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!


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!

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.

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.


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.


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.



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.


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!


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.

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.

Enter a caption
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.


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.

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.

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.

Our barn, ready for the crowds

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!



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

First we get the bucket….









… then we fill it with ice and salt…
… 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)

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.


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.

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.




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.

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

It Lives, Again?

Well, I have completed the classroom component of my time in Fleming College’s Museum Management and Curatorship Program.  I know that I didn’t post about my time in the program on the blog, but I wasn’t silent- I chronicled what I was doing on my portfolio, which is now part of this blog! Check it out sometime.

I can say with more conviction that there will be some posts coming up in the next few weeks. I know that this is not the first time I’ve said that and then disappeared for most of a year, but this time the blogs are for an assignment, so, rest assured, you’ll see them.

The third (and final) semester of the Museum Management Program is an internship with a museum or cultural institution. I am currently interning at the Bell Homestead National Historic Site. Throughout the next four months I will be posting “Internship Journal” entries chronicling my experiences at this National Historic Site.

I am also thinking of using this blog as a platform for some of my personal research (which is what blogs are for, after all). You may be seeing some preliminary stuff for that as well.

In any case, I will be writing here again soon! (and I mean it this time!)

Scott W. E. Dickinson



It Lives

Life, do you hear me? Give this blog life!

Well, it’s been awhile.

More than a year, really.

I am proud to say that I’m getting back into the Public History gig- as a student at Fleming College’s Museum Management and Curatorship program. It’s not exactly where I expected to be when I last wrote in this blog, but it is a spot in the heritage field where I can improve my skills and make further contacts in the museum world. If it only paid me, it would be perfect.

On that note, I will likely  have something to impart about my year-long job search (don’t worry- I wasn’t unemployed for a whole year, but I wasn’t in a museum or heritage related institution), though I’m not sure what I can tell others about finding employment, considering that I didn’t.

Expect more from me (fairly) soon about new projects, new exhibits and new ideas

I swear I’ll get a job Ma,

Scott W. E. Dickinson