Bringing history to life
Photo by J.P. Antonacci, Brant News
Lisa Anderson, left, in character as a 19th-century schoolmarm, scolds museum assistant Ashley Rodriguez at Myrtleville House Museum.
There is no fooling around in Lisa Anderson’s class.
Chatty students are sent to the corner and forced to hold books in their outstretched hands. The more they talk, the heavier the pile gets.
And anyone caught chewing gum will find the sticky treat plastered to their nose.
Anderson, the normally cheerful education officer at Myrtleville House Museum, adopts the persona of a stern schoolmaster to give students a taste of what life was like in the one-room schoolhouses of yore.
“I get to be the mean, strict teacher from the 1860s,” said Anderson. “It’s so much fun. I’ve made kids cry.”
School Bells and Scholars is one of several educational programs Myrtleville offers to elementary school classes. All on-site programs include a tour of the 19th-century house and a look at how times have changed.
Myrtleville’s programs bring in 2,000 students each year. Roughly half sign up for the Good Cheer Christmas program, where students experience a Victorian Christmas complete with decorations, wooden toys and freshly baked gingerbread cookies.
Later this fall, the Harvest Moon program will see students making apple cider with an antique press and baking apple cookies.
“Baking is always a big hit,” Anderson said. “A lot of kids have never baked before, and we’re baking without measuring cups.”
Instead, students will use what she calls the “pinch, dash and smidgeon method.”
Volunteers lead tours and activities designed to show classes how modern tasks were once performed.
Students have the opportunity to see what life was like in the 1900s, by beating a rug, doing laundry in a basin and even milking a pretend cow, Anderson said.
“It’s educational but it’s fun, and I think a lot of times (the students) don’t realize that they’ve learned,” she said.
Museum assistant Ashley Rodriguez said Myrtleville’s education programs and popular summer camp give students a new perspective on the past and present.
“(Students) really get a feel for what life used to be like before all the technology that we’re so grateful for today,” she said. “It’s different from sitting in a classroom, reading a textbook. When you come here, history comes to life.”
Myrtleville merged with the Brant Historical Society in 2008, but word of its rebranding has been slow to reach some schools.
“Our programs are doing well, but we want to let teachers know that we’re out here, and we will come to you,” Anderson said.
The museum can hold 60 kids, and the cost to participate is $4.50 per student, plus transportation.
For schools concerned about busing costs, Anderson travels to Brant, Six Nations and as far as New Credit, Caledonia and Ancaster to present programs like School Bells and Scholars in the classroom.
Myrtleville’s programs can be customized to meet specific curriculum needs, Anderson said.
“All the programs are meeting the expectations of the Ontario curriculum,” she said. “And it’s hands-on, too.”