My friend, engineer Cloé Doucet, in Manitoba, on a spillway replacement job.

“The Lady Who Drives the Great Big Truck”!

Throughout my travels across Canada – purposed to interview veterans of the mining, metallurgy and petroleum sectors, one of the questions I asked was: How present (or absent) were women in the workplace? To which I would get the recurring answer: essentially none. Most rather seasoned interviewees would tell me that at the time, there were simply no women in engineering schools. Howbeit, many women found administration jobs within the natural resources world.

“… when I go to schools to talk to the kids, they don’t want to talk to me, they want to talk to the lady who drives the great big truck!”

In recent history, several companies have made efforts to increase the number of women in skilled labour positions. Eric Newell, former CEO of Syncrude, explains how the company implemented the Bridges program in the mid-90s, a program that encouraged female employees to transition from their administrative roles to the male dominated workplace. “They had two weeks to learn about the technical trades, then they would job shadow and finally, they would work a 28 day work cycle. […] None ever asked to go back. In the end, 25% of our 400 tonne truck drivers were women (as opposed to 4-5% before). And we won employer of the year award (Maclean’s) […] Now, when I go to schools to talk to the kids, they don’t want to talk to me, they want to talk to the lady who drives the great big truck!”

 

Ground-level perspective of a heavy hauler and a shovel at Syncrude. Courtesy of Syncrude Canada Ltd.

Today, women comprise 25% of the heavy truck driver workforce at Syncrude. Courtesy of Syncrude Canada Ltd.

Nowadays, women represent the majority of young university graduates, and although engineering programs are still renowned for seldom having women, registration has considerably risen. That said, women remain less likely to choose or find employment in any STEM areas. This stands in contrast to nearly all other fields of study, where women now make up the majority of graduates. What explains this phenomenon? Why are women more reluctant and less likely to find a job in natural resources?

Parents, teachers, mentors all play very important roles for a young woman.

“Somehow in the mining world, we haven’t succeeded… women have not found it very appealing,” says Dr. Samuel Marcuson, former Vice President at Vale. “When I started working in the 1970s and 1980s, in the work place you would find lots of pinup girls, naked women, pictures on the wall. And the women who joined the workforce at that time, clearly had to put up with that.” Although these kinds of actions have virtually been banned from the workplace, Marcuson explains that it took several decades for most companies to condemn it.

 

My friend, engineer Cloé Doucet, in Manitoba, on a spillway replacement job.

My friend, engineer Cloé Doucet, in Manitoba, on a spillway replacement job.

Today the workplace makes an effort to be much more inviting, but issues can still arise. Dr. Mary Wells, Associate Dean and Professor of Engineering at the University of Waterloo, explains that women can be subject to micro-aggressions. The latter are short, verbal or behavioral indignities, at times unintentional, that translate into slights. For instance, “a subtle example could be of a woman always getting a surprised reaction from others when she tells people in her field that she is an engineer,” explains Wells. “It can have a negative, eroding impact over time.” The work schedule of many jobs in the natural resources industry can also make it very difficult for any women to spend time with her family. In fact, “the drop off rate of women is much higher midway through their career […] as the work schedule is less flexible,” says Wells. On the brighter side, there are companies who offer mentorships and have become more flexible to the needs of families. “C E Zinc for example, has a company policy that all meetings must end by 4:30pm,” explains Wells. She has high hopes for the future as it has become much more common for men to be as involved as women in raising the family. As a result, responsibilities such as paternity leave or finishing work earlier to pick up the kids, have educated employers of the difficulties traditionally encountered by women.

Time will tell, but positive influence starts much earlier, says Wells. “Parents, teachers, mentors all play very important roles for a young woman.”

 

Photo courtesy of MiHR.

Photo courtesy of MiHR.

Acknowledgement:

Many thanks to Eric Newell, Sam Marcuson, Mary Wells and all other interviewees for your thoroughness and candor. A special mention to my dear friend Cloé, who is an exemplar in the field.

