Category: Volunteers

Meet the Museum’s 2017 summer student – Part 2

This week, we are excited to introduce another summer student from our Young Canada Works (YCW) funding, Alexandra Petrie.

What is your name?

Alexandra Petrie

Where are you from?

Oshawa, Ontario

What’s your primary occupation?

Museum Studies Student

Why did you join the Workers’ History Museum?

I believe the opportunity to work with the collection at Worker’s History museum will not only give me professional experience in collections management, but also provide me with the personal satisfaction in helping preserve and interpret a unique collection.

What project have you been involved in that you’re most proud of?

Most of my work is with the collection. We’ve been cataloguing the objects and organizing the storage room. It’s exciting to see what the Museum has collected in addition to creating opportunities for further research.

What’s the best thing about volunteering for the WHM?

There’s always something happening.

If you had a time machine and could visit any historical period, when would you choose?

The early 20th century, just before the First World War.

Meet the Museum’s 2017 summer student – Part 1

The Workers’ History Museum is again fortunate to receive funding from Young Canada Works (YCW) for the hiring of two summer students. Together, they will be helping us with collections management, and in the development of some of our ongoing projects.

This week, we present our first student, Lana Henderson, and we’re extremely fortunate to have her.

What is your name?

My name is Lana Henderson.

Where are you from?

I was born in Ottawa, Ontario.

What’s your primary occupation?

I am currently a student from the Applied Museum Studies program at Algonquin College. I will be entering my final year this coming September.

Why did you join the Workers’ History Museum?

I joined the Workers’ History Museum in part because I feel that looking at Ottawa through the lens of the everyday people tells an important and fascinating story as well as wanting to find hands on experience in my field to progress my own passion and studies.

What project have you been involved in that you’re most proud of?

I have found it very worthwhile to work with the WHM’s collection. The process of cataloguing and researching artifacts is a fulfilling and important task and I am proud to be a part of it.

What’s the best thing about volunteering for the WHM?

The best thing about being a volunteer is having the opportunity to experience working for a museum which is run by passionate people from the community. It allows for creativity and collaboration in a positive and driven atmosphere.

If you had a time machine and could visit any historical period, when would you choose?

If I had a Time Machine I would like to travel to Japan during the mid 19th century when the Meiji period began. This period in time saw Japan turn from its isolationist feudal past to its modern form today. I think this would be fascinating to see.

The PSAC 50th anniversary project

Having dinner with eleven of the people who worked on the PSAC 50th anniversary project.

Middle front and to the left: John Baglow, Wasim Baobaid, Barb Stewart, André Mersereau, Blanche Roy, Penny Bertrand, Bob Hatfield, Bob Allen, Richie Allen, Cyndi Summers, and Arthur Carkner.

150 years: Help Canada celebrate!

The Bytown Museum and the Workers’ History Museum are partnering to deliver a series of guided labour history walking tours as part of Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations.

The museums are seeking volunteers to:

  • Be trained to act as tour guides, to lead tours in the summer and fall of 2017
  • Be trained to act as tour guide assistants with tours in the summer and fall of 2017
  • Research and develop new walking tours
  • Prepare walking tour support materials (photographs, maps, etc.)

If you are interested, please contact:

Bob Hatfield

613-228 7082

bobandgill@sympatico.ca

Colonel By Day with The Workers’ History Museum

On August 1st the Workers’ History Museum made its mark on Colonel By day with two tables full of activities, information and smiling volunteers. This year marked the 21st annual Colonel By Day and this year the event celebrated the workers who laboured to build the Canal, their families and their lives-lived and lost. How appropriate then that the Workers’ History Museum was there overlooking the UNESCO World Heritage site Rideau Canal locks to interact with those that attended. The weather cooperated and a beautiful day made it easy for the volunteers to have a fantastic time speaking with tourists from as far as England and as close as Centretown! We were able to speak with over a hundred and twenty enthusiastic people and to build awareness of the museum and the great things we do. To pique peoples interests we had activities at the tables which included an always popular typewriter, a set of hammers and mallets and a colouring and painting station. All around us were interesting heritage displays and events, such as Bagpipe music and Irish dancing and costumed characters including the ever entertaining Mother McGuinty. This was a day not to miss and we are already looking toward next year so mark your calendars for August 6th 2017 and come join us by the locks! Check out the great video below to get an even better sense of the beautiful heritage filled day!

