11. Getting it Right…on the third try

Creston MuseumBehind The Scenes, News & Articles, Twenty-Five Years at the Creston Museum Leave a Comment

Messing something up the first time around happens a lot more often than you think. For example, a couple of years ago I created a school program that was supposed to help Grade 4 students trace a family’s history through historic documents and photographs…except it was so complex and overwhelming I think a university history student might have struggled with it.

Fortunately, we were able to hire Phoebe, with a background in teaching, on a one-year project to develop and redevelop school programs. She fixed it for me.

Yes, it’s always exciting when you get something right the first time. But learning from mistakes, fixing them, and coming up with a winner is a real highlight of the job.

Probably the best example I can give you is one I hinted at a couple of days ago: the military exhibit we created in 2010…which was the successor to an exhibit we’d created in 2005…and the predecessor to the one we created in 2018.

It took us three tries to get it right (and by “us,” I guess I mean “me”).

Our first military-history exhibit was little more than a display case full of objects related to Creston’s military involvement – hat pins and cap badges, a Boer-war era box of chocolate, a hand-grenade-turned-paperweight, etc – and a couple uniforms hung on the wall. The problem was, that we couldn’t really tell you anything about those objects – not even about the service records of the veterans who had donated them.

Our first military exhibit, 2005. This visitor could talk more about it than we could.

That’s pretty dismal. I mean, community museums are supposed to tell the stories of their community’s people, aren’t they?

So we tried again. Spent an entire winter going through newspapers, tracking down veterans and their families, trying to get at those individual stories and experiences (that’s where we learned about Jack Hall and his service with the tank Bomb). We looked at the Boer War, the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War, and peacetime service. We attempted to make lists of everyone from the Creston Valley who had served, and record details of their service.

The result was…well, terrifying.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s all great information, and we’ve used it over and over again: for our Trench Dinner/AGM marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of St. Julien; for online exhibits such as Creston Valley at Vimy Ridge and When War Comes Home; for articles and presentations and Legion programs related to Remembrance Day; for quite a few research requests.

But as an exhibit? All that information was a tad overwhelming, to say the least. We’d watch visitors approach that space, take one wide-eyed look at it, and leave. Very few people spent more than ten seconds in it, and those were either military historians or relatives of local veterans looking at what we had about their family member. When we talked to visitors about it, they all said the same thing: it’s too much. Try telling one story, instead of all the stories.

Enter attempt number three: Lumberjack Soldiers. We still have all that great information about all the veterans of all the wars, but in the physical exhibit we look closely only at the experiences of local soldiers who served with the 230th Forestry Battalion in World War I. It’s a fascinating and little known story, quintessentially local – and a much better, more interesting, and more approachable exhibit.

Third time’s the charm, right?