Header photo courtesy of the Mining Industry Human Resources Council

Sources:

Catalyst. Catalyst Quick Take: Women in Male-Dominated Industries and Occupations in U.S. and Canada. New York: Catalyst, 2013. http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-male-dominated-industries-and-occupations-us-and-canada

Hango, Darcy. Gender differences in STEM programs at university, Statistics Canada, December 18, 2013. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-006-x/2013001/article/11874-eng.htm

Marcuson, Sam. Interview with Sam Marcuson, Mining and Metallurgy Project, July 23, 2015. Toronto, Ontario, in person (William McRae)

Natural Resources Canada. 10 Key Facts on Canada’s Natural Resources, August 2014. https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/files/pdf/10_key_facts_nrcan_e.pdf

Newell, Eric. Interview with Eric Newell, Mining and Metallurgy Legacy Project. April 22, 2015. Edmonton, Alberta, in person (William McRae)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 5. Iron works in the Georg Fischer Iron Library

“Get thee to a Nunnery” : Finding the History of Metallurgy in a Monastery

Although the history of Canadian metallurgy is of national significance, our collection in this area is rather small. Before, I could decide what to collect, I needed to gain a better understanding of the subject. Therefore in June 2015, I travelled to the Georg Fischer Iron Library in the small town of Schlatt, Switzerland where I spent three weeks as a Scholar-in-Residence. I researched the history of metallurgy, and the technology transfer between Europe and Canada.

Figure 1. The Klostergut Paradies nunnery

Figure 1. The Klostergut Paradies nunnery near the town of Schlatt, Switzerland.

The Iron Library holds the world’s largest collection of books on mining and metallurgy. It is located in Klostergut Paradies, an old nunnery, established by Poor Clares in 1253 (Figures 1). In 1918 Georg Fischer AG (GF), a large manufacturer of iron, steel, and plastics purchased the monastery with its agricultural lands to grow food for the company’s workers. Inside, Fischer discovered a large library of books related to mining and metallurgy, and rather than dismount it, the company decided to invest in the collection. Today, the Iron Library’s holdings are unmatched by any others in the world (Figure 2). Surrounded by towns with rich metallurgical history, the Iron Library provides a perfect environment to study the field.

Figure 2. The Iron Library Rare Books Collection

Figure 2. The Iron Library Rare Books Collection

I had an ambitious research plan for my three-week stay. I started by consulting monographs related to the history of metallurgy in general, and the European history of metallurgy. This allowed me to place developments in Canada in a broader cultural and technological context. Next, I reviewed Georg Fischer’s archival resources to identify links with Canadian companies. Indeed the archival collection proved very interesting. It contained files on Fischer turbines supplied for Alcan’s Kitimat-Kemano projects (Figure 3), Hydro-Quebec’s Bersimis stations, and Ontario Hydro’s Sir Adam Beck No. 2. I was surprised to discover that in 1956, Professor Gerard Letendre, who according to Canadian scholarship advised Premier Duplessis against investing in steel industry in Quebec, solicited GF’s capital for a metallurgical research centre in Canada. The documents also show that, when in 1956 Gordon MacMillan, Vice-President of the Canadian Car Company asked for a tour of GF’s plants, the head of GF bluntly refused suggesting in a less than polite manner that he felt: “inclined to consider the contemplated visit devoid of the benefit (…) and think it better for [MacMillan] to cancel your coming to Schaffhausen.”

 

Figure 3. A Pelton turbine for Alcan’s Kitimat-Kemano project in British Columbia

Figure 3. A Pelton turbine for Alcan’s Kitimat-Kemano project in British Columbia

Lastly, I consulted unique manuscripts and publications dating from the fifteenth to the eighteen century containing drawings, engravings, and woodcuts, such as Jean François Morand’s L’art d’exploiter les mines and Jacob Leupold’s Theatrum Machinarum. Images that I found challenged my assumptions on the roles of women in mining and metallurgy (Figure 4), a subject that I now need to study in more detail.

Figure 4. (A) Women working in a coal mine, 1700s (B) An ivory miniature showing women forging Damascus steel

Figure 4. (A) Women working in a coal mine, 1700s (B) An ivory miniature showing women forging Damascus steel

 

I toured a GF’s iron plant in Singen, Germany and a plastics plant in Schaffhausen, Switzerland; met with GF staff and visiting scholars from as far as Nepal and Japan. Yet, in its serendipitous way, the research at the Iron Library revealed an unexpected story of ‘collecting and connecting.’ The library contained a collection of polonica, metallurgy literature published in Poland between the 1960s and the early 1980s. How did the Iron Library come to acquire such a collection? As archival correspondence revealed, in the early 1960s the Library approached the Mining and Metallurgy Academy in Krakow asking for help in acquiring publications produced in then communist Poland, which were not available abroad. One of the professors, Dr. Jerzy Piaskowski, who had a private collection on history of metallurgy, enthusiastically agreed to supply the books and magazines in exchange for material published in the Western Europe.

… in its serendipitous way, the research at the Iron Library revealed an unexpected story of ‘collecting and connecting’.

