Journal the Last

July 31st – August 11th

The formal part of my internship has been completed.

Although I’m not saying goodbye to the Homestead just yet- I’ve still got an Outreach event to run and a summer camp to help oversee- my time as an official Fleming College internship has come to an end. It’s been a good summer. I’ve had a chance to meet people from all over the world, and hone my skills as a historical interpreter while also working on creating and delivering educational programming. Since interpretation and education was what I wanted to focus my internship upon, I’d say it’s been pretty good.

The last two weeks of the internship have been pretty quiet, though like I said in my last journal, quiet does mean it wasn’t very busy. The business just seems very routine at this point. Now that we’ve tested all the day camp activities, I need to get them ready to go. At this point, this mostly means making a great number of dinosaur bone castings so that all the campers will have enough, as well as ensuring that we’ve got enough scavenger hunt sheets printed and that the example crafts are all ready to go.

I’ve also got to make sure that the activities I developed for our Outreach event in Hamilton is ready, though I’m sorry to report that my anthotype experiment failed. It looks like we will not be offering it during “The Art of Communication”. On a happy note, while rebuilding my camera obscura so that it will passively project images again, I used a different material (wax paper) for my screen which improved visibility greatly. I had some reservations about using the camera as an interactive piece since it worked so poorly indoors. Now, indoor projection is possible and outdoor viewing is extremely clear. It’s quite impressive.

That’s pretty much it for the internship. Now, however, I have a little more to share about the project I’ve been working on in the evenings.

MapThe Battle of Hill 70, though rather forgotten today, was an important battle for Canadian troops during the First World War. It was the first action where all four Canadian divisions were under the command of a Canadian (Vimy Ridge had been conducted under the over command of Sir Julian Byng. Hill 70 was General Sir Arthur Currie’s first solo command). The goal of Hill 70 was to bottle up the German troops guarding the towns of Lens, occupying them so that they could not reinforce the battle already going on at Passchendaele.

Currie’s masterful plan was a lighting fast attack on Hill 70, a strategically important location overlooking Lens itself. He knew that the Germans could not allow Hill 70 to come under Canadian control, as artillery on Hill 70 would have been able to strike their defences in the city itself. Currie’s plan was that as soon as his troops had won the Hill, they were supposed to dig and switch their offence to a defence. The Germans, forced to attack Hill 70 to save their position in Lens, would find that the Canadians had prepared extensively and had a system of artillery observers who could call down precision barrages wherever German troops could be seen. For the few Germans that got through, they found that the Canadians had managed to dig new trenches and defences, and, thanks to a system of communications trenches connecting the Hill to the Canadian rear, were able to bring in huge numbers of reinforcements and ammunition.

HillAfter twenty-one counter attacks over the course of three days, the Germans gave up. Hill 70 stayed in Canadian hands for the rest of the War.

The local connection comes from the 107th Pioneer Battalion, also known as the Timberwolves. They were a mostly Indigenous battalion charged with building communications trenches while under fire right after the main attack. These guys were no construction crew- they were fully trained infantrymen who carried a full loadout of weapons into the battle. They just had a different responsibility once the Hill was taken. The men of the Six Nations who served in the Great War mostly ended up in the 107th, so the exhibit not only commemorates the battle, but the lives of two of them:

Picture1Wilfred Lickers, who served as a private and

Oliver Martin 1Oliver Milton Martin, a lieutenant.

Although Lickers went back to farming after the war, Martin’s path was different. He became a school teacher in Toronto and stayed involved in the peacetime militia. He would rise through the ranks to command the Dufferin Rifles Regiment by 1935, and would also be appointed principle of Danforth Public School. When the Second World War broke out, Martin became head of the training camp at Camp Niagara, where he would rise to the rank of Brigadier-General, which is the highest rank any Indigenous soldier has ever held in Canada. After retiring in 1944, Martin would be appointed a provincial magistrate, which he would serve as until his death. During his later life Martin, as one of the best known Indigenous men in Canada, spoke out about the condition of his people and urged tolerance and acceptance from the government and the public in interviews and in his own writings. He died in 1957.