 

A Day in the Life of a WHM Volunteer at the E. B. Eddy Mill, Part 4

After many hours of photography, videography and documentation, the end of the day for the WHM volunteers at the former E. B. Eddy mill is something of a ritual. The equipment is gathered, caravanned back to the storage office, and everyone seats themselves on chairs around a conference table that once hosted planning sessions for mill managers and engineers. While the WHM representative gathers everyone’s log sheets and transfers data from multiple camera memory cards to a laptop, around him the tired but satisfied volunteers exchange stories.

“Did you see the glowing moss in that tunnel?”

“Remember the raccoon you saw looking through the cargo door last week? Well, one of his cousins left his prints all over the palette of cardboard in 502!”

“You know the control panel for the roll processor I spent all morning detailing? The digital read-outs kept changing! I finally figured out that the floor plate was a scales taking my weight – accurately, I might add. Pretty amazing considering that it was probably designed to weigh half-ton paper rolls!”

Ventilation fans, some of them the size of a cottage, could be found in every floor and ceiling.

Ventilation fans, some of them the size of a cottage, could be found in every floor and ceiling.

The light outside is dimming as the WHM rep sees off the last of the volunteers, advises the Domtar office the building is secured, nods to the night guard just coming on shift, and departs himself, already mentally planning where the team will deploy for the next scheduled day.

Even after all of the many buildings that comprise the former mill complex have been fully recorded – optimistically by late 2015 – it will be, as Winston Churchill said, just the end of the beginning. It is expected that around 100,000 images and hundreds of video clips will emerge from this effort, to become a part of WHM’s collection. The WHM Photographer will, over months or years, re-catalogue, index, and extract sub-categories of whatever images seem likely to be most useful and in demand. In recognition of the exemplary support and encouragement provided by Windmill Corporation, the project’s images will also be available for their promotional and other uses. Similarly, in recognition of their hard work and selfless hours of contribution to history preservation, the photographers will be granted license, if they request it, to the images they have taken.

A vast circulatory and nervous system for an enterprise, many of the conduits for steam, water, electricity and data still enlace the walls, floors, and ceilings.

A vast circulatory and nervous system for an enterprise, many of the conduits for steam, water, electricity and data still enlace the walls, floors, and ceilings.

WHM is already planning ways to use this new resource. It is in touch with the Canada Science and Technology Museum, which holds artifacts and archives donated to them by E. B. Eddy Corporation, and is planning a number of travelling and permanent displays, some of which may be housed in the public areas of the Windmill development itself. Another intriguing possibility is a coffee table book and gallery exhibits, since many of the images, quite apart from their historical value, are works of art in themselves. In a separate endeavour, Carleton University architecture students are using sophisticated laser scanning technology to precisely record the interiors in three dimensions, and WHM will approach them to see if its images can be overlaid to permit an online virtual walk-through of the buildings long after they have disappeared or been remodelled.

All that too is only the start. We have no way to predict what value may be mined from those images in the future. Who knows what may interest researchers a century or two from now? Much of the detail our teams record is mundane and unremarkable to us today – we know what an electrical outlet looks like – but will there even be such things in 50 or 100 years? If someone wants to know what late 20th-century industrial fire-suppression systems looked like, WHM’s collection may be one of the few places where multiple examples can be reviewed. The E. B. Eddy mill portion of the WHM collection could benefit social historians, but also students of technology, cinematographers, educators, and fields of study that do not yet exist.

A WHM videographer documents the Steam Plant.

A WHM videographer documents the Steam Plant.

All of this is made possible by far-sighted and energetic volunteers, so let me end this series with an appeal. If you are a keen photographer or someone willing to devote a day or two a week to the endeavour I’ve described, contact me. We are working Mondays and Thursdays at present, but expect to organize a Saturday or Sunday team soon. Send an email to images@workershistorymuseum.ca, and I will provide you with a detailed package on what the work involves and minimum camera specifications.