At the time, as Piaskowski explained in one of his letters, this was the only way that books from the West could make it to a scholar from the Eastern Block. Dr. Piaskowski produced handwritten bibliographies, which he mailed to the Iron Library. The Iron Library staff would make a selection and mail it back to Dr. Piaskowski. He then purchased the books and sent them to the Library with a list of publications that he wished to receive in return, of the value equivalent to his shipment. This cooperation lasted for almost two decades. At one point, in the mid-1960s, the Library invited Dr. Piaskowski for a visit. He diplomatically ̶ as not to offend any potential censors and jeopardize his future contacts with the Library ̶ replied that it was impossible for him to travel outside of Poland. As the staff at the Iron Library changed and the collecting policies become more practical in the early 1980s, the new Librarian suggested in one of the last letters to Dr. Piaskowski that books in Polish were not useful for the Library’s clientele. “Perhaps, now there are no people who can read my papers”- replied Dr. Piaskowski – “but there will be in future.” I wish, I could tell him that he was right.

Figure 5. Iron works in the Georg Fischer Iron Library

Figure 5. Iron works in the Georg Fischer Iron Library

Resources:

Iron Library Online Catalogue

Acknowledgements:

I would like to thank the Georg Fischer Iron Library Foundation for their generous support of the Scholar-in-Residence programme. Many thanks to the wonderful library staff Franziska, Florian, and Uta, for making my stay truly special.

Figure 1. “Wake Up Call”. A signed print by Robert Bailey that belonged to John Colton, No. 137 Squadron, Royal Air Force.

Wake Up Call: Encounters between a Typhoon and a Focke-Wulf Pilot

In 2014, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum was fortunate to be the recipient of a loan from the Royal Air Force Museum in England: the sole surviving example of the Hawker Typhoon. The Typhoon is a unique Second World War airplane. It could also be a very dangerous aircraft to fly. Of course, it is always dangerous to fly in wartime but the Typhoon made things a little trickier. There were structural issues and engine problems. In the first couple of years that it was operational, engineers and mechanics modified its structure and design significantly. The Typhoon also looked very much like the German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in flight and was frequently shot at and shot down by friendly fire.

Figure 1. “Wake Up Call”. A signed print by Robert Bailey that belonged to John Colton, No. 137 Squadron, Royal Air Force.

Figure 1. “Wake Up Call”, by Robert Bailey, 2001. A signed print which belonged to Flight Lieutenant John Colton, RAF 137 Squadron.

The Typhoon represents an important story in aircraft design. So I was thrilled when a man named John Colton Jr. called me from Sherbrooke, Quebec, saying that he would like to donate some objects and photographs that belonged to his father, Flight Lieutenant John Colton (1923 – 2013), RAF 137 Squadron (Figure 2) who was a Typhoon pilot. Given the importance of this story and the fact that we have very little in the collection that represents the experience of the Typhoon pilots, we were pleased to accept this donation.

Figure 2. Flight Lieutenant John Colton posing on a Hawker Typhoon. RAF 137 Squadron, Manston, England, July 1944.

Figure 2. Flight Lieutenant John Colton posing on a Hawker Typhoon. RAF 137 Squadron, Manston, England, July 1944.

 

John Colton Jr. said he thought of us because we had the Typhoon on loan. I invited him to share some photos of the objects but he wanted to come in person to show me the objects (Figure 3). He is a wonderful, light-hearted man who is very proud of his father’s service during the Second World War.

 

It was a great pleasure to learn about John Colton’s service. His son was kind enough to share many of his stories with me.

 

The Typhoon was a difficult aircraft to fly. Pilots either loved or hated it – one was never on the fence about the Typhoon. John Colton loved it. On average, Typhoon pilots survived about 17 sorties (or missions) – he completed 75. John Colton took part in several important battles throughout the final two years of the war: Operation Overlord, Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge, and Operation Bodenplatte. Colton Sr. was awarded the following medals for his service: War Medal, France and Germany Star, 1939-1945 Star, Defense Medal, Normandy Campaign Medal, Canadian Voluntary Service Medal, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.

 

Figure 3. A) Flight Lieutenant John Colton’s dress uniform complete with the various medals he was awarded, including the Queen’s Jubilee medal he received in 2012. B) Colton posing with a Hawker Typhoon. C) A small sample of John Colton’s photo collection sitting amid his notebooks on the Typhoon and its notorious engine, the Napier Sabre.

Figure 3. A) Flight Lieutenant John Colton’s dress uniform complete with the various medals he was awarded, including the Queen’s Jubilee medal he received in 2012. B) Colton posing with a Hawker Typhoon. C) A small sample of John Colton’s photo collection sitting amid his notebooks on the Typhoon and its notorious engine, the Napier Sabre.

