Friday, August 29, 2014

The kids of a Social Studies teacher get dragged to museums

I guess the statement in that title is true for a lot of kids. But at least the kids of a Social Studies teacher get dragged to quality historical sites. Our odyssey (in an Odyssey no less) through Ontario and Michigan brought us to some of the more interesting historical sites I've ever visited. Here are the favorites.


This might be the most fun time I've had at a historical site in as long as I can remember. It's a four-story complex built beneath the countryside about 40 minutes west of Ottawa. The bunker was meant to be the home for the Canadian government in the event of a nuclear war, and could serve as such for 30 days until food supplies ran out. Of course it was never used. In fact, it became obsolete about 10 years after it was built: it was designed for an era of bombs, not ballistic missiles.

Projected casualties from a bomb dropped at the airbase near Ottawa.

A public relations room in Diefenbunker.

An office for public relations in Diefenbunker.

At a desk in the PM's office.

This freezer would've served as food storage for days 1-12. Then, it would've become a morgue. 

Tunnel leading away from Diefenbunker. 
The guide made the trip worthwhile. Sure, had we done the walk-by-ourselves route we would've picked up some interesting things. A self-guided tour would've generated some goosebumps looking at the period furniture and pastel institutional coloring. But our guide, Les, made the place come alive with his irreverence, rapid-fire recitation of the bunker's capacities, and fairly deep knowledge of what the facility could do. The museum was also bold and blunt in its quest to figure out ways to fund its operations. It rents out space for parties, retreats, and weddings (?!). It hosts Halloween-themed zombie events. It holds spy camps for kids. But, oddly enough, it didn't have a gift shop. I would've spent a mint at such a shop. I did, though, walk away with two mugs, one of which is one of the neatest mug I've ever seen (became a gift for my friend).

One of the greatest gift shop mugs I've ever seen. 
The Henry Ford

I was expecting a museum that was about half automotive history, half stuff. Instead, I found a museum that was about one-third automotive history (and that history stretched beyond just cars) and about two-thirds rich cultural history story telling. In some ways, they're doing some stuff just to impress (to wit, what is the chair in which Lincoln was shot doing there?). For the most part, they're engaged in a valuable story-telling endeavor. I was surprised at the exhibits on culture from the twentieth century contrasting living rooms and bedrooms across the decades. There was more there than I could take in in one day.

Kennedy's limousine. 

Ike's limousine.

The Holiday Inn exhibit. 

1930s era Texaco station. 

Three eras, three tvs. 

An aluminum home designed by Buckminster Fuller. 

The bus Rosa Parks made famous is at the museum there. I was surprised that they gave us the opportunity to get on board and even sit in the seat that Ms. Parks sat in that day in the 1950s. However, they do so because the bus has been extensively renovated (apparently vandalism and age ravaged it before the museum acquired it). Their exhibit regarding Parks is just as moving as is the exhibit at the National Museum of Civil Rights.

Adjacent to the museum is Greenfield Village, which I could've spent an entire day at. For the most part, the village is a recreation of an American town circa 1910, but there is an eclectic collection of other houses spread throughout, such as a southern farmstead from the Great Depression. I enjoyed being in the midst of Model T's sputtering around (yes, we took a ride) alongside omnibuses and Model A buses. There was too much there to take in in one afternoon, and after a little bit I stopped trying to hustle from spot to spot, confident that there's enough there to justify visiting again.

From our Model T Ride. 

A Depression-era home from the south. Newspaper is the insulation. 

Canadian Museum of War and Canadian Museum of History 

These two museums sit across the river in Ottawa and Gatineau, respectively. One doesn't quite associate war with Canada, so I'm a bit surprised at a whole museum dedicated to it in Canada. I was shocked at the number of artifacts there, my favorite being a Canadian-built tank that, while in use by Soviet forces in 1944, broke through a frozen river and remained at its bottom until recovered in the 1990s.

The Canadian War museum begins with an assertion that war is a behavior in which nations engage that gives them definition. I guess I never thought of it that way. It works the visitor through how conflicts with the native peoples, then with the Americans (War of 1812), and then with World War I (Vimy Ridge is an enormous source of pride) gave the Canadian people an identity. It was a very good museum to learn about World War I in particular though it treated other wars (including the Boer War) quite thoroughly.

Sam on the Western Front. 

We had seen the Canadian Museum of History before, when we visited Ottawa last year. It remains one of the better museums I've visited. Rich story-telling and good diversity of exhibits are its strengths (it's not really a showcase of artifacts, however).

Fort Mackinac

I was impressed at the state-run historical site on Mackinac Island. The fort there is a vast facility with a lot of well-maintained buildings. Though it changed hands a few times, no angry shots were ever fired in, at, or over it. They employ a lot of college-age historians as third-person interpreters and those interpreters do a good job showcasing military techinques and ways of life across a couple of eras.

One bit of historical cheese: an animatronic officer spots the approaching British. 

Late 19th-century quartermaster's storeroom. 

The live fire presentation on War of 1812 weapons technology. 

The Fort's properties spill over into the town below to a few buildings such as a fur trading shop as well as a period home and blacksmith shop. The blacksmith shop was more interesting than I expected, largely due to the efforts of good interpreters.

1 comment:

  1. As a Language Arts teacher, I get your drift. I take my kids and squeeze their feet in a thesaurus.