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Wedding Bliss :)


Chapel at Balls Falls. . . that’s me and my new husband Caillin!

What do you get when you take bunch of artistic people, a couple of museum nerds, a historic site, and a warm spring weekend and put them all together – a wedding of course! Well, I suppose that’s not always what you end up with, but in this case it is. . .

Just a little over a week ago now I was married at Balls Falls Conservation Area, and if you’ve never been there you should really make it the next historic site / hiking trip in your agenda. The site is a mix of a conservation area and mini historic village. The area was once home to the Ball Family who were United Empire Loyalists and had received the property as a land grant in 1783. The small village was one of the few places not burned by retreating American Forces during the War of 1812 and it is both historically significant and stunningly beautiful. There are two hiking trails on the site, one is an easy gentle slope up to one of the two waterfalls, past the remains of one of the old mills; the other is part of the Bruce Trail network and requires proper hiking footwear. The site also has a fairly new interpretive center that has a permanent exhibit about the conservation area as well as a temporary gallery that hosts various exhibits throughout the year. The small barn in the village has some interpretive panels about the Ball Family, they are a bit dated but have lots of interesting information and I have it on good authority that they are about to undergo an overhaul to freshen them up and bring them up to par with the rest of the site.

There are also a whole host of really interesting workshops at the site – blacksmithing is my favorite on the list; alas it is on weekends when I am at work!

Our wedding service was held in the historic chapel built in 1864 and moved to the site in 1974. We hadgames and refreshments for our guests while Jeff Tessier took our wedding photos along the trail to the upper waterfall. Then we had our reception in the “big barn” which we decorated (with lots of help from friends and family) the day before.

Our wedding was just under a 150 people, the barn can hold up to 190 but I think it would be a bit crowded, of course if you have good weather like we did it’s not a problem as people spread out all over the lawn outside the barn. You can also have weddings and special events in the interpretation center but it doesn’t have the same ambiance.

Our catering was done by Niche Catering; they are from the Ancaster area and were on the list of caterers suggested by the site. They cooked all the food on site which added to the fun and relaxed atmosphere of our big family gathering.

We had so much fun – and the site was a perfect venue for us. More photos to come soon!



Retro Vibe + Fantastic Art = a fun opening


Curator David Aurandt of the RiverBrink Art Museum in Queenston is pleased to have the only known portrait of Major General Sir Isaac Brock at the museum for an 1812 exhibit. Photo by Penny Coles of the Niagara Advance

Last week I had the chance to visit one of the many Niagara Region attractions I’ve been dying to get to ever since I started working at the Niagara Historical Society and Museum.

Imagine this – you’re a wealthy lawyer who loves Canadian art and history. You want to retire to a beautiful location and hope that someday your extensive collection can be exhibited to the public; so you build a beautiful home and when you die you leave it and all of your collection to a foundation. Also you have your remains buried in the front lawn . . . a little bit eccentric to be sure, but don’t let that throw you off!

The Riverbrink Art Museum is a fantastic stop for art and history lovers. Housed a quintessentially 1970s house (ie hardwood everywhere except for the turquoise bathroom) the museum/gallery space has an exceptional collection of Canadian art and its current exhibit Riverbrink’s War of 1812 features the Gerrit Schipper “Portrait of Isaac Brock” c. 1806 on loan from the Guernsey Museum and Gallery, while certainly the most famous piece on display I would say it is only a small taste (literally- the picture is only a few inches square) of the fantastic collection on display.

For book lovers the Museum has an amazing collection including the Jesuit Relations and a full set of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

The museum is a fun stop along the way in Niagara and a really interesting building that could almost be a living history site of the 1970s if it wasn’t an art gallery!

Important note: Photos are not allowed inside the gallery, the museum is Open May to October from 10-5.

New Learnings

I’m back at it after two years of working, it’s time to research and write again.

I’m working at the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology. Singing in the St. Paul’s United Church Choir. Volunteering with Open Streets Hamilton, The Peace Cafe and Re Think Barton Tiffany. I’m engaged to an artist and getting to know his family better as well as building stronger ties with my own. In the past year I have become more involved in the community and met many wonderful people and I think I am ready to look forward to learning beyond the walls of a school.

So where to begin? This week I opened what I think I can term as my first museum exhibit (although I’ve done some small one’s in the past) and the opening went well, and I think was quite fun for most people who attended.