As you can expect, the lives of these men (especially O.M. Martin) hold special importance for the local Six Nations. I made sure to complete the panel text for Lickers and Martin last week, so that there was time for it to be vetted and approved. I’m happy to say that it was returned with only minimal changes. At this point I am completing the text for the Hill 70 case (the exhibit consists of a case for Lickers, a case for Martin and a large case for Hill 70) and finalising the design of each case. This weekend will be spent constructing the mounts and backdrops for the case. Since there are few artifacts (just a few medals) and most of the exhibit is made of reproduction photographs, there is not too much to do- though I am planning on creating a simple mount of foam for the medals, which will keep them from slipping on the angled bottoms of the cases. Everything else will be held in place by double-sided tape.

The commemoration event in the 15th of August- the One Hundredth Anniversary of the beginning of the Battle. It’s a tight deadline, but I’m not too worried- all the images that we’ll need for the exhibit we have permission for (and copies of), most of the text is ready (and the rest is pretty well there), the designs will be completed soon, and the actual exhibit has been designed to be simple to construct and install- I’m mounting the images onto a black piece of board which will be set into a tabletop case on an angle, with the medals in the foam mounting going in last. It’s nothing big or fancy, but I think it will look good.

I’ll post pictures next week, once it’s complete,

Scott W. E. Dickinson

 

 

 

 

Journal the Sixth

July 15th- July 28th

Well, I cannot believe how fast things have been going. I’m moving into the last two weeks of my formal internship with the Homestead. I’ll be still be volunteering afterwards- there are somethings that I am involved with that happen beyond the scope of the internship- but the formal part will be over.

The past two weeks have been fairly quiet ones. I’ve been busy, but mostly with tasks that I was expecting to be busy with. Somehow, knowing about the work beforehand makes you feel less swamped. I completed my research report about my travelling teaching kit and sent that off back to Fleming. There has been very little written about creating teaching kits, and I hope that mine will be of benefit to museum educators trying to create their own.

The kit that I was developing (which formed the basis of my report) is pretty well complete. At this point we have a selection of primary and secondary sources for students to base their research upon, as well as guides to show them how they should develop their arguments and how to create their mock trial activity. I plan to do some more tweaking and editing to some of the documents, since some of the guides were borrowed from other sources and we haven’t had time to make them our own yet.

This is probably a good lesson for any new museum professional- when you are involved at a small site where you take part in everything, expect anything and everything to interrupt you! It’s certainly hard to estimate how much you’ll get done in a day, when folks show up unexpectedly for tours or when things pop up- like our recent (if short-lived) mouse infestation, or the discovery the other day of some minor water damage in the historic house. You never know how far your plan for the day will take you.

This explains why my Supervisor has been happy with my progress on the kit. The fact that it is substantially finished is all thanks to my efforts and certainly would be less further along if it had to compete for attention for everything else during the busy summer season.

At a small site like the Homestead, program development and progress on projects is definitely for the off-season, not the busy summer. As it stands, putting the polish on the kit will be my task in August. There’s just not been time otherwise!

IMG514Speaking of polish, I also got a taste of 19th-century style cleaning when I was asked to clean out the Homestead’s wood-fired cookstove. After removing the ashes from the interior, I polished the exterior and we fired it up to burn off the excess polish. IMG513

In other news, I have been trying out some of my camp activities to ensure that they work.

The catapult for our medieval day is a simple craft that will lend itself to games, and the dinosaur bones I’ve been casting in plaster will give our campers a chance to join in on a dig as palaeontologists. The only problem is that the casts tend to break as I bring them out of the mould.

IMG499I added a bit of decoration to the Camera Obscura I built a few weeks ago, and tried to create some photographs with it.

IMG500Early photograph cameras were simply Camera Obscura boxes, so I thought that I might have a chance of getting it to work.

Naturally, if you’re going to use an early camera, you need to use an early type of photograph. The type I chose was the anthotype. Anthotypes are not well known as they are based upon organic matter. This makes them easy to make- no dangerous chemicals- but they are slow to react to light even by the standards of old-time photography.

