One of the first questions I always ask when we arrive in a new town is “What do people do here?”. The industry of a place has come to fascinate me. Industry, afterall, is often a key factor that contributes to the character and culture of an area.
In an attempt to answer my question once and for all, Drew took me to the Museum of Industry. Located on the site of an old coal mine in Stellarton, it is the biggest museum in the province, and chronicles the history of industry in Nova Scotia.
This museum is exceptionally well done. It has many interactive exhibits including displays where you can lend a hand to get some mills working, try out block and tack lifting, caulk a boat the old fashioned way, print your name on a printing press, or experience a working steam engine. If you visit on Wednesday you can watch a local quilting group in action, and pick up a few tips.
Given its location in Pictou County, the museum pays special attention to our province’s coal-mining history. The exhibit really takes you back, teaching about the high explosion risk from methane, the importance of good ventilation and canaries, the long days in the mine, and the camaradarie between the workers.
One of my favorite parts was learning about the Odd Fellows, a group that offered assistance to their members in the form of sick pay, retirement care and burial costs long before we had unions, employment insurance and pensions. Another cool exhibit was an original ‘Shopmobile’, a bus that would travel from school to school to provide kids with shop classes from the 1940s – 1960s.
The museum is especially popular for kids, especially during the summer and March breaks, and we had a blast going from exhibit to exhibit as our guide patiently explained the history of each area, and threw in anectdotes he’d picked up from past visitors. In September the museum will be adding a new exhibit on our gold mining history, including an area where you can simulate panning for gold.
This is a great spot to learn more about Nova Scotia, and to find out “what we do here.”
Note from Drew: Having grown up in Pictou County, the sections about the coal mine really resonated with me. I remember 20 years ago when I woke up and heard the news about Westray, I remember the stories about people from Red Row, how tough they were, and I recognize all the names for the mines like Albion and Foord that you still find on trails, ball fields and streets in Pictou County today. The museum opened our eyes quite a bit as to how this province we love so much was shaped over the last few hundred years, and struck a chord as we see what’s happening to our rural areas today. Simply put, I was humbled by what past Nova Scotians had done in sometimes less than ideal circumstances.