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Cabinets of Curiosity

Posted by Tom Morton
17 December 2013 - 1:14pm

This blog was originally published by Tom Morton on the BC Heritage Fairs website, under Student Resource/ Teacher Resource, September 18, 2013.

A Darning Ball, a Memorial Plaque and a Girl with Her Pet Beaver – three stories about the lure of the artifact.

In an article for Learn Alberta Linda Farr Darling explains how using historical artifacts like the solid wooden sphere the size of a tennis ball shown in the photo can help make the past concrete and easy to grasp for young students, but can also grow to something much more. She tells the story of working with grade 3 students to explore what is evenutally revealed to be a darning ball. Along the way she offers a wealth of ideas applicable to Heritage Fairs on how teachers can use objects and photographs from the past to stimulate curiosity and foster historical inquiry.

Two magazines also tell stories of the power of artifacts and invite us to share our own objects and stories.

In its regular “Cabinets of Curiosity” British Columbia History features an artifact and tells a story of its origins and importance. The Fall, 2013, edition describes a memorial plaque discovered at the Vancouver Main Post Office after being hidden from public view for over 30 years. This opened the door to research into the 14 Canada Post employees who died during the two World Wars and a rededication ceremony to honour them.

The magazine also asks its readers to submit an image of their own artifact: “Every object has a story. Do you have an object of curiosity in your cabinet?” The image and story are to be submitted to

Canada’s History has more examples and a similar invitation. Their Album section has been one of the magazine’s most beloved department for years. Hundreds of readers have sent the magazine “cherished family photos” that are now on-line.

Our featured photograph from the Album shows Lillian Gardiner who was born in Needles, British Columbia, on Christmas Day in 1917. She was one of six children who lived in a single-room log cabin for many years.

At the age of ten, each child was given a rifle, a pair of snowshoes, and a lard pail full of food, and then was sent to work on the trapline. Although trapping was necessary for the family’s income, Lillian had great compassion for animals. On one occasion, her trap caught a beaver by its toes. Instead of killing it, the ten-year-old took it home and tamed it. In the photograph she is sitting on the family’s porch holding her pet beaver.

Her daughter Lillian Barton says, “My mom was not singular, but an example of the courage and strength that made this country what it is.” (To read more on Lillian Gardiner click here.)

Canada’s History also invites us to submit our own album photos.

Photo Sources: Photo of Lillian Gardiner from the Album Section of Canada's History; photo by Linda Farr Darling