 

“Wake up Call” is a painting by Robert Bailey, signed by 8 Luftwaffe pilots who flew on January 1st, 1945 – the beginning of Operation Bodenplatte. This was the Luftwaffe’s attempt to cripple Allied airforces in Belgium and the Netherlands. Colton Sr.’s base at Eindhoven in the Netherlands was one of the targets. The German forces destroyed many of the Typhoons on the airfield and one of his good friends was killed. Colton’s Typhoon was one of the few that remained undamaged in the attack.

 

It became real again when John Colton Jr. and his father were attending an airshow in 1984. The two later met a glider pilot who was flying that day, a Luftwaffe veteran named, Oscar Boesch (1924-2012), who continued to fly in air shows around Canada and the United States in the post-war years. The first question Boesch asked Colton Sr. was: “Where were you on January 1st, 1945?” To which, Colton Sr. answered: “Eindhoven (Netherlands).” Boesch replied, “So was I.” Boesch was the pilot of one the Fw 190s that attacked Colton’s base that morning.

 

A.A. position at Arnheim attacked. Bags of heavy and light flak!!!

∼ Flight Lieutenant John Colton, September 16, 1944.

 

Figure 4. Pages from John Colton’s Log Book, chronicling his missions throughout September 1944.

Figure 4. Pages from John Colton’s Log Book, chronicling his missions throughout September 1944.

 

At first, Colton was uneasy, thinking of his friend who had been killed that day in 1945. But in the end, Colton and Boesch went for a beer together and toasted absent friends. This friendship seems rather unlikely but in fact happened more than you would think. Colton Sr. had another good friend who served in the German Navy on E-Boats. Typhoons regularly attacked these ships and the ships fired back. The two laughed about their shared experience over beers. Still, the encounter at Eindhoven was a little more personal, which explains Colton Sr.’s initial reaction to Boesch. In his own words, “[I] didn’t know whether to go at him or what.” He let it go, understanding that back then they were both pilots just doing their jobs. Every January 1st from that day on. The two even provided details to artist Robert Bailey in his research for “Wake Up Call!” a signed print of which John Colton Jr. donated to the museum as well as a log book, photographs, uniforms, and pilot’s notebooks on the Typhoon and the Napier Sabre engine.

 

References:

Joanna Calder , “I could smell death at 1,000 feet”, Royal Canadian Air Force, November 1, 2013.

Hugh Halliday, Typhoon and Tempest: The Canadian Story

Pierre Lapprand with Dave O’Malley, Michel Côté, and John Baert, Johnny Typhoon: Down Low with Canadian Fighter Pilot John Colton, Vintage Wings.

Arthur Reed, Typhoon and Tempest at War

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

philco dial_SW

Unstable Plastics: Preservation Challenges in Museum Collections

Plastics are so much a part of our lives that we don’t even think about them except when we check for the recyclable symbol. Plastics in museums (Figure 1), however, deserve much more attention as they present significant and constant collecting and preservation challenges.

Figure 1. The Temperature Control (TC) room in one of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation storage facilities provides constant and cool storage conditions for many small objects made of early plastics.

Figure 1. The Temperature Control (TC) room in one of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation storage facilities provides constant and cool storage conditions for many small objects made of early plastics.

The first synthetic plastic was patented in 1865, meaning that plastics are 150 years old this year. We collect plastic artifacts not as examples of the plastics themselves, but as part of a collection of technological and social history objects significant to Canadians (Figure 2). One of the earliest plastics was rubber, and it is not hard to imagine the amount of rubber in a collection of technological history….. tires, tubes, gaskets, seals, floor mats, fabrics, wires, elastics….everywhere.

Figure 1. (A) Embrittlement caused by degraded cellulose acetate is clearly visible in this car knob from a 1948 Chrysler Town and Country car. (B) The degraded cellulose nitrate is visible on the mouthpiece of this tobacco pipe. (C) Degraded ebonite on a 19th century stethoscope. (D) Signs of degradation due to exposure to oxygen and light, on the rubber of this WW1 gas mask.

Figure 2. (A) Embrittlement caused by degraded cellulose acetate is clearly visible in this car knob from a 1948 Chrysler Town and Country car. (B) The degraded cellulose nitrate is visible on the mouthpiece of this tobacco pipe. (C) Degraded ebonite on a 19th century stethoscope. (D) Signs of degradation due to exposure to oxygen and light, on the rubber of this WW1 gas mask.

