School Days Museum

School Days Museum

School Days Museum

The earliest documented expression of interest in preserving artifacts related to the history of public education in New Brunswick dates back to February 1986. This historical record is found within the minutes of a gathering convened by the Central Branch of the New Brunswick Society of Retired Teachers, representing regions like Fredericton, Oromocto, Minto, Chipman, Harvey, McAdam, and their surroundings. These records underscore the establishment of a dedicated committee, tasked with the identification of valuable items worthy of preservation and the formulation of subsequent action plans.

School Days Museum, 427 Queen St. Fredericton

Initially, Clarence Johnston led this committee, meticulously categorizing items into three distinct groups: books and documents (encompassing educational materials), furniture, and miscellaneous objects. Committee members were encouraged to contribute materials, either as donations or loans, to this collective effort, which came to be known as The Artefacts Committee. This marked the genesis of what would become the School Days Museum.

Following Clarence Johnston, Franklin Gilmore assumed the role of chairman. By 1987, David McCormack took the helm, bringing unwavering determination to the task. He was unwavering in his commitment to safeguarding books, teaching aids, and materials specific to New Brunswick schools, insisting that only artifacts with New Brunswick origins be included. The museum’s collection began to expand, encompassing a diverse array of high-quality artifacts requiring preservation and exhibition.

In pursuit of knowledge and expertise, David McCormack established connections with professionals from other museums and archives. He gleaned insights into museum organization, grasped the intricacies of artifact conservation, and absorbed the necessary documentation procedures.

On May 27, 1988, the committee underwent a name change to become the Museum Committee, with David McCormack as its leader. Notable members of the committee included Hugh Henderson, Franklin Gilmore, and Phyllis Reynolds.

Recognizing the need for recognition and support from regional entities such as the New Brunswick Teachers Association and the government, it became evident that the museum needed to adopt a provincial perspective. This led to an approach to the Provincial Executive of the N.B.S.R.T, resulting in Arden Doak proposing a crucial Notice of Motion. Consequently, on June 7, 1988, the Museum Committee was officially established as a permanent committee of the N.B.S.R.T. The N.B.S.R.T has remained a steadfast supporter, offering invaluable financial assistance. Each of the organization’s eleven branches across the province designates a liaison to facilitate collaboration between branch and central museum efforts.

The Committee unanimously selected the name “School Days Museum.” The logo was artistically designed by Ruth Henderson, who is the spouse of Hugh Henderson. Finding a suitable location for the museum became a primary focus. Richard Scott, a lawyer from Fredericton and the child of a retired educator, provided invaluable guidance over the subsequent three years. Official by-laws and legal documents were drafted, leading to the incorporation of the museum as School Days Museum, Inc. on June 14, 1991. This incorporation ensured registration with the Department of National Revenue, granting charitable status and enabling tax benefits for donations.

School Days Museum displays old school desks

The process of cataloging and adding artifacts began on September 30, 1987, and has since accumulated over 12,000 items. However, the current museum collection does not necessarily reflect this number, as several books have been removed from the collection. The museum’s journey began in a private residence, with David McCormack, Hugh Henderson, and Phyllis Reynolds leading the sorting and accessioning efforts.

By March 18, 1992, the museum secured a small room in Marshall d’Avray Hall at the University of New Brunswick for storage, workspace, and board meetings. Subsequently, a Board of Directors was established, composed of retired educators with a vested interest.

Despite these advancements, the museum still lacked a dedicated exhibition space. Evelyn Fidler of King’s Landing oversaw temporary displays at various Fredericton venues. One noteworthy exhibit, which recreated a rural one-room school, was featured at the York-Sunbury Historical Society Museum from October 1988 to June 15, 1989. Local Fredericton students contributed their work to this display, inaugurated by Mildred Barnes, a distinguished retired teacher. Another exhibition took place during the summer of 1990 at the Central New Brunswick Woodsmen’s Museum in Boiestown. Smaller exhibits were also hosted at various Fredericton establishments and during N.B.S.R.T. meetings.

On April 23, 1994, with the assistance of the provincial Department of Supply and Services, the museum relocated to and, after renovations, settled into an exclusive exhibit space, storage area, and workspace within the annex of the Justice Building on Queen Street in Fredericton. This site, previously the Provincial School and later the Teachers’ College, was well-suited for the museum. The second-floor space had previously been part of the Model School, a place familiar to many past educators. The formal inauguration on September 7, 1994, featured a ribbon-cutting ceremony performed by Glen MacKenzie, the oldest member of the Central Branch, and was considered a significant milestone.

Fredericton Model School circa 1886 at the Normal School. George Taylor Photo

During the winter of 1996, a more spacious room on the ground floor of the Justice Building was offered, surpassing the previous second-floor workspace and storage area. Following thorough cleaning and renovations, this room was officially unveiled as the new exhibit space on March 30. The former ground-floor exhibition area was repurposed into our workspace and storage facility. This relocation conveniently centralized all museum sections on a single floor. The upgraded facilities were formally inaugurated on June 23, 1996, with the esteemed New Brunswick educator, Dr. Robert J. Love, Dean Emeritus of Education at U.N.B., commemorating the occasion by ringing a traditional school bell.

In November 1994, Bruce Lynch was appointed as a temporary curator. His expertise, creativity, and unwavering dedication to the museum sparked significant improvements to the exhibits and the overall perception of the museum.

By February 2006, during Heritage Week, a third room was added, supported by government funding. This expansion facilitated the creation of a 1920s-era replica of a single-room rural school, adorned with museum artifacts. This project reached its culmination in 2007, with a celebratory reception held in the fall, paying tribute to Martha Hamm Lewis, the earliest female graduate from the Provincial Normal School in the mid-1800s.

In 2008, the museum underwent further enhancements. The previously dimly lit walls of the entrance hallway were revitalized with a lighter coat of paint, and Bruce Lynch’s artworks were thoughtfully displayed to enhance the museum’s entrance. New storage units were installed, and a prominent exhibit spotlighted Mary Grannan, a first-grade teacher from the 1930s Devon Superior School, renowned as “Just Mary,” a radio icon, and children’s story author. An Open House event held on July 15, 2009, garnered significant attendance and was graced by provincial and municipal officials.

School Days Museum

Since its incorporation, the Museum has been overseen by a dedicated Board of Directors, consisting of retired educators who willingly and enthusiastically contribute their time, energy, and expertise to ensure the efficient operation and direction of the Museum. 

The “School Days Museum” is located behind the Justice Building at 427 Queen Street in Fredericton.

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