By Paul Harrison, WHM Official Photographer

A Day in the Life of a WHM Volunteer at the E. B. Eddy Mill, Part 3

In past entries, I’ve told you what a typical day at the E. B. Eddy mill is like, and what equipment we use. In this entry, I’ll briefly describe how we document the process so that the visual and other data collected will permit accurate digital reproduction of the entire complex of buildings or any tiny detail a future researcher needs to resurrect. Then, I’ll reveal some of the unexpected wonders we have encountered along the way.

To assure scale can be determined, the assistants and photographers spend much time propping tape measures up against objects to be photographed. Those who record the walls and ceilings use a pair of hand-made two-meter versions of a yard stick which appear at least once in every wall sequence.

While the floors are mostly bare, occasional cast-off parts and even workers' clothing, can still be found.

While the floors are mostly bare, occasional cast-off parts and even workers’ clothing, can still be found.

Log sheets have fields for room dimensions (determined by the laser range-finder), camera type, lens focal length, and in the case of the overviews, camera distance from wall and laterally between images. This is where the assistants come in. As the photographer is taking an image, they hurry ahead to the next spot, pacing off with tape measure or laser range-finder the spot where the next shot in the series can be taken. They also nudge the photographer for the other details, frame numbers, and so on for the log.

It is a complex series of steps, and must be endlessly adapted to fit the variables of each location, but the veteran crew after a few weeks works without confusion and minimal discussion, and splits off and organizes into groups with only the briefest suggestions from the WHM rep. Again the eerie link to the past surfaces. It is almost as if the volunteers are absorbing from the walls the spiritual imprint of experienced teams of mechanics who once swarmed with little discussion or hesitation to bring a failed winder back online.

Rendered ghostly by a long exposure, a volunteer strides down the former production line.

Rendered ghostly by a long exposure, a volunteer strides down the former production line.

All this meticulous bustle occurs in environments which vary enormously. There are offices in which documents, calendars, and even a newspaper dated the month the plant closed still lie on desks, and elaborate engineering diagrams of vanished production machines grace the walls. There are dark corners in which water drips into a pool which may be inches or meters deep. (Well, we hope it is water!) Here is a washroom where one steps over a long-dead…well, something “avian” to record for posterity a stall that features a jet-black toilet bowl with a stencilled sign on the brick above it admonishing ironically “Keep this toilet clean!”

There are tens of meters-long tunnels lined with steam or liquid pipes and electrical and digital cable. They run under floors, streets, or parking lots to multi-story underground pump rooms or whole buildings invisible from the surface above. (Needless to say, every volunteer carries a flashlight; most have powerful miner-style headlamps.) There is an alcove in which an elaborately crenulated Victorian-style circular stair leads upward to… nowhere, just the concrete ceiling.

Sporadic modern lighting gives stark illumination to an otherwise rather medieval-looking subterranean chambers.

Sporadic modern lighting gives stark illumination to an otherwise rather medieval-looking subterranean chambers.

A vast long hall lit by cathedral-sized windows once housed a series of rolling and processing machines, each the size of a cottage. They have long since been sold and removed. (“How?” we wonder.) Their place is marked by a prominent and somewhat intimidating series of rectangular holes in which they were mounted, holes through which the basement is visible, 20 feet below. And what a basement! Four ranks of 20-meter-thick columns, arrayed into the distance, with bands of light and shadow from the few arc-lamps still functioning. It gives a medieval air to that lower level; volunteers would be only mildly surprised if a dragon in pursuit of a princess dashed suddenly towards them from amongst the dim columns.

The exteriors are not neglected. Each building’s side and even the roofs receive the standard dual overview-and-detail treatment. In addition, one volunteer has provided aerial photography using a surprisingly sophisticated system that lofts a camera on a kite string. Controlled from the ground, it provides not only overhead survey shots, but also dramatic views of the site in the context of the surrounding river and city.

Day3-5

Standing on those roofs, with the vista and thunder of the Chaudière Falls before us, and the historic core of Canada’s capital behind us, we are unavoidably conscious of standing in a stream of time. Its current has carried by this place Algonquin fishermen, explorers, coureur des bois, generations of lumber barons, lumbermen, railwaymen, and mill workers – and now ourselves, for an oh-so-brief moment. Still upstream in time are generations of office and shopworkers and condo-owners, and people after them unknowable to us, who will all still see the Falls, and some remnants of the mills, helped perhaps by our efforts.