 

The preservation of plastics is a growing concern in the field of Conservation due to the instability of some types. There is much study being done in Europe, mostly related to plastic in works of art and decorative objects. PoPArt, the Preservation Of Plastic ARTefacts in museum collections is a good example. There is far less being done for plastics in collections of technology, which is worrying for us. The Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property sponsored a workshop in 2010, that brought together some of Canada’s leading experts including Scott Williams and Julia Fenn. This workshop focused on plastics in the collection of the Canada Science and Technology Museum Corporation.

 

“The preservation of plastics is a growing concern in the field of Conservation due to the instability of some types”.

Why do we worry about plastics in our collection? Because we find them everywhere. They were arguably the material that most affected the electrification of the world: allowing for the production of cables (transatlantic cable 1854 to 1858, and again 1865-66), insulating materials, and moulded shapes for consumer products such as telephone receivers (Figure 3). In our transportation collection, we have plenty of rubber tires, and we also find plastic steering wheels, knobs, safety glass (which has a plastic layer sandwiched between glass), moulded dash and interior panels and fittings, and vinyl upholstery.   Aircraft contain a similar range of plastics materials; it being one of the great technological advancements between World War I and II that allowed for the huge innovations in aircraft construction between the Wars. From a design perspective, plastics, and the ability to mould complex shapes; permitted the creation of iconic decorative objects from the 20th Century, including radios, lamps, telephones, furniture and fashion accessories.

 

Figure 2. (A) The moulded shapes and colour effects of urea formaldehyde plastic are clearly visible on this Philco rotary dial. (B) A sample of an early marine telegraph cable, made of gutta percha, which is actually remarkably stable.

Figure 3. (A) The moulded shapes and colour effects of urea formaldehyde plastic are clearly visible on this Philco rotary dial. (B) A sample of an early marine telegraph cable, made of gutta percha, which is actually remarkably stable.

 

“Plastics are a fascinating class of material; and we owe a great deal to the early pioneers of chemistry,  whose achievements have allowed for the ubiquitous presence of this material in our lives today”.

 

There are some plastics that we know won’t last, such as rubber and PVC; but we do have strategies for prolonging their life expectancy. Some need to be stored in the dark, some in cold temperatures, and some in an oxygen-free environment. Some need all three. Private collectors should be aware of the type of plastic they have, so that they can care for it properly. Bakelite is one of the most stable plastics, and fortunately the majority of decorative items to be found at Antiques sales, are of this material.   Cellulose nitrate, on the other hand, also used to make decorative items; is inherently unstable.   Collectors should know this and take special care of it.

 

Figure 4.

Figure 4. Embrittlement

 

 

What does plastic deterioration look like? It can take the form of embrittlement (Figure 4), surface changes, stickiness, or a change of colour. Some (like cellulose nitrate) release an invisible gas which in the presence of moisture, can form acid on adjacent surfaces. This will cause organics to disintegrate, and metals to corrode. Cellulose nitrate buttons on an old gown, for instance, will eventually result in holes in the fabric, and corrosion of any metal decoration or button shanks. They should therefore be removed and stored separately, even if it breaks your heart to do so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Conservation and Collection Services Division is responsible for the long-term care, preservation, and housing of the National Collection for the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation.

 

 

 

 

Alyssum 1

Nickel in a Haystack: The Adventures of an Oral Historian

When asked where metals such as nickel comes from, most people would tell you that it is found in the ground. Evidently it is a metal you mine. But what if I told you nickel can actually be grown? What if instead of mining the nickel ore, you were able to farm and harvest it every year? I was a little skeptical too, until I had a chance to sit down and chat with Dr. Bruce Conard, the man behind an unconventional initiative to clean up the surface soils of an Ontario community.

 

Born in St-Louis, Missouri, Dr. Conard joined Inco (International Nickel Company) shortly after having received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Iowa State University. He began working in the Mississauga labs where he gained years of varied experience in pyrometallurgy, electrochemistry and hydrometallurgy, which eventually earned him the position of director of process research. His most remarkable work came afterwards when he became Vice President of Environmental & Health Sciences within the company. Thanks to his extensive experience in metallurgy, Dr. Conard’s primary task was to study the effects or impacts of metals on the environment, which consisted of ecosystems, animals, people and the company’s own workers. Although much of his work consisted of making the workplace a healthier and safer environment, he often found himself assessing the risks of metals in hopes to better educate outside organizations and the general public on the matter. One of the marking events of his career came in 2001, when the citizens of Port Colborne filed a class action lawsuit against Inco after it had become evident that the local refinery’s early activities had polluted the soil surface of the area with high levels of nickel, copper and cobalt.

