Miramichi students involved in unique history project, Old photos being scanned and stored on Internet provide pictoral history of school districts

When Bob Gillis hears stories of people throwing out boxes of photos from their dearly-departed relative’s attic, he cringes.

And when he hears high school students talking about American or world history, he shakes his head, wondering why they’re not talking about their own Canadian or New Brunswick past.

That’s why he’s so revved up about part of the Grade 12-2 Canadian History course being taught in School Districts 14, 15 and 16 in the Miramichi, Bathurst and Campbellton areas.

Twenty eight students from six schools are collecting old photographs which are historically interesting to their community — photos of buildings, events like celebrations and parades, disasters, well-known people, work-related photos, streets, harbours or sports photos.

“Canadians don’t know enough about their history,” Gillis said from his office in Miramichi where he is a technology mentor for Miramichi-area School District 16.

“Canadian history is every bit as colourful as American history, if not more.”

For the rest of this school semester, 28 students from Sugarloaf Senior High School in Campbellton, Blackville High School, North and South Esk Regional High School in Sunny Corner, Miramichi Valley High School, James M. Hill School in Miramichi and Bonar Law Memorial School in Rexton are not actually collecting photos.

They’re making electronic copies of them by scanning them into a database on a laptop computer, typing information about the photos into the same computer and putting all that information together.

From there the photos will be put on a web site on the Internet where anyone will have access to them.

Missy Hamilton of Campbellton who is a Grade 12 student at Sugarloaf Senior High School has a good start on her part of the project.

Her first stop was at Harvey Studios where she scanned more than 100 pictures which are significant to the history of the Campbellton area.

“Before I started I didn’t know much about the history of Campbellton,” Hamilton said. That included a major fire in 1910 which destroyed much of the town.

Some of the pictures she collected show what the downtown looked like before the fire while others depict the tent city’ many residents lived in because their homes had been burned down.

Hamilton also scanned a few photos from her school’s library and hopes to get more from a few other businesses in town. There are three houses she intends to visit in hopes of finding some other pictorial gold mines as well.

Not only is Hamilton learning a lot about Campbellton’s past as part of her history course, she believes what she is doing is something others in the area will want to take advantage of when the web site is eventually created.

“It’s their people,” she said. “It could be their aunts and uncles.”

In Miramichi, James M. Hill High School student Andrew Williams has scanned some pictures displayed on the walls of his school.

He’s been talking to some people who are trying to hook him up with others who have photos which would fit in nicely with the project. Williams said there is no fear he won’t have enough pictures to contribute.

“I think there’s definitely enough to keep us busy for the rest of the semester,” he said.

Not only does Williams think the project is a great way to gain some hands-on knowledge, he is looking forward to having contact with people in his community he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

Gillis likes the project so much, he’s hoping the provincial education department will fund the project again next year.

As with just about anything technological, Gillis said there have been setbacks with the project, primarily with the computer software. But he thinks he’s got the bugs worked out and everything should run smoothly from now on — with fingers crossed, of course. And Gillis also has advice for students who might find themselves in a situation where someone has all kinds of photos they’d like to contribute: “Get anything,” he says. “You’re giving people back their pictorial history.”

Quick facts ‘

Here are some facts about the pictorial history project in which 28 high school students from Campbellton to Miramichi are taking part:

Anyone who has historical photos from the Campbellton, Bathurst and Miramichi areas — and points in between — which they’d like to contribute to the project can contact the following schools: Sugarloaf Senior High School in Campbellton, Blackville High School, North and South Esk Regional High School in Sunny Corner, Miramichi Valley High School, James M. Hill School in Miramichi and Bonar Law Memorial School in Rexton. The department of education purchased $48,000 worth of computer equipment for the project. Each of the six participating schools gets to keep the top-of-the-line laptops, printers and scanners. The website will eventually be posted by BrunNet Inc., a New Brunswick-owned Internet company. The Miramichi campus of the New Brunswick Community College has also offered technical support for the project. Anyone contributing a photo to the project will receive a certificate of appreciation for participating. Technology mentor Bob Gillis who works in District 16 in the Miramichi area said the students working on the project are “a joy to work with.” The students all had to apply to be chosen as one of the 28 involved.

Students selected at Blackville School were Amy Curtis, Angela Donovan, Patrice Donovan, Daniel Gillis and Les McLaughlin, with the project overseen by Lori Ann McCabe.

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