2014 News

Westby Dedicated to Preserving Smithers’ Past

By Kendra Wong, Smithers Interior News, December 25, 2014

Kira WestbyFrom a young age, Kira Westby decided to dedicate herself to preserving the past.

“I was really big into dinosaurs as a kid. I think somewhere there’s a Grade 8 project that asked me what I was going to be when I grew up and I picked an archaeologist and stuck with that,” said Westby. “I remember going to museums when I was a kid and thinking it was really cool.”

Since then, she has grown out of dinosaurs and has moved on with the purpose of reinvigorating the past through the presentation of artifacts.

“I’ve always been interested in history and in the past. Museums are a great place for that because not only do you come into physical contact with pieces from history, whether it’s documents or artifacts, it’s a great place for sharing history,” she said.

Westby is the Bulkley Valley Museum’s new curator.

The Ontario-native studied archaeology and history at Wilfred Laurier University and completed her masters at the University of Western Ontario. As part of that program, she completed a 12-week internship at the museum in Peterborough.

She also spent three years at the collections repository at the university doing database development and collections management.

Westby spent some time in the field doing excavation, but prefers being on the interpretive side of things and piecing together the past.

“It’s the interpretation that’s important. Without the context, that china cup is just a china cup. Once you know the story behind it, that china cup was brought by the first settler who arrived here, and they brought it back with them from the east,” she said. “It’s all about the interpretive value of these pieces, otherwise, they’re not as significant without their stories”

As the museum curator (the museum is staffed by Westby and another full-time staff member), she is responsible for making a lot of day-to-day decisions around collections, exhibits and education programming.

According to David McKenzie, president of the board, the museum is undergoing some changes, and so far, Westby has been up to the challenge.

“She had this vibrant personality and excellent qualifications,” said McKenzie. “We felt that she could do a really good job. She has discovered things that we didn’t know about. She’s been getting right in there . . . She’s bringing a fresh outlook to the position.”

While she’s been on the job for just under two months, she already has big plans for the museum.

According to Westby, one of the biggest challenges that the museum faces is its lack of storage space for its roughly 3,000 artifacts ranging from barber scissors to mining equipment.

Currently, some artifacts are stored in-house, while some of the larger pieces are stored in facilities around town; but she hopes to change that.

“[The museum] doesn’t have one storage location where it can have all of its stuff stored at the right temperature and secure from mice getting in,” said Westby. “The collections will be a focus for us in the new year. We need to do some re-housing in our back storage room here.”

Starting in January, there are also plans to slowly bring out all the artifacts for public display in the gallery, and updating their archival database.

“I think it’s important that people care about history. People feel that connection to their grandparents or generations older than that and the museum is a place where those things are kept and held,” she said. “It’s like you’re the keeper of the past.”

There are roughly 5,535 people who have come through the museum this year.


Digital History Projects Now Online!

Check out the fall Digital History 9808 projects at the following links.

Fanshawe Pioneer Exhibit Features Clandeboye Doctor

By Scott Nixon, Exeter Times-Advocate, November 16, 2014

FPV exhibit opening 2014A piece of the village of Clandeboye’s history will be on display in the spring when a new exhibit at London’s Fanshawe Pioneer Village (FPV) is unveiled to the public.

As the result of a partnership between FPV and Western University’s Public History master’s program, a new building exhibit recreates the home and office of Dr. William Anson Jones (1867-1949) who practiced medicine in Clandeboye in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The new exhibit features Jones’ artifacts and archival records and was shown off in a sneak preview Oct. 23 that allowed Western students, staff and families to see the building.

FPV curator Shanna Dunlop explained that Jones’ son donated his father’s collection of historical medical items and records to the FPV and the new exhibit has transformed a farmhouse to replicate a typical rural doctor’s office of the early 20th century. Dunlop said it wouldn’t be unusual for a doctor from that period to work out of his own home and Jones’ wife probably served as a nurse during medical emergencies. The new exhibit features a parlour, waiting room, dispensing room and office area. Many original artifacts and archives are on display, while some were replicated to protect the originals, which were in fragile condition.

