A number of the internment camps were located in Northern remote areas or areas in need of labour for development.

Some of the larger camps — Kingston and Petawawa are well known and seen as historical significant.  The Fort Henry Camp in Kingston is a national historic site for it’s role in the war of 1812 and it’s use as an internment camp.

However, many of the more remote camps have little signage (some do have historical plaques) and aren’t immediately recognizable as historic sites.  Many of the sites have been overtaken by nature with little visual evidence of their nature. Perhaps the desire to forget this aspect of Canada’s past has contributed to the lack of public knowledge around Canadian internment camps and the sparse interpretation of these sites.

Heritage Hide’n’Seek GeoTour

Parks Canada recently announced a Northern Ontario heritage GeoTour that combines geocaching and the history of the Northern Ontario region.  Details on the GeoTour were a bit difficult to locate initially, as the links provided in my local paper didn’t direct users to the correct site and the parks website has a number of geolocation based programs.

The Hide’n’Seek program includes 16 geocaches located as far south as Algonquin Park, as far north as the James Bay coast, and as far west as Fort Frances.  Given the vast distance between the geocahes it is fairly unlikely that too many people will visit all of them.  However, there are various clusters located around Thunder Bay, Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury and the Hwy 17 corridor which might be great stopping points for anyone traveling across the province. 

The historical details of the GeoTour are well written and often involve visits to Parks Canada sites and local landmarks.  For example, the Sault Ste. Marie Commerce cache includes a visit to the Francis Clergue plaque, the Nicolas Perrot plaque, and the Ermatinger House.  Each stop includes a description of the historical context and explanation of the impact of person or location of the development of trade and commerce in Sault Ste Marie.  Given that this GeoTour was created by Parks Canada it’s not surprising that locations of many of the geocaches encourage participants to visit parks or local heritage sites.

Overall, the GeoTour seems like a neat way to encourage the general public to interact with history in a new way.  The tour is educational, includes a number of interesting landmarks, and makes use of the growing abundance of smartphones.  The only potential downside to the tour is that there are significant distances between many of the caches.  It would be nice to see more caches developed throughout the region so that local participants could take advantage of more of the GeoTour without having to drive thousands of kilometers.