AT RANDOM: Projecting history

At first glance, Barkerville, hockey, Robert Munsch, The Vernon Winter Carnival, the Kettle Valley Railway and Herb Carnegie may not have much in common.

But at Okanagan Landing elementary school on Thursday morning, they were all a part of Canadian history at the school’s annual Heritage Fair.

Students in Grades 3, 4 and 5 presented 49 projects and were encouraged to use a variety of materials to support their work.

Along with my colleague, Richard Rolke, and other members from a cross-section of the community, I was asked to judge the projects.

After explaining our task for the day, fair co-coordinators Grade 3/4 teacher Sheila Monroe and Grade 5 teacher Karen Musseau guided us into the gym.

With each of us given between five and seven projects to judge, it was time to get to work. Of course, it wasn’t really work. It was a relaxed and fun morning talking to youngsters and learning a little bit more about Canadian history.

I learned a lot of interesting facts. For instance, the Vernon Winter Carnival as we know it today got its start in 1961.

And a flip through the annual event’s first program reveals many well-known Vernon names and more than a few photographs that are a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Billy Barker, for whom Barkerville is named, died penniless in a Victoria nursing home after giving away most of his fortune.

And when it comes to hockey, Wayne Gretzky may have long since retired, but he’s still a hero to the two historians who gave him pride of place — along with Sidney Crosby — on their history of hockey project. And I’ll be keeping an eye on these two: they gave me a puck to keep, signed by each of them. Who knows? It may be worth something on eBay one day if they end up with glittering hockey careers.

I learned that famed children’s author Robert Munsch was born in Pittsburgh and that he made up his first story while student-teaching at a daycare. That story, Mortimer, was turned into a book 12 years later.

The Kettle Valley Railway project has reminded me that 19 years after moving to the Okanagan, I’m long overdue to pay a visit to the preserved section of this historic railway.

And finally, my emotions threatened to get the better of me when I learned about Herb Carnegie, a hockey player who was called “the best black hockey player never to have played in the NHL.” Racism kept Carnegie out of the NHL, with then Leafs owner Conn Smythe saying, “I would take Carnegie tomorrow for the Maple Leafs if someone could turn him white.” And while he was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, he never made it to the Hockey Fall of Fame. One young man hopes to change that and has a hockey card — signed by an elderly Carnegie after he had lost his sight — that he is donating to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

My only regret is that I did not have the time to check out every single project. I had tantalizing glimpses of the history of Silver Star, complete with a papier mâché mountain and Lego skiers; a D-Day project featuring treasured family photographs and a uniform; and a history of school whose presenter wore an old-fashioned dress and had created an ink bottle with feather quill pen.

From the OKL fair, five students will be selected to present their projects at the regional heritage fair in Kelowna. But to me, they are all winners, and I thank all of the students for the lessons they’ve taught me.


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