“The exhibit is amazing,” Dunlop said, adding that when it opens in the spring, volunteers will take on the role of a local doctor and provide tours through the building.

Western students began working on the project in January, doing comprehensive research. Dunlop said FPV staff will be able to use that knowledge and research going forward. She said the exhibit drives home the concept of what a rural medical practice was like more than 100 years ago.

Michelle Hamilton, Western’s director of master’s in Public History program, said the school takes on projects every year and has its students apply the theories it learns by working with community partners, in this case the FPV. Hamilton said the Jones exhibit was a great opportunity for the students to be able to say they’ve curated an exhibit and applied their skills. She added that Dunlop has been a wonderful mentor for the students during the project.

As the Jones collection contained a number of historical medical devices, Hamilton said one of the challenges the students had was researching to find out what they were. She said students weren’t given a lot of guidelines at the beginning of the project – they were shown the collection, given a budget and had until April to complete their work.

Hamilton said she is pleased with the final product.

“I think they did a wonderful job,” she said, adding students were marked on things such as their research, the interpretive plan for FPV staff, how visually appealing the exhibit is, as well as being on time and on budget.

Elizabeth Miron was one of 12 Western students who worked on the project, and she said one of its challenges was learning about the difference in medical techniques of the early 20th century compared to today. She said patients had to deal with the realities of “surgery on the kitchen table” with no painkillers and long travels to get to a doctor.

Miron said Jones’ collection was complete and with the new FPV exhibit it can be on display for the public.

Fellow student Jessica Knapp, who worked on the design for the pharmaceutical room, said gaining medical history knowledge was the first thing she and her Western colleagues had to do on the project. She said the fragility of some of the items and the condition of the house were some of the challenges the students had to deal with.

She said some of Jones’ medical bottles couldn’t be displayed because they still had chemical residue within them.

The project was “a lot more work than putting items on a shelf,” she said, explaining that the students had to know the history of the items and what they were used for.

Student Oliver Jones said the exhibit needed a storyline and the Dr. Jones exhibit tells the story of changing times in the medical world, from natural medicines to pharmaceuticals.

While the students did the research for the project, it was FPV who installed the exhibit, and student Carla Watson said they did a fantastic job of putting everything together.

“They took the themes and ran with it. They did an excellent job,” student Jones added.

Dr. William Anson Jones was born in Clandeboye on Dec. 21, 1867, moving to Centralia in 1892 after his medical training and a brief practice in Michigan. In 1894 he returned to Clandeboye where he set up a medical practice in his father’s home. He moved to Ottawa in 1912, where he died Sept. 13, 1949.

The exhibit at FPV will open in the spring of 2015.


Public History Grad Starts MuseumMusings.com

September 21, 2014

MuseummusingsPartnered with Peter Konieczny of Medievalists.net, Jesika Arseneau (2012-13) has started a new website for international and North American museum news, interviews, academic articles, exhibition reviews, and blog commentary. Museummusings.com aims to highlight "the treasures of museums across the globe, both big & small". You can also follow them on Twitter @MuseumMusers or on Facebook.


 Step Back in Time with the Museum

by Adrian Petry, St. Catharines Standard, August 24, 2014

PetryThink back to the high school history class when you first encountered the First World War.

What lessons can you remember? One memory from my Grade 10 history class involves my teacher enthusiastically explaining the creeping barrage artillery tactic.

‘Enthusiastically’ seems the best description to depict the lesson, which resulted in approximately 400 arched chalk lines drawn across the chalkboard and my teacher out of breath.

Something tells me not everyone would have had such an enthusiastic experience in their history class. It can be difficult to get people excited or even interested in history.

The classroom history experience is important. It provides vital context, question-and-answer sessions and guides productive historical thinking. It can also be very boring and might not appeal to all types of learners.

