The first recorded evidence of a desire to conserve artifacts connected to the history of public education in New Brunswick dates back to February 1986. This reference can be found in the minutes of a meeting held by the Central Branch of the New Brunswick Society of Retired Teachers, which represents regions like Fredericton, Oromocto, Minto, Chipman, Harvey, McAdam, and their vicinities. These records underscore the formation of a dedicated committee, entrusted with identifying valuable items for preservation and suggesting further steps to be taken.
Clarence Johnston initially chaired the committee, formulating a detailed classification of items into three categories: books and documents (which encompassed teaching aids), furniture, and miscellaneous items. Committee members were encouraged to either donate or lend materials to this group, which came to be identified as The Artefacts Committee. This marked the inception of the School Days Museum.
Subsequently, Franklin Gilmore took the reins as chairman. By 1987, David McCormack took on the leadership role, approaching it with vigor and determination. He was dedicated to conserving books, teaching tools, and materials specific to New Brunswick schools. McCormack was resolute that only artifacts originating from New Brunswick would be incorporated. The museum began to accumulate a diverse range of high-quality artifacts necessitating preservation and exhibition.
To gain insights, David liaised with professionals from other museums and archives, gleaning information about museum organization, understanding the nuances of artifact care, and learning the appropriate documentation processes.
On May 27, 1988, the committee’s name evolved to the Museum Committee, with David McCormack presiding. Committee members included Hugh Henderson, Franklin Gilmore, and Phyllis Reynolds.
It became apparent that to gain recognition and support from regional entities, such as the New Brunswick Teachers Association and the government, the museum needed to adopt a provincial stance. The Provincial Executive of the N.B.S.R.T was approached, leading to Arden Doak presenting a pivotal Notice of Motion. Consequently, on June 7, 1988, the Museum Committee was established as a permanent committee of the N.B.S.R.T. The N.B.S.R.T has consistently been a stalwart supporter, providing invaluable financial aid. Each of the organization’s eleven branches across the province designates a liaison to synergize branch and central museum efforts.
The name “School Days Museum” was unanimously chosen by the Committee. The logo was creatively crafted by Ruth Henderson, Hugh Henderson’s spouse. Finding a suitable venue for the museum became a primary focus. Richard Scott, a lawyer from Fredericton and the child of a retired educator, provided indispensable counsel over the subsequent three years. Official by-laws and legal documentation were formulated, culminating in the museum’s incorporation as School Days Museum, Inc. on June 14, 1991. This incorporation ensured its registration with the Department of National Revenue, granting it charitable status and enabling tax benefits for donations.
The process of recording and accessioning artifacts commenced on September 30, 1987, and has since amassed over 12,000 items. However, the current museum collection doesn’t necessarily reflect this number, as multiple books have been de-accessioned. The museum’s journey began in a private residence with David McCormack, Hugh Henderson, and Phyllis Reynolds spearheading the sorting and accessioning tasks.
By March 18, 1992, the museum was granted a small room in Marshall d’Avray Hall at the University of New Brunswick for storage, workspace, and board meetings. Consequently, a Board of Directors was established, comprising of retired educators with a vested interest.
Despite these advancements, the museum lacked a dedicated exhibition space. Evelyn Fidler of King’s Landing directed temporary displays set up at various Fredericton venues. A notable exhibit, simulating a rural one-room school, was showcased at the York-Sunbury Historical Society Museum from October 1988 to June 15, 1989. Local Fredericton students contributed their works for this display, which was inaugurated by Mildred Barnes, a distinguished retired teacher. Another exhibition was organized in the summer of 1990 at the Central New Brunswick Woodsmen’s Museum in Boiestown. Additional smaller exhibits were stationed at various Fredericton establishments and during N.B.S.R.T. meetings.
On April 23, 1994, thanks to the provincial Department of Supply and Services, the museum relocated and, post-renovations, settled into an exclusive exhibit space, storage area, and workspace within the annex of the Justice Building on Queen Street, Fredericton. This site, formerly the Provincial School and subsequently the Teachers’ College, was apt for the museum. Its second-floor space was previously a part of the Model School, familiar to many past educators. The formal inauguration on September 7, 1994, marked by a ribbon-cutting ceremony performed by Glen MacKenzie, the oldest member of the Central Branch, was deemed a significant milestone.
In the winter of 1996, a more spacious room on the ground floor of the Justice Building was offered, superseding the previous second-floor work and storage space. After extensive cleaning and refurbishments, this room was inaugurated as the new exhibit space on March 30. The prior ground-floor exhibition area was repurposed as our workspace and storage facility. This relocation conveniently centralized all museum sections on a single floor. The updated facilities were ceremonially launched on June 23, 1996, when the esteemed New Brunswick educator, Dr. Robert J. Love, Dean Emeritus of Education at U.N.B., marked the occasion by ringing a traditional school bell.
In November 1994, Bruce Lynch was appointed as a temporary curator. His expertise, creativity, and genuine dedication to the museum catalyzed transformative enhancements to the exhibits and the overall museum perception.
By February 2006, during Heritage Week, a third room was added. This expansion, supported by governmental aid, enabled the creation of a 1920s-era replica of a single-room rural school, adorned with museum artifacts. This project culminated in 2007, with a celebratory reception held in the fall, honoring Martha Hamm Lewis, the earliest female graduate from the Provincial Normal School in the mid-1800s.
The museum underwent additional enhancements in 2008. The previously dark walls of the entrance hallway were refreshed with lighter paint, and Bruce Lynch’s artworks were thoughtfully displayed to beautify the museum’s entrance. New storage units were installed, and a notable exhibit spotlighted Mary Grannan, a first-grade teacher from the 1930s Devon Superior School. She gained fame as “Just Mary”, a radio icon and children’s story author. A well-attended Open House took place on July 15, 2009, graced by both provincial and municipal officials.
Since incorporation, the Museum has been managed by a Board of Directors. Those who have served and continue to do so are retired educators who willingly and cheerfully give their time, energy and information to the efficient operation and direction of the Museum.
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