Tomorrow, in the final entry in this series, I will say a little more about what it is like to be part of our volunteer team, and what uses the vast image collection might have.

By Paul Harrison, WHM Official Photographer

A Day in the Life of a WHM Volunteer at the E. B. Eddy Mill, Part 2

Earlier I described how a team of volunteers marshalled by WHM is creating a complete visual historical snapshot of the former E. B. Eddy plant at the Chaudière Falls on the Ottawa River. But who are these people gamely spending sometimes exhausting days in often dark, dusty and damp spaces?

Many are retired, or university students, or employed in jobs that involve weekdays off. They are mostly photographers, recruited through local photo clubs, drawn by the unique opportunity to create visual images in a sometimes barren, or cluttered, sometimes magical, and always surprising environment to which few are ever granted access. Others – including students in history and library and archives programs – lend a vital hand carrying things, filling log sheets, measuring, and functioning as a second pair of eyes for the photographer, drawn not by the imagery opportunity, but by the chance to preserve history first hand.

A pressure gauge, once no doubt important to an operator, now reads a perhaps symbolic zero.

A pressure gauge, once no doubt important to an operator, now reads a perhaps symbolic zero.

A day on site for these volunteers is in many ways not unlike that of the shift-workers who once worked there. The team of four to six volunteers assembles at 8 AM. The WHM photographer in charge of the project meets the Windmill representative who unlocks the door nearest the work area of the day. The team receives assignments for the morning, and breaks into sub-groups by task.

Far more than just “taking pictures,” their endeavour is a serious and exacting one: to enable future researchers to explore the site as it exists today, and learn whatever an observer walking through the buildings today could learn. To do that, an “overview team” records each room’s floors, ceilings, and walls in overlapping image sets, while a separate team does the detail work, imaging every faucet handle, electrical instrument or machinery control panel, label, safety sign, boiler plate, light fixture, piece of furniture, or rusty unidentified… something-or-other.

Although modern control panels had long-since been installed, and stood nearby, the steam plant's massive manual valves were still in place.

Although modern control panels had long-since been installed, and stood nearby, the steam plant’s massive manual valves were still in place.

The still imagery is supplemented by video cameras, which pan and record narration from former employees who describe what each room was like in operation.

Getting to the locale of the day from the office where equipment is stored between shoots involves a caravan-like procession. Standard kit for the team includes video and still-image cameras of specified minimum capabilities, always on tripods to assure crisp images from a stable platform; a nominally “portable” gel-pack battery for power for lighting in the places where the outlets don’t function, and the hand-held and clamp-mounted lighting itself. (It seems that even modern cameras won’t auto-focus or record images in the dark. Who would have guessed?)

Volunteer Bill Woodley works among the mighty concrete basement pillars that once supported massive mill machines on the floor above.

Volunteer Bill Woodley works among the mighty concrete basement pillars that once supported massive mill machines on the floor above.

There is a case with a first aid kit, spare batteries of multiple sizes, extra pens, markers, special-purpose lenses, tape measures, log sheets, and the ever-indispensable duct tape. Then there are the more humble necessities of record-keeping: low-tech clipboards that would have been recognizable by anyone who had worked at the factory in the last hundred years, bearing log sheets specially designed by the WHM photographer for the project.

Lest the paper records somehow be lost, the team also carries equally low-tech whiteboards and dry markers, on which building number, room, date, place, photographer, and other subject information is written, and photographed at defined intervals, to become a permanent part of the image sequence.

TGIVG 04

Lunch is held in the most pleasant spot available – an outdoor picnic table in good weather, a windowed office otherwise. It consists of a home-packaged lunch brought in containers the mill workers would have recognized. The noontime talk revolves around vacations, family, and the other minutiae of life, again just as the workers would have done. Then, with a gentle nudge from the supervisor, work resumes for the afternoon. At 4 PM or so, everyone books off and heads home. There is no night shift.

Rust can add artistic detailing to mundane objects.

Rust can add artistic detailing to mundane objects.

In the next entry in this series, I’ll reveal how we assure the images collected can be used to digitally reproduce the site for future research, and some of the marvels of the complex itself.