I was able to rely on local talent for music and performances, I have learned that part of building communities around museums is making sure they are participatory, that the people who come to the museum see something of their own values and beliefs reflected in the exhibits and the stories being told.

I think this most recent exhibit which examines industry through art is a step forward in my work to create community through history.

My second area of learning I think will come from my work with the  Peace Cafe.  I have begun reading Servant Leadership which is a basis for much of the work of the Peace Cafe and the Canadian Center for Teaching Peace and as I progress through my own journey of learning I hope to find links between this work and my role as a public historian in the community.

More on that in upcoming posts. I’m also going to try and learn more about Museums that are doing a good job of building communities and cultures of Peace – this week I’m looking into WAM – the Woman’s Active Museum on War in Japan.

I hope that people reading this will find it of value – and that my journey may be helpful to others travelling similar paths.

“Oral History: How do you make it accessible through new technologies?”

As promised – and after a bit of a wait here is my presentation from the HAM ED peer learning circle on New Technologies + Social Relevance

Let me ask you a question – did you have a glass of water today? Did you think about the technology behind that glass of water? What made it safe for you to drink? How is it that by simply turning on a tap you unlike millions of people around the world have access to clean water? When most of us turn on the tap we seldom stop to consider where the water comes from, we take for granted that it will be there, and it will be clean and safe for us to drink.

The Project

This summer I will be working on an oral history project for the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology. Investigating the history behind that glass of water you had.

My task is to gather the oral histories of the people who have worked at the Hamilton waterworks.

The oral interviews I gather will be analyzed for common themes and narratives. I will then use my analysis to identify artifacts, photographs and textual documents that compliment these histories. The oral interviews will be gathered in two formats through a multi stage process involving both audio and video data. The use of digital media will eventually allow the data to be accessed through the Internet creating a valuable resource for the public.

As the 150th anniversary of the Hamilton waterworks approaches this project will help to create renewed interest and pride in local history, and will serve as the building block for future projects including an exhibit and publication. I also hope that it will give people a greater appreciation of a resource that we as Canadians have often taken for granted.

So, gathering and disseminating these oral histories is my main goal, but secondary to that I would like to be able to show people what goes into the making of history, I feel that it is important for communities to understand and be part of how their histories are shaped. Fortunately this to can also be accomplished through the use of new technologies, my work will be followed by the blog “a drop of history” I hope to create an on line environment where people can comment on my research adding their own stories or asking new questions, thereby allowing the community to help shape the history that I am developing.

I would like to take a moment now to talk about why it is important to present sound recordings of oral histories.

The Importance of Hearing Oral History

In the past oral histories have often been done a great disservice by researchers. In his article the Peculiarities of Oral History Alessandro Portelli comments that “Scholars are willing to admit that the actual document is the recorded tape, but almost all go on to work on the transcripts and it is only the transcripts that are published.” Although this article was published in 1981 it addresses some of the same issues we are encountering today. We have been slow to change, many digital history projects still use only the transcripts of interviews, but we have the technology to provide the sound records and it is important to do so.

Anyone who has ever conducted an oral interview understands the frustration of trying to capture the rich structure of storytelling on paper. There is no doubt that some of the the most important information is lost along the way, pauses can indicate many things, however without the context of the narrator’s voice it is difficult to tell if the interviewee is gathering their thoughts or avoiding a difficult subject. Reading a transcript does little to acknowledge the humor, or sadness in the voice of an interviewee. These audio cues provide meaning and context for narratives, they also make the history alive, it is one thing to read history but to hear it told by someone who was there creates an intimate connection to that story.

Finally it is important to acknowledge the role we play in the dissemination of this history – how do our transcriptions affect the narrative, are they truly capturing the spirit of the interview, what disservice are we doing to our audience as well as our subjects?

So theories and projects aside how do we dive into the digital world and harness it’s power to enhance our oral histories? Well there is no one answer to that and I am by no means a computer expert but here is what I have learned in preparing for my own project.

The Technology

Making Files

One of the first steps in research that relies on oral history is creating recordings, there are many different types of digital recorders available on the market, all have different features, but the best for digital projects are those that can record in MP3 format. MP3s are high quality and universally compatible.

Once you have made the recording some editing may be necessary it is always a good idea at this stage to create a master recording, which should remain unedited. All new recording can be developed from the master file.

To edit your recordings you need editing software,I would suggest Audacity as it is a well known open source programing that is basic enough to be user friendly and is compatible with both MacOS and Windows.

What Platform Will You Use?