One way we’re trying to make our local First World War stories interesting and accessible to everyone is by sharing them through dramatic performances. I enjoy using drama in my work as a historian, because it allows me to be sneaky in presenting historical themes and universal concepts that give weight and value to information on people, dates and events.

An audience is far more likely to remember and appreciate a story that made them feel a certain way and forged an emotional connection.

In September, a cast of 14 local actors will portray a wide variety of historic personalities from the Great War era, all of whom are buried at Victoria Lawn Cemetery.

The list includes Lt. Col. Dr. William Hamilton Merritt, who served as a doctor in France and his sister, Catharine Welland Merritt, who was on a trip to Europe with Olive Weller over the summer of 1914. They were in Hungary at the time of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination and in Germany when war was declared. They had a difficult yet adventurous time trying to leave Europe.

We have also included stores and perspectives from those who contributed at home, like Ernest Jones and William Ecker of the Welland Canal Force, or Bessie Mulock who coordinated the local chapter of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire.

A great deal of research goes into selecting historic personalities and composing the script for these history-themed walks. Much of what the audience will hear comes directly from the primary sources in our archives.

The actors and the creative team take authenticity seriously and strive to portray the historic personalities respectfully. The Great War era gives us a lot to work with. There is a larger pool of stories than, for example, the War of 1812.

More important, the connections to these stories are stronger. Many of our cast members have grandparents or other relatives who were involved in the Great War. Being involved in this project has allowed them to become closer to their own family history.

If like some of the cast members, you have a family connection to the Great War or just a slight interest perhaps piqued by the memory of a history lesson, join us for a walk around Victoria Lawn. You might find yourself enthusiastic about history again.

Guided Spirit Walks at Victoria Lawn Cemetery are presented by the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre. Tours run at 6 and 7 p.m. on Sept. 5, 6, 12 and 13. Space is limited so pre-registration is required. Contact the museum at 905-984-8880 for more information or to register.

Adrian Petry is a public historian and public programmer at the St. Catharines Museum.


Western History Students are Tweeting from a Time Vault to Show what Wartime Life was like at Home

by Dan Brown, London Free Press, June 26, 2014

Going over the top.

Those were the grim realities of trench warfare during the Great War, now known as the First World War.

But what was life like here in London on the home front?

As the world marks the 100th anniversary of the war, starting with the archduke whose assassination a century ago Saturday lit the powderkeg, graduate history students in London are marrying old-school records with Twitter to show what life was like for those left behind to keep the home fires burning.

Daily over the next four years, starting Monday, graduate history students at Western University will tweet out wartime headlines from The London Free Press — stories and images from micro-filmed archives.

“It’s not just about battles, it’s not just about people dying,” said Michelle Hamilton, director of the school’s master’s program in public history. “Our focus is to look at how Londoners were affected by war.”

They’ll start Monday, the start of the war, and follow through until the surviving Canadian soldiers returned home in 1918.

The tweets kick off with Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination: “New heir to the Austrian throne and his wife . . . nephew of Ferdinand, assassinated on Sunday,” reads one of the 140-character messages.

Followers of @LdnOntWWI will be able to click through to read more of The Free Press reports.

Followers will see early examples of newspaper photography.

Hamilton says it’s hard for us to imagine now how all-encompassing the war was.

“You really get that impact, that it really did affect everything,” she said.

The war changed how the city lived, from women’s fashions to making fatherless Christmases a tradition.

The stories go from early boosting of the war effort, to more cynical and questioning reports as the conflict grinds on — the same transition readers and viewers of media saw recently in Iraq.

And while we might think of today’s media as overly intrusive, Hamilton said news sources today can’t match the detail included in reports about soldiers who died, right down to home addresses.

“What surprised me is the very personal stories,” she said.

A new batch of 14 students arriving in September will continue the project.