Exposures are measured by the hour- at best. According to the few anthotypists who still practice this art form, Spinach works the best. IMG502You only need to exposure your spinach based film for several hours, compared to the several days that film based on other plants will require.

Creating the ‘film’ is quite simple.

IMG503I crushed the spinach to extract its juice, then added a small amount of vinegar to help release the chlorophyll  that will react with sunlight to produce our picture. IMG505The spinach-vinegar solution is painted onto paper in several coats, and then placed in the camera for exposure.IMG507

The only problem with this is that there has not been a decently sunny day for me to try out my camera! I’ve still no spinach photographs to show. Hopefully the sun will come out soon.

Lastly, I am happy to announce that I am involved now in a small project separate from the Homestead! The Great War Centenary Association of Brantford, Brant County and Six Nations are putting on a small memorial on the 17th of August to remember the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Hill 70, the First World War battle that claimed the most Six Nations causalities of the war. It will also celebrate the life of Brigadier-General Oliver Milton Martin, the highest-ranking Aboriginal soldier in Canadian history, who was born on Six Nations and fought at Hill 70. They needed a volunteer who could design and implement their (small) exhibit for a one-night ceremony. One of their contacts in the museum world happened to be someone I knew from my University days, and who also knew I was in Brantford. One thing led to another, and now I’ve go three weeks to put a little exhibit together. Since this will be a very swift moving project, I may have to create some special posts before my next (and final) journal entry to showcase what I am doing for Hill 70.

Looks like my Summer is still going to be busy,

Scott W. E. Dickinson

 

Journal the Fifth

July 1st- July 14th

These two weeks have settled down a bit.

I know that in my last post I said that I should have pictures of our crafts and activities ready. Well, we’ve been busy doing other things. Expect crafts in my next post!

One of the more interesting of the Homestead’s outreach programs has started this month. Alexander’s first North American home has a large front porch, so it gets used by local theatre groups as an outdoor venue for summer evening plays. The plays only happen after we’re closed for the day, but they are still good draws for the public, who are brought out to a location they might not have had reason to go to otherwise- and hey- isn’t that a museum? We’ll have to come back during the day…

At the very least, they are pretty popular, and it gets the Homestead’s name out there in community circles. The only downside is that the theatre people are perhaps a little causal with how they use the front door of the home as part of their performance. That glass is fragile!

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In other news, the outdoor handpump at the homestead has been out of commission since the handle on it broke. We’ve finally got a replacement, and took it upon myself to get the pump working again. Reattaching the handle took only a moment, but the leather seals in the pump head had dried out. This meant I spent quite a deal of time pouring water down the pump to prime it while working the handle to get the pump to siphon water again. By late morning I had succeeded, and water was fairly gushing out!

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My assistant pumping water

In August the Homestead will go to the Cotton Factory, a gallery in Hamilton, where we’ll be involved in a one-day event based around “The Art of Communication”. I’ve been working on some activities for attendees to engage in. They include this Camera Obscura that I’ve built, as well as a small visible waveform generator.

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It’s not pretty, but it works!

A Camera Obscura (or pinhole camera) is the earliest form of camera. It allows you to project an image against a screen as that you can trace it or draw from it. Artists once used the Camera Obscura to draw landscapes. This one, thanks to the mirror inside it, projects an image onto the piece of wax paper on top of the box. When all is working, one can look down to see what is in front of them.

Early photographers also used the Camera Obscura when taking pictures. Since Melville Bell (Alexander’s father) was a keen amateur photographer, I hope to take a few images with this camera that I have made. If all is successful, I will share them- along with how I created them- in a later post.

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The visible waveform generator is a bit simpler, but no less interesting. It allows the user to see the soundwaves their voice makes.  This one is made from a cardboard tube with a balloon for a drumhead on one end. On the drum there is a small mirror, which vibrates when you speak into the tube.

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The changing vibrations of your voice are made visible by the laser pointer we aim at the mirror, which is reflected against the mirror to shine on the upright cardboard piece.

 

As the sound of your voice changes, the point of laser-light shakes, shimmies, elongates, shortens and changes into different shapes, allowing the user to study how different shorts of sounds make different sorts of waves. It’s pretty cool stuff.

