Bytown Museum brings back scavenger hunt

It’s been pretty hard to find the Bytown Museum’s scavenger hunt lately, but that’s about to change.

After a four-month hiatus, Ottawa’s oldest community museum is looking to attract younger audiences by launching their new and improved Postcard Scavenger Hunt during a local professional development day.

It’s been three years since the museum held a drop-in activity during a PD day and staff was enthusiastic to have it coincide with the return of the postcards.

“My favorite part is that it turns kids into mini detectives,” says Megan Bocking, program manager of the museum.

The museum is located in the Commissariat building just west of the canal headlocks beside the Chateau Laurier.

Up until last September, people could drop in at any point and participate in the Scavenger hunt, which consists of seven cards representing key moments in Ottawa’s history.

“Each of the cards has something related to the exhibition,” explains Bocking. “We ask them to find an object on display or ask them to connect the dots and find an object that matches.”

Although the museum introduces various temporary exhibits throughout the year, the scavenger hunt is restricted to a permanent collection, which shows the gradual evolution of Bytown into Ottawa.

The 7,000 artifacts people can come in and see first began to be assembled by the Women’s Canadian Historical Society of Ottawa, who founded the museum in 1898.

When the museum staff realized the thousands of postcards they printed in 2007 had finally run out, they decided to re-launch the popular event with the goal of attracting a larger youth audience.

Bocking says staff members worked hard to re-evaluate the activity and came up with some interesting new additions.

“One of the cards is scented actually,” she says.

The smokey smelling card represents the devastating fire of 1900, the largest in Ottawa’s history. The museum selected this moment for the catastrophic effects it had, taking seven lives and the homes of 8,000 people.

Bocking says she was very excited to revive the scavenger hunt and sees the return of special PD days as a strategy to highlight all the new programming they are doing to attract families.

Christina Stokes, a teaching assistant at Carleton University’s history department, is currently researching how theatre is an opportunity for museums to engage people in interactive learning.

Although not all museums participate in theatre, she says a consistent challenge for local museums is making their exhibits engaging to the public and not simply a regurgitation of facts.

She says many local museums in Ottawa, such as Pinhey’s Point and Billing’s Estate, are not very well known even within their own neighbourhoods and could change that trend by advertising interactive and hands-on activities and targeting schools to market this programming to children.

Part of what makes the Bytown Museum so successful is how active it is, says the president of the Historical Society of Ottawa. George Neville says the museum succeeds in its ability to develop captivating activities year-round.

Bocking says future special PD drop-in activities days and scavenger hunts are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their long-range plan to get more youth involved in history.

Last year, the museum launched its Youth Council, a group of 16-21 year olds with post-secondary experience in historical studies, who are researching the city’s history and sharing it through social media.

“Quite honestly,” Bocking says, “I don’t really know what youth want to do in Ottawa, but other youth know what they want to do in Ottawa.” The group gets together on a weekly basis and develops tours and events geared towards others their age.

This year, the museum is furthering their program by developing family exploration bags filled with books, toys and activities, which will be loaned out at the beginning of tours to facilitate the visit and keep their visitors absorbed in the exhibits.

“Our hope is to build it into a school program,” says Bocking as she outlined the museum’s long-term plans. The goal is to make it possible for classes to come and make thematic timelines for whatever moment in history they are currently learning.