Re-Photographing Western

by Oliver Jones, Western News, April 24, 2014

Western News is featuring Oliver Jones' re-photography project completed for History 9808. Re-photography is the process of taking a picture of a picture to show a “then-and-now” view of a location. Here is the first installment from April:

NSCHere we have one of the original architectural plans for the Natural Science Building. Because of the large amounts of lab space inside the building, its exterior was designed to allow as much natural light into the interior as possible, hence the large rows of bay windows on each storey. Although other buildings were designed in the same collegiate gothic style as the Natural Science Building, the latter is unique in that it incorporates grotesques into its design. Many of these designs are whimsical interpretations of popular figures during the 1920s, such as “Old Bill”, a famous cartoon character from the Great War.

Although they are not shown on this particular drawing, the plumbing and heating systems of the Natural Science Building are quite sophisticated for their time. The demands of laboratory work necessitated that the plumbing system of the building be resistant to volatile chemicals, while the heating systems for the building were located in a separate boiler house roughly 1500 feet away.

One of the most well known features of the Natural Science building for much of its history was its cafeteria. Although the space was originally intended to be used as a museum, much of the social life within the science departments revolved around this space, with as many as 200 students eating there on any given day. Sadly, this space has now been divided and repurposed for office use, but the recent renovation of the building’s central atrium has given students and staff another place to engage with each other.

Check out Oliver's successive articles in Western News May 8th (pg 4) and May 22 (pg 4) editions.


Memory and the Built Landscape: Edmonton’s Architectural Heritage Website

By Tim O’Grady, Activehistory.ca, April 14, 2014

When you think of important events in your life, chances are you associate them with physical places. Whether it is your childhood home, a former school, or a family cottage or favourite vacation spot, the connection between memory and place is intangible, though very real. People are connected to the buildings in their city. They have lived their lives in and around them, and many of these structures hold a special place in their personal narratives.

Memory and Landscape

Defining memory can be difficult. For the purposes of this post, I will follow the definition provided by John Bodnar, who states that public (or collective) memory is not simply a time dimension between past and present, but is the interpretation of reality. Peter Burke describes five ways in which memory is transmitted: oral traditions, written documents, still or moving pictures, actions (dance, craft etc.), and space. Randall Mason in his article “Fixing Historic Preservation” argues historic preservation is the cultivation of society’s collective memory, and believes historic fabric, such as buildings, is essential to sustaining memory. To support this, he quotes sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, who said “it is the spatial image alone that, by reason of its stability, gives us an illusion of not having changed through time and of retrieving the past in the present.” Read more


Digital Showcase Reveals Students' Work from Interactive Exhibit Design Course

digital showcase

From an augmented reality history boardgame using Aurasma to a skull that speaks lines from Shakespeare to an exhibit showing Civil War clothing, the Public History students in the Interactive Exhibit Design class demonstrated their class projects in April. 

This studio course teachers students learn how to create interactive exhibits through a series of hands-on projects that teach the basics of interaction design, physical computing, and desktop fabrication.

Check out all of the projects on the History department's YouTube channel.


Alumna Writing for The History Education Network Blog

From Ottawa local history to the use of GIS in environmental history, Jesika Arseneau has been blogging for the THEN/Hier website. Many of her posts describe her experiences in Western's Public History program. Check out her recent posts:




How Cultural Institutions Spread and Maintain Alberta’s Heritage

by Carrie-Ann Lunde, Alberta's Culture, April 2, 2014

Communities are adapting to demographic shifts, economic changes, and influxes of new populations, and they are searching for solutions to navigate these changes effectively.

As anchors in these communities and custodians of community identity, museums are increasingly looked to not simply as places that engage and inspire our imaginations, but as agents of social change. Museums have shifted their role in society from passive repositories to active participants that make communities vibrant and sustainable. Now, more than ever, museums are uniquely poised to make significant contributions to the social, cultural, and educational fabric of Alberta.

A responsibility to maintain

Museums have a responsibility to influence awareness about cultural inclusion and celebration through programs that offer the opportunity for communities to interact, celebrate, and understand the worldviews that shape not only ourselves, but those from other social, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds.

o do this successfully, museums must be in tune with the community it serves. This relationship takes many years to establish and requires that the staff of the museum make a commitment to engage with the local community, especially the youth. Regional museums are often very successful at this because they were established by local people who had a passion for their community’s history and are eager to share this knowledge with the next generation.