I mentioned in my last blog post that I had been doing a spot of cataloguing, well now I’ve been putting some accession numbers of things that really should already have had them. Since there were only four artifacts that needed their numbers put on them, this was not a long job, but did require some creativity. Three of the artifacts were large furniture pieces, and all of them were to be kept in the Homestead. This meant applying the numbers in situ, which involved alot of crawling around on my part to find unobtrusive spots to place their accession numbers.

We also got a new donation this week- this is an original tetrahedral kite cell used by Alexander Graham Bell as part of his experiments in flight during the 1890s and early 1900s. Alexander hired many young Nova Scotian girls to sew his kite cells together. Our donor’s mother was of those girls. The cell itself is in really great shape.

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In the next weeks I’ll be doing a bit more cataloguing, preparing for the camp days at the end of summer (I promise I’ll have images for next time!), as well as conducting some more programming. The Homestead often does talks, and since my interests lie mostly with Bell’s many inventions and how they changed daily life, I’ll be travelling to some summer camps in the city to give demonstrations of how old-time telephones work. Also, our Educational Coordinator is taking her summer vacation time in the next few weeks, which is also when a group is coming in for an all day program. It’ll be up to us to run it without her. Should be  interesting.

That’s all for now,

Scott W. E. Dickinson

Journal the Fourth

June 20th to June 30th

The last two weeks have certainly been busy- and been wet. I’m not sure if a day went by without a bit of rain.

All last week we have school programs, with teachers anxious to get one last trip in before the school year ended. Strangely, we didn’t have any school groups in this week- you’d think that a chance to make old fashioned ice cream and explore our grounds would make a great intro to summer.

We have had plenty of other visitors, in any case. Here’s one of them.

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Flat Stanley is a children’s book character who is making the rounds across Canada this summer, seeing as many different places, peoples and events as he can. When he got to the Homestead we all looked around for events and activities to include him with. So I took him with me when I went (model) sailing!

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I also worked with a pair of architectural students who were doing a research project for a class in preserving built heritage. I hope that I was some help to them, though they were mostly interested in finding good images for their presentation.

In any case, we’ve been busy. Our plans for our summer camp days have been approved, and we’ll be testing our recipes and crafts next week to see if they’re any good. Expect my next post to be full of pictures!

We’ve also been preparing for Canada 150. Believe or not, but the Homestead isn’t open on Canada day, so instead some of our staff will be at Brantford’s big celebration. They’ll be taking with them some of the activities that I was using at Glenhyrst back in May, but they’ll also be taking along our working replicas of Bell’s original commercial telephones from way back in 1877.

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There aren’t separate speakers and microphones on these models- you talk and listen at the same hole!

Since Brian, our curator (who using prepares the replicas for use) was on holiday, it was up to me to figure out how to wire the two sets together.

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All ready to go.

We got them working fairly quickly. The interesting thing about these 1877 models is that they don’t require any outside power to work- instead of battery power, they run off the power of your voice! Unfortunately, sound quality wasn’t all that great during our tests, but hopefully it works better during Canada Day.

I’ve also had a chance to do a bit of cataloguing here and there in past two weeks. As the Homestead itself is also our artifact storage building, searching for artifacts to check their locations means going behind the ropes to check over everything. Good thing everything has an accession number! I’ve mostly been working with the books in the Bell’s library, which means a lot of sorting through shelves. The books are all in really good condition, though. I can only do cataloguing when Brian ins’t using his computer, since his is the only one through which I can access their electronic catalogue. This means that the cataloguing is very much a secondary task for me- I’ve got plenty of other work to keep me busy.

This includes my research project, which I think is starting to shape up nicely, though I’ve not got too much news to share right now. Research is certainly all done, and so now I’m developing the instructional set and the background information that will travel with the historic documents to provide context for the classroom courthouses.

To end on a lighter note, here’s Alex, our dummy.

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If you’d like to know what he’s for, well, that’s a good question. So far, he seems only good for scaring people as they round the corner. Oh well.

