Friday, September 22, 2023

My summer at the Pontiac Museum

Chloe Lemay
Shawville Oct. 8, 2022
The Pontiac Museum is housed in the former Shawville train station which was relocated in the mid-1970s to the Lake Street side of the Fair Grounds in Shawville for the purpose and is operated by the Pontiac Historical Society. This summer, one of the students hired to work at the museum was Chloe Lemay, born and raised in Shawville and currently a student of Art History and English at Carleton University. THE EQUITY invited Chloe to share her thoughts on her summer’s experience. Here is her response.

During the summer of 2022, I was employed at the Pontiac Museum. I am currently completing a Bachelor of Honours with a major in Art History and a minor in English. Working at the museum was a great opportunity to further my field experience in my studies. I have always had a natural passion for history and a curiosity to explore and further educate myself in this interest. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked at an institution integral to preserving and presenting the history of a place I have been a part of my entire life. It was fascinating to learn about the development of our area, the trials and successes of its growth, the tragedies that struck and the unique stories of the town.
My primary role was to curate exhibits and provide tours for visitors, but I also completed several projects throughout the summer. I conducted research at the museum and the archives to produce collections of documents and digital and poster presentations on the Women’s Institute, the Dale family, and the architecture of the Pontiac. I dedicated a lot of my time to rearranging and changing the exhibits around the museum, which was an enjoyable and creative outlet for me. We received many incredible donations throughout the summer including a circular sock knitting machine and a letter addressed to a soldier signed by King George V. It was a joy to speak to people who donated the various pieces and discover their history and connection with them. A welcomed challenge was finding creative ways to include new artifacts in our collection.
The highlight of my summer was studying the portraits of James Shaw and Lydia Lang, and writing an interpretive analysis of the artworks, as it relied heavily on exercises I practice in school. This sort of analysis entails examining the paintings for several hours, noting the formal elements such as technique, composition, and colour, and interpreting the symbolism and content of the scene. Through this process, I arrived at an interpretation of these portraits as a reflection of the couple’s affluence and success in Shawville.
An aspect of my work at the museum that I appreciated was how visitors enjoyed conversing about artifacts that were of interest to them.
Typically, the most popular artifacts in our collection were the items and exhibits visitors could touch and interact with. Objects such as old phones and cameras, children’s wooden toys, and a school bell that they could handle, just as people did generations and even centuries ago, would give visitors a tangible connection to historical experiences.
Over the course of my time there, I had the pleasure of hearing many personal stories about items in our collection, and about the Pontiac in years past. The diversity of these interactions helped me visualize the old Pontiac and grasp a more complete picture of the past and how the area has evolved.
Discussions led by Chris Judd and Gordie Bruce about the museum’s farming and forestry equipment were especially interesting. Many times, there were visitors who had a distinct memory or relationship to a picture or an object in our collection who would share their experiences with us. During the fair, for example, a visitor was delighted to see an old wooden wheelchair that had been in the former Dr. Powles house in Shawville when it served as a hospital. He recalled playing and pushing his friends and cousins around on it when they were children. Through these interactions, I often found I learned as much from the visitors as they did from me.
I think my ability to relate to the personal stories that visitors shared had something to do with my own family’s connections to artifacts in the museum. While I was not fortunate enough to meet my great grandfathers, Lawrence Hobbs and Claude Lemay, I did come across items and information about them in the museum. My great-grandfather Hobbs fought in WWll and his winter army coat is on display at the museum. In our digital collection, we possess pictures and interview recordings of my great-grandfather Lemay. Having the opportunity to engage with parts of their lives allowed me to learn more about them and feel more connected to them.
It was during these moments when I realized the charm and importance of small, local museums such as this one that we are so fortunate to have. It allows people to connect with their ancestors and understand the story of where they live. Upon further introspection, I began to think of the importance of history and preservation. I see history as the primary connection we have to our past. History is remembrance and the appreciation of where we were to where we are now and a way to advise future generations. It is important to preserve our heritage because, if not, what will we have to reflect on, learn from and be proud of?


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