Then, Now … Oh Wow!

“As soon as our teacher started talking to us about this project in September, we knew we’d be doing something very different this year,” shared Nisha, a grade 7 student at Sonrise Christian Academy (SCA) in Picton. “And we were right!”

Nisha stood with her classmates at the Macaulay Heritage Park Museum in Prince Edward County this past week, proudly telling visiting parents and community members about the work she had done to contribute to the museum exhibit that was prominently displayed on the museum walls. On and off throughout the past year, she and her classmates in grades 6-8 have been working to answer the question their teacher posed to them early in the year: “How can we work together with our community to prepare an exhibit that will celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary?”

“The focus of our social studies this year has been on Confederation and early Canadian history,” shared their teacher, Carolyn Law. “I thought it would be meaningful to find a collaborative project that the students could do with others in the community.”

As the class discussed different possibilities, several students shared an interest in the historical buildings around their community. “We see these big, beautiful buildings all the time, when we drive around to different places, or when we take walks,” shared Annika, a student in grade 7 at SCA. “But we never really know why they were built, or what their story is. Some of them were built almost two centuries ago!”

The students collectively decided to partner with a local museum to create a photo exhibit about the historical buildings in Prince Edward County—a decision that museum curators at the Macaulay Heritage Park museum were thrilled about.

“When Ms. Law called to ask if we’d be willing to partner with the students in a project around an exhibition, we were excited because it fits perfectly with our desire to work with members of our community to bring our local history to light,” shared Jennifer Lyons, the museum’s head curator. “Not only is this an important year in our nation—celebrating the sesquicentennial anniversary of Canada—but it is also the 225th anniversary of Prince Edward County. So, it was wildly appropriate that the students chose to focus on our town’s history for their project.”

Students were given a tour of the museum, to see the different styles of exhibits and to make observations about the spaces that were available to them. They were also shown the archives in Wellington, and were given permission to borrow resources to research the historical buildings they had chosen to focus on for their project.

“It was actually kinda neat to go to the archives,” shared grade 8 student Caleb. “It reminded me of a library—they had all kinds of books and folders about the different places in our county. There were racks of boxes that had information for us to look through.”

His classmate Grace agreed. “With duo tangs filled with historical documents and photos in our hands, we were ready to begin!” She admitted that it was helpful to have the assistance of experts when doing the research. “The first time we looked at the archival documents, we had some people come into our classroom to help us learn how to read them—some were very hard to decipher!”

Students looked at how the buildings were constructed over a century ago—including the building materials used and architectural styles. They also focused their research on the different aspects of life in Prince Edward County, and how the buildings reflected this lifestyle.

“My partner and I studied the old courthouse,” shared Mercedes, a student in Ms. Law’s grade 7 class. “The building was very rare because it was made from stone, while most of the other buildings were made from wood at that time.”

“We nicknamed our building the ‘murder mansion’,” shared Nisha. “Apparently, there was a murder that happened in the home, leading to the county’s only hanging.”

One of the favorite parts of the project for many of the students in Ms. Law’s class was the opportunity to work with a professional photographer to take updated photos of their historical buildings. “We each had pictures of the buildings from the archives,” shared Annika. “So up until that point we had only seen the building in the black-and-white photos. It was fun to go to the actual building we had been researching, and to replicate the photo over a hundred years later!”

Along with the updated photo, students were asked to describe any changes that had occurred to the building over the past hundred or more years. “The biggest difference we noticed on our building was that all the chimneys were gone,” shared Nisha. ‘There used to be four chimneys!

“Also,” she continued, “it used to be white, but now it’s painted blue. And there were bullet holes in the door!”

“One thing I really admire about our building is how they kept the character and significance of the building intact,” shared Annika. “Some of the other buildings have changed quite a bit, but I like that they kept this one mostly the same.”

Classmates Zane and Andrew shared different results when comparing between “then” and “now”. The building they studied—the Lakeshore Lodge—is no longer in existence. “It was a hotel that was in business for about forty years,” shared Zane. “The government bought the building awhile ago, and it was empty for a long time. Unfortunately, some kids came along and set fire to it.”

“When we chose this building, I thought it would be harder for us, because the building doesn’t exist anymore so we couldn’t take the same kind of updated photo,” added Andrew. “But when we went there to take the photo, I was surprised at what we could still discover by looking at what’s left after the fire. The original picture made me think it was small, but when we looked at the ruins we could tell that it had a pool and a dance floor and other things. It was just a different kind of observation that we had to do.”

Most students agreed that the written description was the most difficult part of the project, as they handed in several drafts and revised their work along the way. “We did the project with partners, which made the research more enjoyable,” shared Annika. “We each have different strengths, and combining them in our work was a great idea—we made each other’s work stronger!”

“I could tell that the students put a lot of effort into their research,” commended Ms. Lyons. “They really pulled out the key features of these structures and buildings that are important locally.”

“When we began this project, I had no idea what to expect,” admitted Ms. Law. “But it was a really great learning experience for my students, and for me as well.”

“The opening of the museum was definitely a highlight,” she continued. “The students had a hard time visualizing what the end product of their work was going to look like—how big it would be, and how it would impact others. It’s wonderful to see it all come together!”

The museum curators at the Macaulay Heritage Park were thrilled with the results of the students’ efforts. “It was really great to work with students,” shared Ms. Lyons. “I was blown away by their enthusiasm, and by their willingness to encapsulate the importance of these buildings and put it together in a way that was enjoyable to read. We get a lot of tourists in this facility, and it will be a valuable experience for them to see this work displayed here.”

The students in grades 6-8 at Sonrise Christian Academy are especially proud that their work is now displayed for others in their community to enjoy over the next several months. “It looks really professional when it’s all hanging together in the gallery,” commented Annika. “I hope that there will be many people that come to enjoy the work that we did to celebrate Canada’s history, and the history of our town.”