That’s all for now

Scott W.E. Dickinson

 

 

Journal the Third

June 5th – 16th

Summer is definitely here. Down on the Homestead we’ve stopped providing cooking demonstrations and have switched over to making ice cream. Lots of ice cream. In fact, I’m not entirely sure that I’ll ever stop smelling of vanilla.

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Turns out there is such a thing as too much ice cream

Since summer vacation is almost upon us, a lot of local schools are getting in a last trip to the Homestead before their students break for July and August. This means that June has been extremely busy.  Just today we’ve had sixty schoolkids through. Quite a show.

Certainly the slow days that we knew in May are no longer around. Between the school tours, the drop-in traffic (which has increased greatly over the past week), the PA day on the 9th and the regular maintenance and upkeep work, it’s amazing that the small staff of the Homestead can keep up, let alone work on all the other projects and tasks that need doing.

Of course, I know how hard it is to balance all these aspects of the job as I am doing it myself. I am happy to report that I have -mostly- completed all the research required for the educational program I am developing. Since this program is based around showing school children the basics of research and argument development, I didn’t need to just find information for myself, but find information- mostly excerpts from historical documents- that the participants will find understandable and also useful when they construct their arguments about who they believe invented the telephone. I have singled out the four most important alternate claimants to the telephone for the participants to consider- Elisha Gray, the Western Union engineer who did invent a sound transmitting machine independently although too late to beat Bell; Daniel Drawbaugh, backwoods machinist and blowhard with a massive cast of supremely unreliable witnesses; Philip Reis, a German schoolteacher whose death did not stop others from claiming he invented the telephone first; and Amos Dolbear, who made the strange blunder of publicly lauding Bell for his invention before privately trying to claim the telephone for himself.  We will see whether this court of Grade Eights decides whether one of these men have a convincing claim, or whether to decide in favour of Alexander Graham Bell. It should be interesting.

I did promise last week that I would provide a short tour of the Bell Homestead, and so here we go!

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Feelin’ tired but accomplished,

Scott W. E. Dickinson

 

Journal the Second

May 20th – June 2nd

Well, another busy two weeks!

There’s been plenty of tours and school groups through, of course- the end of the school year is a busy one for school trips and it seems that plenty of senior’s groups enjoy coming to the homestead in Spring- the lilacs are still in full bloom here.

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I still need to find a decent mirror…

Most days are spent in full costume, no matter what task I’m performing. You haven’t cleaned artifacts until you’ve done it in a weskit and mandarin collar.

I also seem to be spending a good deal of time working with our operational switchboard. It’s great for demonstrations, as it still has two phones connected to it, though both are in the same building. It’s a bit worrying how so many of our school groups give our phones strange looks. Not only are landline handset phones archaic relics these days, but many of our young phone users don’t even know what a phone number is. Still, they seem to grasp the concept fairly quickly, even if they don’t understand why the phones are connected by wires.

Outreach and special events have been the theme for these two weeks. Last Saturday was the Homestead’s annual barn sale.

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Our barn, ready for the crowds
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Dog-Pope?

The barn sale is basically an oversized garage sale, with the barn packed to the rafters with all manner of unsellable junk. Unsurprisingly, all of it sold. It’s also a great way to find unexpected “treasures”, like this embroidered dog dressed as the Pope.

No, we don’t know why it’s there either.

 

 

Our other big event was the Glenhyrst Art Gallery’s Family Arts Day. Brian, the curator, and myself were on hand to teach visitors about the timeline of the telephone and to provide some old-time refreshment- hand-cranked ice cream!

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As it turns out, ice cream is much less refreshing when you’re the one making it.

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First we get the bucket….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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… then we fill it with ice and salt…
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… after churning the cream and sugar for awhile, you get ice cream!

On this Sunday, the Southern Ontario Amazing Race will be coming to the Homestead. We’re still not quite sure what the teams will be doing, but I’ll be sure to take plenty of pictures.

I’ve been missing doing collections-based work, especially as I have been hearing about all my classmates working in their museums storage areas for their internships. I have had a chance to do a bit of work in this area- I’ve been cleaning and checking on the displayed artifacts, and I was also charged with giving the ice cream maker a good coating of mineral oil after it was used. (the ice-salt freezing mixture corrodes metal and badly dries out wood, so sealing the maker is important, as it is an artifact, albeit one that’s part of the working collection)

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As the bucket dried, more and more salt leached out of it. 