Getting our youth involved

Some of the most successful examples of museum programs making a difference in their communities are those that offer youth programs. By engaging youth at an early age, museums are uniquely positioned to provide a sense of cultural identity and belonging in an ever-changing society. Read more



Ryan Hunt on Ontario Morning

DHMakerBusRyan Hunt, co-founder of the DHMakerBus, a mobile technology classroom, was recently interviewed on CBC's Ontario Morning program. Listen to the podcast here.


Celebrating Maker Culture at Museum London

From the Forest City Fashionista blog

On Thursday, March 20th, Museum London  teamed up with DHMakerBus for The MAKE London Wearable Technology and Made Clothing Fashion Show.  The purpose of the show was to "showcase fashions that are created from unconventional or upcycled materials, and those that involve technology and wearable computing."  The show included booths with items for sale, a bar, DJ and three craft-making stations where participants could get creative with items such as coffee cup lids and Fringe Festival t-shirts.

Read more about this event and the DHMakerBus, a mobile technology classroom on wheels co-founded by Ryan Hunt.


Western Public History Students Rawk JBNBlog World

by James Reaney, March 17, 2014

ARCC exhibit 2014On Wednesday last, which you may recall was a day it just snowed & snowed & snowed, four MA students in Western’s public history program & Prof. Michelle Hamilton, the program’s director, met me at the Western Archives. Along with other students they have a remarkable exhibition there which is the subject of Monday’s My London column. Their words & enthusiasm & expertise were inspiring.

Several students, including Ryan Hunt who couldn’t make it, shared their thoughts on the study which was helmed by Prof. Michael Dove, then acting director of the program in the fall. Read more


Western Public History Students Create a Revealing Profile on Some of London’s Heritage Homes

by James Reaney, London Free Press, March 17, 2014

ARCC exhibit 2014These are some of the happy times, the ones when my London’s past seems to have such a bright future.

A Wednesday meeting with four MA students in Western’s public history was and is such a time. Along with their classmates, Stacey Devlin, Jessica Knapp, Elizabeth Miron and Joel Sherlock have mounted an exhibition which continues at the Western Archives John A. Schweitzer gallery celebrating and documenting a dozen London homes. Six are in Old South London. Six are in the Blackfriars (Petersville) neighbourhood.

The students’ excitement over the heritage they’ve discovered — none is a Londoner originally — was heartening.

“It is a beautiful neighbourhood with a rich and interesting history,” said Miron, of Sault Ste. Marie. She had studied 11 Leslie St., home to the MacEachern dynasty of photographers, in the Blackfriars ’hood. “It was originally built as a working-class neighbourhood and much of the architecture reflects that as many homes are built in a ‘cottage’ style. If you look closely, many of the homes still have some original architectural features. I’m not from London and one of the first things I noticed when I moved here was how many beautiful historic homes London has. Many are still in great condition. ”

Devlin, also of Sault Ste. Marie, studied 244 Wortley Rd. where iconic London photographer and educator Sugden Pickles lived in 1915 and for a few years after. Knapp, of Windsor, studied 399 Wortley Rd., built on land sold by Middlesex County tycoon Thomas Baty. Sherlock, of Newmarket, is the champion of 161 Devonshire Ave.

“What surprised me most about my home were the small details in the architecture like the half-timbering, the bricking patterns, and the windows,” Sherlock said. “The 1930s is characterized as a time of financial stress, poverty, and overall hopelessness . . . the home I researched defied those characteristics and showed innovation and pride in one’s work existed during such a dreadful time. ”

It’s the fifth year for the public history program’s students to partner with the London advisory committee on heritage (LACH) and the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario’s London region branch. The students who studied the Wortley Rd. area point the way to the ACO’s Geranium Heritage House Tour set for Old South on June 1. Read more