I’ve been spending some time digging through the online archive for The Ottawa Journal recently, and I have to say that I’ve stumbled upon some pretty fun columns. One of the first ones to catch my attention was published on May 27, 1886. It provides an account of an address given the previous night by Sir William Dawson to the Royal Society of Canada. Dawson suggested that it would be an advantageous idea for Ottawa to have a National Museum. Considering that there are now four directly in Ottawa and another just across the river in Gatineau, I’d say he was probably on to something….
I was recently in contact with the curator at the Fort St. John North Peace Museum, and my exhibit is now up and on display to the public! She told me that people have been visiting the museum specifically to see this exhibit. As far as I’m concerned, that means I’ve done my job.
On my visit to Toronto, I was probably the most excited to go to the Royal Ontario Museum. All I had ever heard about it told me that it would be huge and hugely overwhelming – I wasn’t disappointed in this regard.
I explored every exhibit in every room on every floor, all in one day. It took me about four hours, and at the end of my visit I realized that trying to see the entire ROM in one day was a mistake – there’s just way to much to try and take in. If you have never been, I would definitely suggest taking it a floor, or maybe two, at a time, to really get the full experience without completely exhausting yourself. I think for myself, I plan to focus on special exhibits and my favourite galleries in future visits.
It has been a few weeks since I posted the original story, and since that time I have been able to do a little more digging – or rather, enlisted the help of professionals in the collection!
I got in touch with the Canadian Museum of Nature Library staff to try and find out the answers to the questions I still had at the end of the first installment of this story. I still don’t have all of the answers, but I think I’m getting a little closer. I was put in touch with the Archivist, the Curator of the Vertebrate Collection, and an Assistant in Collections Services, who kindly and enthusiastically put their skills and knowledge to work for me.
When I visited Toronto for the first time this spring, one of the places that I spent some time exploring in was the BATA Shoe Museum. For those who have never been, it is about an 8 minute walk down the street from the Royal Ontario Museum, and a convenient skip over from the Museum subway stop. For someone completely uninitiated in the city, the fact that it was so easy to find was definitely a deciding factor in my decision to check it out.
Boy am I ever glad I did! Before going, I really didn’t know anything about the museum or what its exhibits would be about, but from the first exhibit to the last, the BATA is now my favourite museum that I have ever visited. Even if you aren’t interested in shoes or fashion history, don’t let that stop you from going. What I love about the BATA is that shoes are actually just the vehicle through which they explore a wide variety of important and interesting moments in history and the people carrying out their lives from all walks of life in all different types of footwear.
It should be no secret at this point that I basically live and breathe museums and want to know everything about how they work while working in and for and about them. This is how this story began. I decided to start using my free time to go to Library and Archives Canada to collect everything I possibly could that pertained in someway to Canada’s national museums. Collecting broadly and without a particular focus, I was open to whatever stories presented themselves to me and caught my attention. One of the first files that I collected was titled simply, “Specimens of wood bison for Victoria Memorial Museum.”
To conclude my research, I reflected on another concert experience that I had over the course of researching and writing about Kenneth Peacock and his role in the Newfoundland Folk Music Revival. On 21 November 2015, I attended a concert featuring two of my favourite musical groups, which I had purchased the tickets for myself several months before. My excitement over seeing the Barenaked Ladies for what would be my third time was at the highest possible level because they were being introduced by Alan Doyle and the Beautiful Gypsies, the new solo project by the Great Big Sea frontman. Somehow the fact that this would also be my third time seeing Alan Doyle perform did not diminish my excitement. For all of my building energy, months of listening to the music of both bands in preparation (despite already knowing all of their albums by heart), and sheer joy of being able to watch two of my favourite bands in one concert, what I did not expect was for the night to turn into a cathartic research moment.
One major product of Peacock’s ten years of collection work in Newfoundland was a three-volume songbook series entitled, Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, which was published in 1965. The collection was comprised of what he felt was a reflective selection of the best songs that he collected, “I make no claim for the book’s completeness – even a collection ten times as big would not be ‘complete’ – but I do feel it is representative of Newfoundland’s repertoire of traditional and native song as it exists in the mid-twentieth century.” Peacock also wrote commentaries on the history and origins of the songs, as well as their development into various forms and diffusion across different regions.
In 1953 and 1957, Peacock wrote and performed a series of radio lectures for the CBC about Newfoundland folk music. In these lectures, he discussed recurring themes in the folk music traditions of the island, played a selection of his field recordings, and discussed the historical origins of many of the songs that he featured. These lectures were a multi-part lesson for Canadians about the notable features of Newfoundland life and culture. In presenting them, Peacock provided an education on what was then still a “new” province of Confederation, and a place the majority of Canadians had never visited.
This past Thursday my history/museum friends and I checked out the special event Science by Night that took place at the Canadian Museum of Nature. This was a free event that included a variety of fun activities that encouraged visitors to get up close and personal with science and the science experts that normally spend their time behind the scenes at the museum.