The oblong watercolour painting is exquisite; showcasing detailed figures of BSS students in 1931, lacing on skates as they chat with each other before an outing on the school’s skating rink. “Their poses are so lifelike, their winter outfits reminiscent of a time gone by,” says Sue ALLEN Dutton ’79, Archivist of the BSS Museum & Archives. “Receiving this donation was a very lucky day for us.”
In fact, although many of the collection of letters, prize books, photos, pins, report cards, school uniforms and other ephemera held in the BSS Museum & Archives are donated by former students, a significant portion are from their descendants. Some items are donated outright, others lent so that copies can be transcribed and/or scanned.
In the case of the lovely watercolour, says Ms. Dutton, the donor was going through the belongings of her late aunt, Djenane MACKELLAR Lemmon ’35, who not only painted it, but also helpfully listed the names of the students she depicted. “Descendants of alumnae are happy to find a welcoming place for these treasures and we’re thrilled to receive them,” adds Ms. Dutton, who was a student at BSS from Grades 3 to 13 and volunteered with the department prior to coming on board in 2004 as an archivist. Ms. Dutton comes from a BSS heritage family and her daughter attended the school as well.
Important items that relate to the administration of BSS can also be found in the Museum & Archives’ collection. “This administrative collection includes minutes, accounting books and copies of Board meetings,” says Ms. Dutton, “all of which document the school’s growth, as well as its important contribution to girls’ education.”
Supporting the Curriculum
Walking into the brightly lit, windowed space dedicated to the Museum & Archives is a trip into history. Mannequins display an array of past school uniforms, as well as a smartly pressed blue Canadian Air Force uniform worn by an alumna during the Second World War.
Display cases hold programs of many kinds, including one highlighting a group of BSS girls’ journey to England as part of the Commonwealth Youth Movement, where they sang at events during the time of Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation in 1953. A case also features a collection of books authored by school alumnae, which is cross referenced in the school’s Learning Commons Collection.
As such, the BSS Museum & Archives actively supports the current curriculum with a teacher-archivist on staff. Some classroom projects are one-offs and others continue from year-to-year. English teacher Cathie Pfaff began at BSS in 1978 and worked in the Archives part time from 2010 until her retirement in 2017. When asked about how teachers use the school’s archival resources to bring their lessons to life in an especially interesting way, two examples spring to mind for Ms. Pfaff.
In one example, an intensive Grade 10 French class was studying The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo. The teacher “had this very imaginative and good idea that it would be brought home to the girls if they did archival research for a project comparing our Chapel, which is a remarkable building, with that of Notre Dame Cathedral,” says Ms. Pfaff. The students compared the architecture, construction, stained glass and other treasures, and presented their findings in French; allowing them to deploy many different types of skills while looking at the Chapel in a completely new way.
In another project, which is ongoing, says Ms. Pfaff, the students research the role of BSS alumnae in the First World War, bringing a female perspective on the conflict to Grade 12 World History. “The students do the majority of their research in our Museum & Archives, using resources we hold about the students’ background at the school, as well as the materials that we have acquired from Library and Archives Canada, such as their service records in electronic and printed form.” Based on this research, students develop short films about the BSS students who served, bringing to life the remarkable women who nursed, organized field comforts for soldiers, or initiated
theatrical entertainments for the troops.
In September 2017 Museum & Archives welcomed Middle School English and Humanities teacher Eden Merritt back to the Teacher Archivist role. Ms. Merritt has been with BSS for 17 years and held the role of teacher-archivist during the 2008–09 school year. She’s excited to jump back into the role, bringing to it a new and unique lens.
Engaging the Community
As to engaging with the BSS alumnae community, affectionately called Old Girls, most of the queries, primarily through email, are genealogical in nature. Ms. Dutton and Ms. Pfaff, who research and respond to each inquiry, say they are contacted from the U.S., Europe, Australia and beyond.
“Our alumnae community and its descendants are worldwide; the bonds that hold the community together are very strong,” says Ms. Dutton. She credits the work of long-time “stalwart volunteer” Barbara GRAYDON Priscus ’58, with “invaluable institutional knowledge” that benefits the Museum & Archives.
150th celebrations have driven recent projects like preparing The Link’s three supplements on the school’s history (see page 23) and organizing the year’s kickoff event. A comic play about the school’s past featuring students and faculty as actors and written by BSS Dance teacher Mr. Timothy Spain (see page 21) had archival support in research and production. Ms. Pfaff sees such endeavours as natural extensions of her curricular role – just with bigger audiences.
Given the longevity of BSS and its holdings, Ms. Dutton and Ms. Pfaff are often contacted by other independent schools for assistance in setting up similar, significant collections of their own. This sought-after expertise derives from the BSS archivists’ experience in the collection and preservation of many types of printed and digital materials, that are relevant to both alumnae and current students.
As Ms. Dutton and Ms. Pfaff say, “the BSS students of today are the alumnae of tomorrow.”
Bev Cline is a Toronto writer, editor and author of nonfiction books for children and adults.