Alyssum, Port Colborne. Photo courtesy of Bruce Conrad.

Alyssum, Port Colborne. Photo courtesy of Bruce Conrad.

 

At the end of the war in 1918, the Canadian government and the Allies had pressured Inco to build its refinery in Port Colborne. Its location on Lake Erie, would facilitate transportation of nickel to the US and Western Europe. “There was no nickel in Port Colborne. It had to be shipped from Copper Cliff (Sudbury). And during the years, the unloading of the nickel we did ship, and the way in which we refined the nickel, caused quite a bit of dust,” shared Conard. “And the dust went up the stack and floated with prevailing winds and then came down on land. A lot of residential land and a lot of farm land in Port Colborne.”

 

After several years of risk assessments conducted by both Inco and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE), Dr. Conard had publically stated that Inco’s early operations had been the cause. The people of Port Colborne decided to file the class action lawsuit as a result but the assessment also determined that the metals in the soil did not pose considerable risk to the environment, and most importantly, to the local population. The lawsuit continued on grounds that the high nickel concentrations decreased the area’s real estate value. A long court battle ensued and the judge determined that Inco was to pay $36 million to the land owners. Nonetheless, Inco appealed and the Ontario Court of Appeal reversed the lower court decision on the basis that there was no proof of property devaluation. In addition, Inco’s refinery had complied with all the environmental and government regulatory laws applicable for the time, which unfortunately had been much different before the 1960s.

 

“They developed certain genotypes of these plants that we tested in the Port Colborne soils,” said Conard. “We even tested one tonne of ash accumulated from incinerating the harvested biomass by putting it into the converters to recover the nickel. And it works!” he said. “Instead of corn, you’re farming nickel!”

∼ Dr. Bruce Conard

 

 

“The legacy of the metals in the soil still confronts us today” stated Conard, having worked on the case for nearly a decade, trying to eliminate as much of the nickel presence as possible. “I had the dream […] to have Inco soak the nickel out of the ground […] and put it into the converters to recover the nickel.” But what exactly did he mean by soaking the nickel out of the ground? “I wanted to use hyper-accumulating plants,” he explained to me, “plants (called Alyssum) that love to accumulate nickel into their biomass.”

 

He worked with some researchers from the US department of agriculture who selectively bread different types of hyperaccumulating plants to maximize their uptake of nickel both in quantity and speed. “They developed certain genotypes of these plants that we tested in the Port Colborne soils,” said Conard. “We even tested one tonne of ash accumulated from incinerating the harvested biomass by putting it into the converters to recover the nickel. And it works!” he said. “Instead of corn, you’re farming nickel!”

 

 

Testing Alyssum plants in a Port Colborne field. Photo courtesy of Bruce Conrad.

Testing Alyssum plants in a Port Colborne field. Photo courtesy of Bruce Conard.

 

This technique of acquiring nickel could be used in soils where the nickel concentration is too low to be economically viable to mine. It would also be a much less intrusive technique of collecting metals. Furthermore, it could be a way of regreening an exhausted mine site while still extracting small amounts of nickel. Conard envisioned bringing this technique of phytoremediation to warmer countries such as Indonesia. “You may get three seasons in one year [there] because of the climate. […] It would also be a social boon as subsistent farmers could make more money farming nickel than farming anything else,” stated Conard. His team got to the stage of testing Alyssum in Indonesia, making sure the plant would not be invasive in a foreign country. “That’s about the time I retired and it, unfortunately, hasn’t gone any further,” said Conard.

 

To date, a few other countries such as the US and France have studied and experimented with Alyssum but none seem to have moved past the experimental phase of harvesting the metals. From the available research, we could conclude that there may still be much to learn about the plant, its optimal harvesting phase and its invasiveness in certain regions. “I still have a pipe dream of it,” confessed Conard, “but these things need a champion.” Perhaps the dream simply needs a new Dr. Bruce Conard.

 

 

Dr. Bruce R. Conard, Vice-President, Environmental & Health Sciences, Inco Limited. Photo courtesy of Bruce Conard.

Dr. Bruce R. Conard, Vice-President, Environmental & Health Sciences, Inco Limited. Photo courtesy of Bruce Conard.

 

Acknowledgement:

Thank you Bruce for taking the time to meet with me. The passion and pride that you have for your work resonated in person which made for quite a captivating interview.