I’ve asked the curator if there is any other work to be done with the Homestead’s small collection (basically, it’s all on display), and so now I’ll be working with their collection records, transferring them into an electronic database. It’s similar to projects I’ve worked on before at other museums, but it’s nice to get back to records management.

On an interesting note, the Bell Homestead became a museum in 1910, making it older than the Royal Ontario Museum (it’s also been a historic house longer than it was a real house). The artifacts have been accessioned for decades, but the records are still mostly physical. Hopefully I’ll be able to rectify that.

A quick note about my longer term projects- planning for the summer camp at the end of August is pretty well complete. We’ve got a pretty good mixture of crafts, games and activities. As an example, campers will be using this catapult in a little mock-siege against a cardboard castle.

 

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Safety catch still needs work, though.

Research for the travelling kit is also ongoing. The end goal for this kit is to allow teachers and student to recreate the Telephone Cases of the 1880s, where Alexander Graham Bell had to defend his patents against the scores of people who claimed to have invented the telephone before him- in several famous cases, inventors claimed that Alex stole the idea from them! Although most of these claims are easy to dismiss, at least one- the case of Elisha Gray- has a good deal of truth to it. It seems that Gray really did invent the telephone independently of Bell, but he was rather less proactive about getting it patented. Whether or not Bell stole his designs is much less clear.

In any rate, I’ve got hundreds of pages of court testimony to go through. I’m picking out relevant passages and quotations that will allow students to make their arguments- whether for or against Bell- for their classroom trials. It’s going quite well, though there have been some strange delays.

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Get off my research!

Since I spend a lot of time providing tours, I’m going to try and create a photographic tour of the Homestead for next time.

Scott

 

 

Journal the First

May 2nd to May 19th, 2017

This first journal will cover three weeks of activity instead of the usual two as I began my internship early and thus my “first week” and my actual first week are different.

IMG364My first days were spent in getting familiar with the National Historic Site. The Bell Homestead contains Melville House, the house the Bell family occupied when they emigrated to Canada, Henderson House, the first office of the Bell Telephone Company of Canada and the visitor’s centre, which is a modern building and houses the gift shop, theatre and offices. Artifact storage is in various parts of all three buildings, in areas off limits to guests.

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The View from the Front Porch of Melville House

I was busy learning how to open and close the historic homes for the day, as well as the history of the homes and their occupants so that I could provide tours and interpretation as soon as possible. We were also busy cleaning “behind the ropes” and cleaning out storage spaces for the oncoming busy summer season. Although some of the rooms were probably be re-arranged for the summer, it was good to get a thorough dusting in.

I was thrown right into school programming- not only tours, but also science and sense-based activities along with old telephone switchboard demonstrations.

As well, I went over my work plan with my supervisor and began work on my main projects for the summer, which include developing camp days for late summer and redeveloping an education program into a classroom teaching kit.

The Bell Homestead runs two weeks of summer camp programming in late August. Each day has a theme picked from the pages of National Geographic (Bell was the second president of the National Geographic Society and was largely responsible for the inclusion of pictures in what had been a very text-heavy publication). Although I will be assisting during all the camp days, I have taken charge of two of them- Dinosaur Digs and Castles and Knights and will develop an activity plan for both of these days.

I’ve started looking for resources about creating classroom kits. If anyone has any leads, I’d love to hear them.

We’ve also been involved in outreach programs.

At Brantford’s Waterfest, the Bell Homestead was present with 19th Century laundry gear to give kids a taste of what washing up used to be like.

On another note, we set up our summer exhibit! “Quilts Called Canada: 150 Years in Stitches” is an exhibit created by the Brant Historical Quilter’s Guild, a group of residents with an interest in quilting (and in history).IMG377

Each year since Confederation had a large quilt square made for it, the square representing something of historical importance to Canada. It certainly brightens the theatre in the visitors centre.IMG376

Let’s see what the next few weeks bring

Scott Dickinson