Six Questions for Sue Mayka

Frontenac County Schools Museum, Barriefield, Kingston TourismThe Frontenac County Schools Museum began as a project to celebrate Kingston’s Tercentenary in 1973. A small group of retired educators spent many hours researching schools, photographing sites, collecting books and artefacts, and microfilming hundreds of school records. In 1977, the Museum Association was formally established and the museum opened to the public in 1979. In 2006, it moved to its present location in historic Barriefield Village.

The museum is set up like a one room school house on one side of the building, with the other side of filled with displays and tables for tourists to try their hand at various activities of the period. During my visit to the museum last week, I arrived in time to see a group of campers from the YMCA dressed in pinafores and vests attempting to write using straight pens and ink. Sadly, I missed the 30 minute in-character experience with a school marm but would go back for the experience. I did, however, have the opportunity to sit at a wooden desk and browse through old Ontario readers. I also had the chance to meet with Sue Mayka and the other wonderful volunteers who keep this hidden gem running.

1. Tell us about yourself, your background, your education and how and when you came to be the Curator of The Frontenac County Schools Museum.

Frontenac County Schools Museum, nestled in the heart of historic Barriefield, is operated entirely by volunteers. Most of these volunteers are retired educators, but in the last couple of years a newly graduated teacher, Queen’s students, and even a high school student have brought their fresh ideas and enthusiasm to our group. The experience and knowledge of the older volunteers and the modern outlook and expertise of the younger have provided an enriched blend which has been of benefit to the museum.

2. Who is The Frontenac County Schools Museum’s primary clientele – Kingstonians, tourists, schools? How has this changed over the years? In terms of numbers, how did the museum do this year? Better or worse than expected? How do you plan on building on that?

Many school classes, groups, local citizens and tourists visit the museum annually. Our main clientele is composed of classes of elementary children. There is a Pioneer unit on the school curriculum and when the children come they experience time in the replica of an early 1900’s classroom. They also explore the artefacts in the gallery.

This year a History of Education class from Queen’s visited and returned to do research for papers they were writing. A new class will be coming this winter.

For the past couple of summers, a class of English Second Language students from St. Lawrence College has visited. These students are from countries all around the world.

Children attending summer camps such as the YMCA-Greenwood Camp, The Sunshine Summer Camp, and the St. John Bosco Children’s Center enjoyed time in the museum.

Community groups including the Historical Society of Napanee, the Fort Henry Sparks, and a Home Schooling Group have visited. Faith United Church holds its Council meetings in the museum.

This summer the museum staff has been busy hosting many tourists, local individuals and families. There has been a noticeable increase in grandparents bringing their grandchildren and sharing their schooldays experiences with them.

The museum did not welcome as many classes as other years because of the teacher “work to rule” situation. However, there has been an increase in the number of visitors because of factors such as more electronic advertising, an article about the museum published in the Whig Standard, and the work of the Kingston Association of Museums in making Kingstonians more aware of the plethora of very interesting museums in the city. It seems as if more people now know we exist, visit, and then spread the word about our treasures.

3. How is your museum funded? Is government funding enough to keep the facility alive and well or are grants, donations and endowments a major factor?

Funding, or lack of funding, is a problem for the Schools Museum. The only government funding received is a grant to hire a student for July and August. Very few grants are available to us because we can not afford to employ a curator. The rent we pay the town for the building and the high heating costs leave us very little operating funds. We are able to subsist because of the collection of membership fees, donations of visitors and a generous donation by an anonymous donor. Each year we hold our breath that we will be able to survive.

4. If money were no object, how would you use it to make your facility stand out as a premiere tourist destination in Kingston?

If money were no object we would own a permanent building that would be large enough to display and store our large collection of books, artefacts, and materials necessary for running a vibrant museum. We would hire a curator and increase our advertising. All of this would be accomplished without losing the intimate, homey atmosphere of the present museum which appeals to our present visitors.

5. Some museums are static in that they display artefacts and other historical objects that don’t necessarily change over time – what steps are taken to keep things fresh and keep patrons coming?

Displays in the museum are both static and changing. The Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic displays depicting the history of these subjects rarely change. Other displays are constantly up-dated. We continually receive new very interesting acquisitions and are anxious to showcase them. As more people become aware of our collection of artefacts, they think of historical objects they own and don’t want to see lost in the future. They are donating them to the museum and we are proud to display them.

6. What’s the most popular exhibit or event that The Frontenac County Schools Museum offers? Why do you think that’s the case? Are there any new initiatives, changes or upcoming exhibits that you are particularly looking forward to?

Throughout the year a number of thematic events are organized around holidays and pertinent happenings in our area. When classes come at Hallowe’en, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and “Empire Day”, special programs are organized that reflect those of the early 1900s. We hold a yearly Victorian Tea which is popular with many of our seniors. This winter we look forward to organizing a special display commemorating John A. Mac Donald. But what we are most excited about is the new lecture series, related to education, that was started at the museum this spring and will be continuing through the Fall and Winter. So far we have had a lecture by a Queen’s History Professor, a retired Ministry of Education director of curriculum, and a P.H.D. student studying the History of Education. In September we will be hearing from a local author who will be reviewing her book about the life and times of her mother teaching in a one room school.

We are proud of our museum and look forward to giving our visitors a tour.

The Frontenac Schools Museum’s hours are:
July and August
Monday-Saturday, 10am-3pm
Mondays and Wednesdays, 9:30am-noon and Saturdays, 10am-3pm

School classes and other groups may visit by appointment: 613-544-9113

You can find The Frontenac County Schools Museum on Facebook.  See more photos from my visit in our Flickr Group.

Thanks to Scott Adamson for today’s photo.

Danielle Lennon

Danielle Lennon is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. She was the Editor, Community Event Coordinator and Contributor at-large (2008-2018). She is otherwise employed as a section violinist with the Kingston Symphony, violin teacher, studio musician and cat lover. Learn more about Danielle...

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