Students launch exhibit with Niagara-on-the-Lake tiny museum

It’s a tiny museum, but a big history project.

Students in Brock University’s HIST/CANA3F02 Making History in Niagara course have been working with Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum to create a special exhibit on Niagara sport history for the Town’s mobile tiny museum.

“(The students) had a lot of great ideas and questions, and their dedication and enthusiasm for history is evident with this class,” said Shawna Butts, Assistant Curator and Education Programmer at the museum. “Over the last few weeks, it has been interesting to see them develop an understanding of what museums do and how we interpret and tell history for a public audience.”

Over the past semester, students have been working with Butts and Sarah Kaufman, Managing Director and Curator, to learn how a museum researches and tells a community’s stories. Their exhibit, Backhands, Birdies, Boats and Bowls: How sport has shaped Niagara-on-the-Lake, will explore the impact tennis, golf, sailing and lawn bowling had on Niagara-on-the-Lake’s development.

The town was world-renowned for amateur and professional summer sports in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Wealthy visitors came from the U.S. and Europe to enjoy sports and tournaments, and sport provided employment and business opportunities for the local community.

“The students have been inspired by working with the museum’s collections and getting to handle the artifacts,” said course instructor Elizabeth Vlossak, Associate Professor of History. “They’ve also been able to develop their research and writing skills and apply what they learned in the classroom in a professional setting.”

In addition to using Brock’s Archives and Special Collections for their research, students also visited the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum to work with its artifacts. Museum staff also came to Brock to guide students through the exhibit development and writing process.

“It has been wonderful collaborating with the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum on this project, and I am so grateful to Sarah and Shawna for the time and energy they have committed to providing the students with this incredible work integrated learning opportunity,” said Vlossak.

As part of their exhibit process, students have been sharing their research with the public through the Faculty of Humanities Instagram account each Monday.

The tiny museum will be at Brock Thursday, Dec. 2 from 1 to 5 p.m. on the walkway outside Plaza Building. Students will install their exhibit with the assistance of museum staff and the public are invited to view the results. It’s the first time the mobile museum has been moved into the community.

“The tiny museum build was completed in March 2020, just in time for COVID-19. So, it’s remained on the property ever since,” said Butts. “This is really the first time we are using it and installing an exhibit in it off-site, which is how we always intended to use it.”

After the students’ one-day show is done, the exhibit will be packed away until the summer, when it will be used as part of the Canada Summer Games celebrations.

Butts hopes the experience will encourage students to consider pursuing careers in the museum sector.

“By introducing students at this point in their education to museums and what we do, I hope we can inspire, even just one person, to pursue a career in the museum field,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of students who are working on their history degree think of museums as a career option. So the exposure to exhibition development and how to research primary material at a museum or archive is a great introduction to this field.”

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