I guess I have to start the new year off by saying, “Whoops!” The hectic month of December definitely got the better of me, so this post is very, very late. What that does mean, however, is that I have plenty to share about all of the festive activity that was happening at the museum throughout the month of December.
The first week of December our wonderful volunteers, Heather, and myself enjoyed decorating both the gift shop and the museum, making it as festive as possible for the upcoming events. This was particularly special for me, considering I am so very far away from home at the moment, and was not going to be able to make it home for Christmas. I still got to share in putting up decorations with a group of truly wonderful people, and was able to still feel very festive.
Our first even was our Christmas tea on December 7. This meant lots and lots, and LOTS of delicious food and treats. I mean, seriously, there was so much food. It happened to be a bitterly cold Northern day that day, which I think really helped our turnout. Why else would you bother venturing out into the cold if not for tea, coffee, and treats?
This was also a great learning opportunity for me because it was the first time since starting my job here, where I have spent more than a few minutes in the gift shop serving customers. I really enjoy being in the gift shop and greeting visitors, but working in the back of the archives means that it’s not something I tend to do a lot of on a day to day basis. Not only was this a good opportunity for me to hone my skills on the cash register, but it was a nice change of pace and meant I got the chance to be social and friendly with our equally cheery visitors.
Just two days later on December 9, we hosted our Kid’s Night: Christmas at the Museum Event. I think this was one of my favorite events so far. Not only did I get to work with kids again, which I love, but I got to combine that with festive cheer and an all around lovely evening. It was personally very wonderful. The evening started with a story about a pioneer christmas, which I got to read, with carol-singing integrated throughout the story. Then we moved on to crafts.
We had decided on the crafts a few weeks before in order to give ourselves enough time to prepare. Each craft was inspired by decorations that were mentioned in the story. The kids made paper lanterns, paper chains that were shaped like snowmen, and lid ornaments made from spray-painted metal jar lids. I wrote the instructions out, and then placed them and the supplies at each table. The kids could make one of each if they wanted, and their parents were there to assist them, so out of all my crafting experiences so far, this one was the most effortless. However, I am still finding the odd sequin and bits of glitter in odd places!
The evening concluded with a visit from Santa, played by our local historian and volunteer, Larry Evans, who sat with each of the kids and talked to them individually about what they wanted for Christmas. While they visited Santa, the kids also got treated to homemade hot chocolate and cookies, which myself and two other volunteers got to serve. I’m not sure if there’s anything more rewarding as an adult at Christmas than being able to help make the Christmas magic for kids.
The final two weeks of December were a bit of a whirlwind of stress for me, but in a good way. Heather took those two weeks off work and went to spend the holidays with her family in Ottawa, which meant that I was left to manage the museum solo for the entire two weeks. My nerves and anxiety were not okay with the prospect of this!
All in all, there was only one catastrophe that wasn’t even really a disaster. The first Wednesday morning of my solo stint, I came in to work to discover as I was turning the lights on, that some of our heavier books in the gift shop had fallen from the top shelf. In their fall, the books had crashed through another glass shelf, scattering books and broken glass everywhere. By the time I got the mess cleaned up and the books placed elsewhere, customers began coming in looking for, you guessed it, books as Christmas presents. I think I was about as frazzled as you can get, not to mentioned stressed that I was already almost two hours into my workday, and hadn’t accomplished anything else other than cleaning up the mess and serving the customers that came in solidly for about an hour.
As the days went by though, I got slowly more and more comfortable and relaxed with being on my own. When one of our weekly volunteers came in one day and asked me how things were going, I replied that things were just fine, no disasters, as I had told her the previous week. She laughed and said, “You sound WAY more confident about that this week!” And I think I was.
One of the things that I found the most difficult to adjust to was the constant interruptions. At this point in my usual work routine, I’m used to getting to my desk, and settling into my work so deeply that it is almost like being in a trance because I am so focused. But when you are working in the front office and also managing the gift shop by yourself, there’s no chance of that happening. On one morning, every time I sat back down at my desk to continue cataloging, another customer would come in and I would have to abandon my work again. I swear that night I was hearing the door bell of the gift shop in my sleep!
Being on my own also meant learning a lot more extra duties, including learning how to cash out and manage the cash register for opening and closing, checking Heather’s email and responding appropriately, and handling any artifacts donations that came in, just to name a few things. This was in addition to trying to catalog the same amount that I normally do in a day. I quickly found out that this was just not possible.
In the month of January, I have also been working on two exciting new projects. The first one was for St Distaff’s Day. This is the first day back to work for women after the twelve days of Christmas, in which they resumed spinning wool every spare moment they had. As such, the day has historically been associated with women’s work and women’s labor. At the museum, we decided to hold a special event on this day, and hosted the Spinner’s and Weavers society, who came to the museum for several hours on December 7, and demonstrated spinning for the public, while answering questions and talking about the history of the celebration.
In anticipation of this, I was asked to collect facts and images about the day that we were going to put on a display board for the event. While it didn’t require a huge amount of research or preparation, and it is a very simple display, I’m still very proud of what I did, mostly because I did it all myself from start to finish.
Finally, I am nearing the completion of my very first proper exhibit. This exhibit is going to be displayed at the Fort St John Airport until the end of August, and Heather gave me free reign to make it about whatever I wanted. What an opportunity! I decided to make my exhibit about “Animals of the Alcan”. In my research for my large exhibit, and in cataloging all of Rudy Schubert’s negatives, I have learned a lot about the relationship of the army engineers and the animals that they encountered while building the Alaska Highway. For example, in addition to often keeping cats or dogs as “mascots” the troops tended to be fond of keeping bear cubs as pets, or feeding adult bears out the back of the kitchen.
Not all of these interactions were great. There are many stories about troops getting chased up trees by bears who weren’t interested in being pets, or in one case, was irritated at a soldier’s poor attempt to shoot the bear with a gun that was way too small to kill the animal, so that the bear just absorbed the bullets unaffected, and got crankier and crankier with the soldier until he had decided he’d had enough and chased him up a crane, where the soldier spent the night until the bear left.
Another sad story is that of the Moosevelts. One moose calf that was found without his mother was taken in by one of the companies and named Franklin Moosevelt, after the American president at the time. Franklin was quite pampered in the short time that he spent in the camp, but one day got into the powdered eggs, then drank too much water, and died of gastric problems shortly after. Similarly, Eleanor Moosevelt, adopted by a different regiment after her mother died, she soon died too from malnutrition, as the troops would feed their mascots the food available to them: army rations and GI food. Not the stuff typically suitable for wildlife.
Just this week I finished writing the text for this exhibit, and printed out all of my material. Now all I have to do is mount my text on foam-core board, and set up the display at the airport. I’m very excited to finally get the exhibit up, but I also feel a bit nervous. As this is my first time designing an exhibit and actually carrying it to its finished state, I’m now worry about things like whether or not I’m going to have enough panels and images, or perhaps too many? I’ll find out one way or the other next week when we head out to the airport to mount it.
Now that I’m past the halfway mark for my internship, I’m getting anxious about making sure I meet my deadlines and finish everything on time. I can’t wait for this new set of experiences, and I’m so excited to see was the next three months here have in store for me. Have you had any similar experiences? Feel free to leave any comments below, or share this post anywhere you like.