By Paul Harrison, WHM Official Photographer

A Day in the Life of a WHM Volunteer at the E. B. Eddy Mill, Part 1

For over 150 years, the E. B. Eddy paper mill was the site of ever-expanding industrial activity. It grew to a sprawling hive of buildings that bestrode the Quebec and Ontario sides of the Chaudière Falls, employed thousands, and turned trees into an astonishing variety of paper products. Then, in 2006, the mill closed.

In the years since, in the vast halls where for decades machinery had hummed and roared, the silence was deep enough that the echo of a single footstep would reach dozens of empty rooms. Now, however, there are new sounds: the soft whirr of camera shutters, the scrape of tripods against concrete, the riffling of log book sheets, and the bleep of a laser range-finder.

Twice a week since July 2014, a team of volunteer photographers and videographers organized by the Workers’ History Museum has been recording the buildings, which are decades and in places over a hundred years old, to create a detailed visual record of a complex that is one giant historical artifact; a place of work for generations of engineers, mechanics, chemists, salesmen, forklift operators, and all the dozens of other professions needed to make paper on a huge scale.

It is a race against time. Windmill Corporation is shortly to commence refashioning the complex into offices, condominiums, and public spaces. They will incorporate as much of the existing historical buildings as possible, but many are structurally unsound and will have to come down. Those retained will be refashioned for purposes very different from their past.

 A control platform where steam flow was monitored gleams in the light of nearby windows.

A control platform where steam flow was monitored gleams in the light of nearby windows.

Conscious of the history and heritage of the site, and determined to preserve it as far as possible, Windmill (and the current owners, Domtar) welcomed a WHM proposal for an unusual, possibly unique, archival project to visually record all the dozens of buildings on site, frozen in a moment just before they are to disappear or change.

Imagine if a complete image and video record had been made of an ancient Roman military camp only hours after the site was abandoned. It would be a historical treasure. By marshalling the efforts of a score of photographers and historically minded assistants, that is what WHM is creating for the E. B. Eddy mill complex.

Like an archaeological dig – indeed, the project has been referred to as “industrial archaeology” – the images and video will enable the reconstruction, and understanding, of the environment in which workers of the 20th century functioned. Future researchers and historians will be better able to establish how industrial buildings were constructed and extended over time, and discern how safety, electrical, steam heating, and other systems functioned.

Several boxes with contents like these were found along the main paper production halls.  They are probably cast-off parts that accumulated as the great machines once housed there were dismantled for shipment after being sold.

Several boxes with contents like these were found along the main paper production halls. They are probably cast-off parts that accumulated as the great machines once housed there were dismantled for shipment after being sold.

For the next three weeks, we’ll share the stories of these people who gamely spend sometimes exhausting days in often dark, dusty, and damp spaces, and to the images they’ve captured. See you next Wednesday!

By Paul Harrison, WHM Official Photographer

Meet the Museum’s new summer student

The Workers’ History Museum is again fortunate to receive funding from Young Canada Works (YCW) for the hiring of a summer student. This year, our student is Andrea Gonzalez, and we’re extremely fortunate to have her.

“I’m excited about two things,” she says about her summer at the WHM, “the first being that I have the ability to be able to see how a museum that is considerably new grow, and the process that it needs to take to establish itself; the second being that I get to research and learn about Ottawa’s history. I enjoy doing research, and I think that learning about the community that you live in is important.”

A Sarnia native who now calls Ottawa home, Andrea graduated from Carleton University with a degree in History and Political Studies, and has just completed her first year at Algonquin College’s Applied Museum Studies program. An experienced traveller, Andrea is also passionate about museums. She lists the Grand Palace in Thailand as one of her favourites, recalling the “detail and thought that was placed into designing the Palace” as part of its charm. She also has fond memories of the St. Louis Science Center, and says that its approach and exhibits “haven’t gotten old for me yet, and I don’t think they ever will.”

No stranger to local history, thanks to her classes in history as well as Canadian Studies, Andrea is tasked with the research of two WHM exhibitions: the history of the E.B. Eddy Company’s workers, and the story of Ottawa’s working class during the First World War.

Stay tuned to the WHM blog over the next few weeks to see what Andrea discovers!