The next step in the process is choosing a web platform which will allow your recording to be accessed on-line. It is important to decide how much programing you want to do or learn and if you want to spend money on developing your platform. blogs and wikis are free and require little programing knowledge they also have the added benefit of being part of pre-established networks which can create extra traffic to your site. If you do have a good knowledge of programing both can be edited to create a unique design and style. Of course many museums already have existing websites, if this is the case you can enhance your site by creating digital oral exhibits or adding sound to existing exhibits.

All three platforms may require you to invest in an on-line hosting service, however there are free options available for this such as You Tube and Google video. Finally if you have a website you should make sure your provider can support the type and amount of media you want to have.

Streaming vs Download

The next step is deciding how you want people to access your information will you provide streaming or downloading? Depending on your preference there are a few different options for your site.

Pod casts which can be video or audio are already a popular method used by museums to create guided tours and on-line lecture series. Pod cast can use both streaming and downloading. If user subscribes to your podcast it will be downloaded regularly by their media player, many websites also provide users with the option of streaming the podcast media without downloading it.

The majority of Pod casts use RSS feeds allowing users to subscribe to their cast and receive regular updates without having to visit your site. Setting up an RSS feed does require some programing in HTML if you are using it on a website, most blog sites will guide you through the process without requiring you to do any programing.

As was previously mentioned You Tube and Google videos are another option for including oral histories on your chosen web platform. You Tube and Google videos can be embedded into most websites and blogs, and this is a good method for those with little knowledge of programing as most blog providers guide you through the process. With the video option you can also add photos you your recording creating a slide show of sorts to accompany the oral history. For those concerned about copyright You Tube and Google video are good options as neither require you to give up your copyright, however be warned that you are responsible for monitoring the use of your video and neither site accepts any responsibility if your copyright is infringed.

A third popular option for those who have more time to learn some basic HTML programing is a stand alone media player usually this consists of a window to display video or just a control bar for audio, these include the usual set of play stop and pause buttons. There are many open source customizable media players available and most organizations provide you with the correct HTML code to install their player. If you want to go with a widely recognized media player you can use widows media player, real player or quick time, all three play MP3 format, and the plug-ins are free for your visitors to download, however all three also cost you, the producer money.

Getting Noticed

Once you’ve gone through all the hard work of creating your website or blog and making your research accessible it is a good idea to promote your site, this can be done through traditional methods such as news letters or posters. However some options that are both free and sure to attract a wide audience include: free directories for blogs and podcasts; adding your podcast to itunes; and links with other sites which creates more traffic and higher Google rating.

Copyright and the Creative Commons

A final issue that should be addressed in presenting oral history on-line is copyright. In any oral history research it is good practice to inform your interviewee of the ways in which their information will be used. However when it comes to copyright things become a bit complicated.

Canadian Copyright protects the rights of the maker of sound recordings under section 18. It defines the maker of a sound recording under section 2 as “the person by whom the arrangements necessary for the first fixation of the sounds are undertaken” This means that copyright either belongs to the researcher or the institution that hired the researcher depending on the type of agreement that they have.

Of course on the Internet it is difficult to control how your work is used, and I believe, as do many digital history scholars that copyright when followed too strictly can do more harm than good, especially in the case of research materials. Although the researcher or institution may wish to retain ownership of their work, knowledge is best used when shared as widely as possible. Fortunately the development of the Creative Commons License has allowed researchers and institutions to license their work in new ways, requiring users to give the researcher or institutions credit for their work and at the same time defining the acceptable uses of this work. In any case it is always good to include some sort of disclaimer for your users asking them to reference you when using any part of your work.


I realize this is a lot of information to present in 15 minutes but it is important to ensure that oral histories are accessible as they were originally recorded and not solely through transcriptions. The emergence of new technologies has provided a wealth of options for this.

I must reiterate I am no more a computer expert than any of you. I should confess that 8 months ago I hated computers and I was absolutely sure that I could never grasp any of the concepts I have spoken about to you today. However I have come to appreciate all that they can do for those of us working in heritage and culture.

I firmly believe that researchers have an obligation to make their research accessible to the members of the communities they are working with. I also believe that in the case of oral history digital technologies provide one of the best means for doing this.

A Drop of History – A New Project

Hi all,

Well I’m back at it researching away in the library missing all the lovely spring sunshine! My new project is an oral history of the Hamilton Waterworks, I will spend my summer working on this and have developed a blog so people can follow along with the project, pose questions, and share stories. I will be presenting about this project and oral history on the web, April 27th at the HAM-ED Peer Learning Circle on New Technologies + Social Relevance at the Burlington Art Centre.

