Judi Stevenson carefully unpacks a bubble-wrapped wooden box. The worn box is about the size of two decks of cards, and held together with the same small metal clasps that have done the job for 100 years.
Stevenson, the district archivist for the Greater Victoria School District 61, lifts open the lid to reveal an old geometry kit compiled of fine metal tools with ivory handles and an ivory ruler.
“This was donated from a school that was keeping it in a filing cabinet, but it deserves to be taken care of,” Stevenson says.
The geometry set is one of tens of thousands of items in SD61’s collection, much of which Stevenson has curated, organized and even moved a couple times.
|Judi Stevenson, School District 61 archivist, shows a 100-year-old geometry set, which features ivory tools. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
“Last time it took 24 truck loads to move everything,” Stevenson says, noting that now the items are being temporarily stored in the basement of SJ Willis while a permanent site is being decided upon.
The items come from schools that are closing or facing large renovations, or from family members going through the estates of deceased relatives who don’t know what to do with old items, school photos and textbooks. There are pom-poms from old cheerleader clubs (a favourite item amongst visiting students), old desks, record books of corporal punishments, and attendance lists.
Items range in size from original school doors and signs to pocket books published in 1911 as the children’s encyclopedia.
“It’s a list of all the things they thought kids should know,” Stevenson says as she as she leafs through the book. “‘Why do we perspire?’ – you couldn’t say sweat then– or the geometry of a spider’s web.”
Some of the items on display at the SD61 school board office include a five-pronged chalk holder for music class, mechanical bells, intricate soap dispensers, hand-made triangles and electric erasers. Every month or so, Stevenson will develop a new display for visitors to see.
Her most favourite items, however, include those which speak to the mindset of teachers and students at the time. One of these includes something known as the Austin Smith Collection, which came from Sir James Douglas Elementary School.
“There’s little Austin,” Stevenson says, pointing out a typical looking 12-year old boy in a black and white photo. His collection came with several class photos, report cards and notebooks.
|'This was what was on his mind,' said SD61 archivist Judi Stevenson. She displays a notebook from a 12-year-old boy in 1941, which was full of war scenes and detailed pictures of war ships. (Nicole Crescenzi/Nws Staff)
“This particular book does me in, ” Stevenson says. “Whenever I try to get the kids to think, ‘how does a 12-year old think about war when it’s happening to him?’ I show them this book.”
The inside of Austin’s notebook from 1941 shows detailed war scenes including planes and warships. On other pages, he’s made up a detailed list of schematics of different kinds of warships, including their weight and how many men they could carry. In others books he’s glued newspaper clippings about bayonets.
While the curating of school archives is labour intensive, for Stevenson keeping the items allows teachers to show students how things have changed.
“If you don’t know where you’ve been, you’re not going to know where you’re going,” Stevenson says. “You got there because of what came before, and for the most part kids are very intrigued because it’s their world.”
Stevenson believes a new site for the items has been selected, and is just awaiting final approval.
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