When It's Okay to Touch Museum Objects

This past Monday, one of the Galt's volunteers, Michelle Logue, led a program at the CNIB offices. This program, designed for persons with limited or no vision, included an opportunity for people to touch some objects from our education collection. Michelle shared some stories around the objects but there was also time for reminiscing and for the participants to share stories about their interactions with similar objects.

Our education collection gets used regularly. It is used virtually daily through the school classes and tours that come to the Galt. We will use several items from our Second World War collection in two grade 5 classes today.

We loan items out to groups. We have several items waiting to be picked up by Westminster School for use as props and costumes in their spring concert. Several of our memory boxes (reminisce kits for seniors' programs) are either out at the moment or booked to be picked up soon. Some of our hats may be used as part of a fashion show in May.

Items gets into our education collection through various means. They are sometimes donated. Other times we purchase them. But often the items in the education collection have little "history" or provenance attached to them. We rarely know the story of the past owners of the objects.

But that doesn't mean there aren't some great stories attached to the objects. As I picked out the ones for Michelle to take on Monday, several of them connected to stories that I knew and which I thought I'd share.

The first is this printer's block. The image is reversed but it is a map of the Lethbridge river bottom. This block, and several others that we have, were used in the original printing of the book Boats and Barges on the Belly -- the story of the coal barges and other boats used on the river. This map shows the inclined railway, the saw mill, the coal mines and several other important places in the river valley. The barges only ran a few years before being replaced by the railway. But they (or their machinery) continued to serve Lethbridge for years to come -- the boiler from one of them providing the first hot bath ever in Lethbridge.


This second object is a dray license -- a license issued to a wagon for commercial use in Lethbridge. What made me chuckle was the year "1912". In 1912 Lethbridge's police chief and two police officers were fired (the police chief was later cleared). One of the charges against the police chief was that it was believed he was stealing money that people were paying for license (in reality he just had poor accounting skills and had a habit of sticking money into drawers and forgetting it was there). But I had to wonder, did this license play a role in that 1912 scandal? Was this license properly paid for? We have no way of knowing but this simple license makes a great introduction to a fascinating story.


There's many more similar treasures in our touchable education collection. Who knows what we'll add to it over the next few years or what other stories we'll discover from within it?