Interpreting [un]Natural Landscapes

When we think of heritage prerservation we often turn our attention to the structural reminentsof the pasts,the buildings (specifically those with great architectural features) that refelct the lives of past peoples. David Glassberg and Rebecca Conrad are two historians that advocate the belief expressed by J.B. Jackson that “landscape is histiory made visable.”

Glassberg demonstrates that almost all landscapes have been influenced in some manner by human activity, and calls to attention the fact that even places that are “preserved” for their natural beauty are not deviod of human imprints. National parks, in both Canada and the United States, carefully monitor the human and non human interactions that occur in their parks, they carefully preserve wildlife in a human controlled environment (playing god as it were). For exaple, Algonquin Park always a popular destination for campers, was once dotted with expensive challets and hotels. The impact of this on the park and their subsequent decline is an interesting subject for envirfonmentalists and historians a like, old railway beds remain as permenant features of a landscape that owasoncea playground for the rich and famous.

Historians can and should be involved in the interpretation of such [un]natural landscapes. Conrad argues that what a public historian can add to the story of such spaces is the aspect of human interaction. This, she argues, can be used to create dialogue about the memories and meanings of landscapes, by those who continue to see value, or lack there of in “natural” landscapes.

Investigating natural spaces from a historian’s view point can add many layers of meaning to spaces otherwise thought only important for their natural beauty. It can also help us to understand at national, regional and local levels the significance of the spaces around us.

Learning to Write for Everyone

Recently our class was asked to produce 400 word Op Eds and then evaluate them as a group. It was fun – and also challenging. I personally found that writing history for an audience who may not care about history, very strange. When writing exhibit text for a museum – you can at least make the assumption that your audience has some interest in history – as they are visiting a museum – but not so for the broader arena of public history. Those reading a newspaper or listening to the radio, may be interested in hearing  a few historical facts but they aren’t actually turning to your work to learn history!

Well since I wrote the article I thought I would share it along with some of the comments I received – feel free to comment on it as well. I suppose as a public historian it is about time that I learn to write for the public!!

A Stain on Our History We Must all Remember

Canada’s history has a stain. The government’s attempt to “civilize” Aboriginal children through the Canadian residential school system tore apart communities and left a generation of people without a clear identity. It also lead to the deaths of hundreds of children, whose tragic stories remain unheard. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reorganizes, and prepares to look into this issue, we must all ask ourselves: How will these children and their horrific stories be remembered?

The groundwork for Canada’s residential school system was laid out in 1857 with the Gradual Civilization Act. Which sought to civilize Aboriginal people by encouraging them to adopt a sedentary farming lifestyle, imitate European culture and dress, and most importantly educate their children to become civilized Europeans.

By 1931 there were 80 residential schools operating across Canada. Children were taken from their homes and placed in an alien word. Their hair was cut short; they were given a new name, and European clothing, and speaking their own language was strictly forbidden and harshly punished. The schools were chronically underfunded. The buildings were cheaply constructed and faced many heating and plumbing problems. Children lacked the proper nutrition that their growing bodies needed. All this paints a grim picture but the true stain on this history was the appalling number deaths – the majority from tuberculosis.

School records reveal that the milk the children drank came in many instances, from cows infected with bovine tuberculosis. Sick children were forced to attend classes, thereby exposing others. Few schools were lucky enough to have a trained nurse on staff, and most relied on doctors from neighbouring towns. The families of children were often notified of their child’s illness only after their death, and in most cases the bodies were buried in unmarked graves on the school grounds.

The last residential school closed in 1996, but the bodies of the children who died in these schools still remain lost, their stories forgotten. Today historians, and Aboriginal communities are working together to uncover the truth, but for the most part it remains an unheard history. Regardless of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, Canadians must find a way to remember this history, and stop hiding the stain. We are accountable for our past, Canadians can no longer look on this as an “Indian problem” it is our history too and we cannot ignore it.

As for the comments I received, on the up side it passed the “so what” test – meaning that it is a subject worth writing about, and that I managed to explain to the reader why they should care about a particular historical issue. Also I had a strong intro and conclusion. On the down side my punctuation isn’t great (a  problem I struggle with); and I am too objective – this is clearly a dark historical topic – and could be written about with more passion and conviction!