 

Sources:

Conard, Bruce. Interview with Bruce Conard, Mining and Metallurgy Legacy Project, August 23, 2015. Toronto, Ontario, in person (William McRae)

Werniuk, Jane. “Cleaning Up a Community.” Canadian Mining Journal. June 6, 2004. http://www.canadianminingjournal.com/news/cleaning-up-a-community/1000156424/

Bowal, Peter and Sean Keown. “Nickel Shower: An Environmental Class Action.” Law Now. February 28, 2013. http://www.lawnow.org/environmental-class-action/

 

 

 

 

 

Photo:  Located at 4000 Rue St. Ambroise in Montreal, Coleco Canada was one of the few companies to have ever manufactured a video game console in Canada. Art. no. 1987.0457, CSTMC.

Going digital: crossing the physical divide?

Over a year ago, I was asked to research “Canadian” video games and suggest how we might be able to develop an artifact based exhibition opening in 2016. There was just one small problem, the Museum did not have an extensive video game collection.  Would this mean that I could start from scratch and shape a new collection?  The Museum did have a few intriguing video game related artifacts that I could use as a starting point.  My initial exploration of these objects and their history would shape the way I think about physical objects, digital objects, and the often blurred line between the two.

Photo:  Developed by Flim Flam and distributed by G.A.M.E. Ltd. in Canada.  The cabinet featured four playable games: Flim Flam Tennis and Flim Flam Hockey, Knockout and Knockout Doubles (all of which were Pong clones). Art. no. 1985.0580 CSTMC.

Photo:  Developed by Flim Flam and distributed by G.A.M.E. Ltd. in Canada.  The cabinet featured four playable games: Flim Flam Tennis and Flim Flam Hockey, Knockout and Knockout Doubles (all of which were Pong clones). Artifact no. 1985.0580 CSTMC.

The first true video game collected by the Museum was a cocktail table arcade game (1985.0580).  The first video game system in the national collection was quickly followed by the acquisition, in 1987, of the TELSTAR home system (1987.0457) manufactured by Coleco Canada.  Although, both of these artifacts are examples of video game hardware, the software, or games, are integral to the artifact.  Unlike a computer, where games can be played or not, the hardware and software in the first two video game artifacts cannot be separated.  In both cases the software, or games, is a Pong clone.

Photo:  A video of DeLuSioNaL Arcade’s restored Flim Flam cabinet gives a sense of how the games were played (English only https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVKOjKl3dPU).

Photo:  A video of DeLuSioNaL Arcade’s restored Flim Flam cabinet gives a sense of how the games were played (English only https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVKOjKl3dPU).

Many manufacturers, created versions of the smash hit Pong to capitalise on the success of Atari’s Pong.  The original Pong is regarded as the first commercially successful arcade cabinet and is also responsible for creating the home console market (whether the Magnavox Odyssey or the Atari Home Pong console). Both artifacts are important, in their own right, in the development of a video game industry and culture in Canada.  Although they were collected separately, I can’t help but think that both video games systems were always meant to be seen as a pair in the collection. When paired, they illustrate the rise and popularity of video games in Canada during the mid-1970s.  The arcade cabinet and the home console highlight the proliferation of locations where we, as consumers, were expected to play and how the gaming industry was formed by building copies of popular software rather than innovation.  The first video game artifacts act as an excellent starting point for discussions about technological uptake and the cultural/social value of video games.

Photo:  Located at 4000 Rue St. Ambroise in Montreal, Coleco Canada was one of the few companies to have ever manufactured a video game console in Canada. Art. no. 1987.0457, CSTMC.

Photo:  Located at 4000 Rue St. Ambroise in Montreal, Coleco Canada was one of the few companies to have ever manufactured a video game console in Canada. Artifact no. 1987.0457, CSTMC.

The quick analysis of these two artifacts suggested something more than the material nature of the object.  Until I started digging into the holdings of the collection I had been treating the hardware and the software of video games as discreet entities, as something to be examined on their own.  What these early video game artifacts show is that the physicality of the object is interwoven with its digital component and only by examining them together can deeper meaning be drawn.

 

Talking with Mr. Urgel Palin and volunteers renovating the Grange-écurie des Prêtres-Chaumont historical barn in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines. CAFM Photo.

Harvesting History: My Visit to Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines

Despite having an extensive background in history and agriculture, the art of collecting is new to me. Before joining the collection and research team in March as curatorial research assistant, I had never really considered the mechanics of collection development and management or rationalization. As a historian, I had never been in the position to decide what should or should not make up a collection. That is, until I had the opportunity to research and write my first acquisition proposal for a Dion thresher, which the CSTMC Acquisition Committee approved this past July. It was a rewarding end to an extensive process that involved countless hours of research and discussion, as well as a road trip to Saint-Anne-des-Plaines, Québec.

 

Examining the Dion threshing machine. CAFM Photo.

