“Scouring local history books, newspapers, and countless internet archives is the only way to find the content you need for a tour that deals with events from 180 years ago!”
Editors Note: Good news! The Museum of Health Care is offering it’s Outdoor Walking Tours for the 2020 Fall season! Come and join us to enjoy some fall colours, cooler weather and fascinating stories: Click here for more details.
This summer, I had the opportunity to complete a thorough revamp of the Outdoor Tour program that the Museum has offered for many years. It was a long and tedious but ultimately rewarding process. With this in mind, I thought it might be helpful or interesting to others to explain how I went about the project to transform a few abstract ideas into a polished Museum product, ready for the public to enjoy for years to come.
The very, very first step in creating a tour? Deciding on a creative direction to take. This means asking and answering a lot of big questions like: What do we want this tour to focus on, what will we talk about? What stories do we want to tell, and how do we want to tell them? The answers to these questions create the foundation upon which the entire tour will be built. Almost all projects will require some amount of creative vision to get off the ground – you have to tap into your inner movie director! In my case specifically, we wanted the tour to be broadly about healthcare in Kingston and how it has developed over time. The natural and most obvious choice to talk about this was to focus on Kingston General Hospital, which the Museum maintains a deep partnership with. We then used KGH to explore other parts of Kingston healthcare history, like the Queen’s University Medical Faculty, for one example.
The next phase is research. Once you know what you want the public to get out of your tour, at least very broadly, you then have to figure out what it is you can talk about! This is a very long phase and it’s definitely the most invisible part of the process to the public. Scouring local history books, newspapers, and countless internet archives is the only way to find the content you need for a tour that deals with events from 180 years ago! Researching, finding relevant info, and compiling it in an organised and useful way can take weeks or more, and some bits of information can be significantly harder to find than others. I was lucky in that I was building off of a previously created tour, so the majority of the information was already there. As well, the Museum of Health Care itself is already a repository of information on local Kingston history and health care history. Research is not the job of a single person, even if it seems that way – it’s actually a collaborative effort between dozens or even hundreds of individuals who may never meet each other! Fellow historians and archivists track down, organise, and maintain the information that people like myself will then access years later. Again, in the case of this tour, a collaborative effort of students creating and modifying the script over the years simply ended with me.
Once you have more information than you could ever use in a single tour, you reach the logistics phase, AKA practical details. Where will the stops be? How long should the tour be? How much audience participation do we want? There isn’t much to add here that you couldn’t already think of, but I will say it pays to think of everything. Even with all that thinking, there were still tons of problems that only came up once I tried to test the tour in-person. Not to mention, most of these details are not quick and easy to figure out. For example, deciding where the tour should stop involved me riding my bicycle all around KGH and Queen’s campus looking for places with shade, seating, room for large groups, quiet enough, etc.
The tour was tested multiple times with me presenting to my coworkers, the other Public Programs Assistant and the Museum Manager. The Museum’s Programs Committee, which is one of the many committees the Museum has made up of experts like doctors, nurses, archivists, etc., were sent a recording of me presenting the tour. Their feedback, as well as running the tour with a real audience and actually walking the route, was invaluable to the process of making the tour usable and effective. No matter how good you might think you are, your project needs other people to point out things you couldn’t have seen on your own.
After many tests and making seemingly endless amounts of tweaks and edits to the script, we were ready for a trial run with the public. We organised the advertising and marketing for it and decided to make it free since it had never been performed for the public before.
A unique challenge of the creation of the tour this summer was having to establish COVID-related protocols to keep everybody safe. Like any other public institution, we had to adopt new measures to prevent infections, including mandatory masks for employees and guests and coming up with different methods to keep the audience engaged while keeping everyone six feet apart, as we had many activities planned for this tour that required people to be too close to each other. Think of the PR nightmare we’d have if people got sick at the Museum of Health Care!
The public trial run went smoothly. We were able to perform to a good range of age groups and group sizes. While we didn’t get the chance to engage school-age groups who perhaps wouldn’t normally choose to spend their day learning about history, we are confident after receiving much positive feedback that the tour is a product that we can be proud of!
To read a review of the tour from an audience perspective, see this article: https://www.thekingstonlocal.com/article/tour-kingstons-fascinating-health-care-history/.
About the Author
(Public Programs Assistant, Summer 2020)
Victor is a second-year undergraduate History student at Queen’s University, specialising in the intellectual and cultural history of the modern era. He is spending his 2020 summer as a Public Programs Assistant with the Museum. Due to the global pandemic and local quarantine situation, he has been adapting to his position by working offsite, helping to develop new walking tour scripts and improving the Museum’s online engagement.