White Rock Museum and Archives is not alone among organizations in being forced to adopt a greater online presence as a result of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
But credit the extensive knowledge and quiet affability of resident archivist/author/presenter Hugh Ellenwood for creating video content that not only fills in gaps in the schedule, but points to the way ahead for the organization in a changing world.
The first in a series of video quizzes produced by the museum was released last month and has already become a hit with local history buffs and families eager to learn more about the heritage of the city and the Semiahmoo Peninsula by subscribing to the museum’s YouTube channel.
Abundant historical photos and post-answer explanations by Ellenwood provide nuggets of often-forgotten but easy-to-absorb local history that could soon help even the most casual armchair historian start sounding like an expert.
Production of the series was sparked by a $5,000 grant-in-aid from the City of White Rock, which allowed the museum to purchase a professional quality camera, and also to employ the technical and production assistance of Mark Roland Henning of Boutique Empire Studios.
“He’s a great videographer and music producer and the video has high production values as a result,” Ellenwood said, adding that he and Henning had a little fun with the concept, including coming up with game show-style music cues to augment the quiz.
Museum director Karen Bjerke-Lisle said she was delighted with both the grant and the tack Ellenwood and Henning have taken with it.
“It’s a lot of fun – and Hugh has done a marvellous job,” she said. “He’s got the personality on-camera – he’s very engaging.”
Bjerke-Lisle said that while the museum (which has been closed to the public since March 15) has re-opened its gift-shop operation starting this month with a city-approved safety plan, the online content is crucial in providing a continuing museum presence until new programming can be developed by curator Charlene Garvey (appointed last December).
“It raises our profile in the community, while engaging people who aren’t able to get here,” she said, noting that the physical museum will be going straight into planning for its Lest We Forget Remembrance-themed exhibit, due to open in October.
“We did a strategic plan in February and we were very excited about it – until COVID hit,” she said.
“We were looking at creating new interactive exhibits – but now, of course, interactive is not the way to go.”
Ellenwood said he feels the greatest success of the online project has been in demonstrating a practical new platform for delivering historical information.
The quiz format is great at both creating curiosity and providing an opportunity to feed it, he said.
“Rather than just providing the correct answer for each question, I like to go on and tell a little more about each subject,” he noted.
The quizzes have also fit in nicely with city leisure services director Eric Stepura’s move to boost online interactive activities during COVID-19, Ellenwood pointed out.
“(City staff) have been looking at ‘game-ification’ of activities so that they could provide people with fun things to do during the pandemic,” he said, adding that it meshed with the museum’s evolving plans.
“We were going to use the city funding initially to create a virtual walking tour of the city,” he said. “But after I looked at it closely, I realized that, with the walking tour I conduct, a lot of the information and value comes from interaction with the audience; the questions they ask you at each location.
“I had a kind of eureka moment and pitched it to Karen – ‘what if we did a quiz and asked multiple choice questions?’ We could use the grant to create several videos.”
The first quiz was focused on general history, Ellenwood said, and, in retrospect, he feels the only flaw is that it runs a little long.
“I think we’re going to make them shorter from here on – I’m writing one now that is going to be based on historic local personalities – a ‘Who am I?’ quiz,” he added.
“We’re also going to be doing a ‘then and now’ video – or rather a ‘then and then and now’ – since we can use Walter Calder’s photos of the city taken in 1920, and then Russell Porter’s recreations of the photos that were taken in 1986, and I did the same thing in 2011.
“We can see over a century of change in specific places in White Rock. That’s one of the reasons we all like historical photos, I think – they so graphically show us the changes that have taken place, with the streetscapes becoming almost unrecognizable in some cases.”
A video version of one of Ellenwood’s historical lectures on White Rock also seems likely, and the walking tour hasn’t been forgotten, he said – that will likely be re-created on video with selected participants posing the kind of questions that come up during actual tours, he noted.
Creating the videos reaffirms some fascinating themes that have emerged for him over decades of study of White Rock, he added.
“One of them is the effect that the train station (now the museum) had on the urban environment built around it. All the businesses clustered around the station – it was a magnet for them.”
White Rock may have been a small town physically, he noted, but it always had a strong, and quite literal connection with the City of Vancouver – the train line completed by the Great Northern Railway in 1909.
A summertime and weekend retreat in its early days – with working professionals travelling out from the city to join their families on what was then known as the ‘daddy train’ – it was, in some regards a direct extension of city streets, he said.
“(In the historic materials) you can graphically see how White Rock considers itself different from Surrey – a touch of intense urban-ness surrounded by forests and farms.”