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.





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