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Where history lives (St. Raymond's Intermediate School in Ottawa).

A group of students entered the classroom at St. Raymond's Intermediate School in Ottawa. "Rhys did you get through Vimy Ridge over Christmas?" Gene Michaud wanted to know. Rhys Allen nodded and almost rubbed his hands in anticipation: "Lots of great stuff!"

Rhys Allen and other students in teacher Michaud's History Club read books such as Pierre Berton's Vimy not merely for the historical content; their keen minds focus on the miles of railroad tracks laid, tunnels dug, artillery emplacements and the route of the well-rehearsed Canadian infantry.

For ten years, Michaud's club has challenged students to use their creative and historical skills to recreate moments in history. Such moments take the form of photos, audio tape productions, artwork and dioramas which depict battles from Lundy's Lane to the Falaise Gap. There are reenactments of Canadian history ranging from the American Civil War to peacekeeping.

The club grew from what was originally a project for social adjustment. Mr Michaud was assigned to try to get a positive response from a small number of students who showed little interest in anything academic or social. Students were challenged to get a thorough knowledge of what went on at Lundy's Lane. The knowledge that they were going to have to follow this up with a positive re-creation of the event grabbed and maintained their attention. It sent them back to their childhood to dig out toy soldiers, uniforms were painted red or blue and artillery of the period was installed.

The diorama was a success on many levels. The students worked as a team and better social adjustment followed. The project led to the formation of a History Club with membership drawn from the student body.

Ian Scott is one of the students who had gone on to high school but his experience at the History Club had already influenced his life. In addition to working on dioramas which give imagination free rein, he became a re-enactor involved in staging many military episodes. He then became involved in restoring old military vehicles and loves the hands-on feeling it gives. He now is involved in bringing such vehicles to the Perth Regiment and is closely associated with promoting military history.

"I've been greatly influenced by talking to real veterans," he says, "and sometimes get the feeling that others have forgotten what we owe them." Ian's father was hospitalized recently and, when visiting, Ian discovered that the man in the other bed was a veteran. He talked to him for 20 minutes until his father had to call time.

One of the History Club's projects that recreated the atmosphere of WWII is a tape which combines well known German propaganda words and music. The voices of Churchill [Montgomery], Lord Haw-Haw, and others effectively bring history to life while Vera Lynn adds a romantic touch. The tape, produced by the students, is typical of the detail with which they infuse their projects. Nineteenth century costumes and food to match was the order of the day at a Laura Secord dinner, and next spring Glen Miller and all that swing will be featured at a school dance depicting the 1940's.

The schoolroom is packed with dioramas, and students have shown a remarkable ability to improvise. For instance, towers for an impressive Norman castle were found in a nearby washroom where cores of rolls of toilet paper covered with plaster did an excellent job.

Historic characters and scenes from the time of Eric the Red to WWII are brilliantly depicted on a massive mural in the hallway. The most startling aspect of the work is that it was done by the students. John A. Macdonald is typical. His picture was transposed to an overhead projector slide and then flashed onto the wall. The students then traced in the image and John A. has been peering down at them ever since. And judging from the gleam in his eye, he likes what he sees as the century he once thought belonged to Canada draws to a close.
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Author:Shannon, Norman
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:Mar 1, 1999
Words:668
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