Examining the Dion threshing machine. CAFM Photo.

 

This all began when Guy Charbonneau, mayor of Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, approached the museum on behalf of the machine`s owner, Mr. Urgel Palin. Mr. Palin was looking for a new home for his 1920s Dion thresher following the sale of his tractor parts business. Mr. Palin had purchased the thresher from the family of the original owner, who used it on his farm in La Plaine, Quebec. The machine had been stored for over 35 years and remained in original condition – a rarity for such an old piece of equipment.

 

Threshing machines were the ancestors of today`s combine harvesters. They were developed in Europe in the late 18th century to separate and clean grain from straw and chaff. Threshers mechanized the separation of grain, which had previously been done by hand with flails and winnowing trays. Over the course of the 19th century, threshers became more elaborate and mobile as manufacturers added wheels to stationary machines. Canadian manufacturers, such as Waterloo and Macdonald and MacPherson, started producing threshing machines during the second half of the 19th century.

 

As I looked deeper into this potential acquisition, I discovered that little information was available regarding Dion’s history. This was surprising considering the company is still active today. Fortunately, with the help of Luc Choinière, of Dion-Ag Inc., I was able to piece together a basic history of the company which dates to the early 20th century. Brothers Amédée and Bruno Dion, both deeply interested in farm mechanization, enjoyed experimenting with various machines on their farm near Sainte-Thérèse de Blainville. By 1918, the brothers had designed and built their own thresher, specially adapted to their needs. The Dions were inspired by Western Canadian technology in their machine’s cylinder design, an innovative feature in eastern Canadian threshers. The brothers secured various patents and by 1920, la Société Dion & Frères Limitée was manufacturing threshers in a small factory operating on their farm. Dion threshers were known for quality and performance. Key features and improvements included feeders and band cutters designed to prevent cylinder clogging, and beaters and straw racks that facilitated grain separation and cleaning.

 

La Sociétée Dion & Frères Limitée manufacturer’s imprint. CAFM Photo.

La Société Dion & Frères Limitée manufacturer’s imprint. CAFM Photo.

 

Working with curator Will Knight, we were unsure whether to recommend this machine for acquisition. We were dealing with a machine that was technologically innovative, in amazing condition, and with detailed provenance. However, it was a pretty large object that would take up lots of space in the warehouse – space that was already at a premium. What’s more, the museum already has a significant threshing machine collection.

 

In the end, it was Mr. Charbonneau and Mr. Palin who convinced us. Since the thresher was manufactured in nearby Boisbriand, both men saw this machine as an important part of their region’s heritage and were adamant that it should be preserved in the museum`s collection. Through my conversations with them, I came to realize that, to them, this thresher was more than a simple machine. It was a symbol of their region`s agriculture and industrial history, as well as the people’s resourcefulness, dedication and hard work. This thresher was also a testament to the ingenuity of two enterprising brothers who hoped to lessen the burden of farm work through mechanization. The business they started from scratch almost 100 years has survived to this day as Dion-Ag Inc. a Canadian-owned, independent farm equipment manufacturer. This is a remarkable accomplishment in this age of multinational giants.

 

Talking with Mr. Urgel Palin and volunteers renovating the Grange-écurie des Prêtres-Chaumont historical barn in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines. CAFM Photo.

Talking with Mr. Urgel Palin and volunteers renovating the Grange-écurie des Prêtres-Chaumont historical barn in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines. CAFM Photo.

 

This first experience at collection development has been truly memorable. I met great people who are passionate about their agricultural heritage, including a group of volunteers restoring a historic barn in downtown Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines. I had the opportunity to help preserve an impressive machine for future generations. But most importantly, the process humanized the collection. Not only do its artefacts document the evolution of agriculture and food science and technology in Canada, they also tell the story of the people who designed, manufactured and used these machines and of the communities they formed.

 

Web links:

Flails:

http://techno-science.ca/en/collection-research/collection-item.php?id=1966.0606.001

 

Winnowing tray:

http://techno-science.ca/en/collection-research/collection-item.php?id=1969.1133.001

 

Macdonald and MacPherson threshing machine:

http://cafmuseum.techno-science.ca/en/collection-research/artifact-macdonald-and-macpherson-standard-thresher.php

 

Waterloo threshing machine:

http://cafmuseum.techno-science.ca/en/collection-research/artifact-waterloo-champion-thresher.php

 

Canadian Patent:

http://brevets-patents.ic.gc.ca/opic-cipo/cpd/eng/patent/217574/summary.html

 

Acknowledgements:

Thank you to Mr. Urgel Palin for his contribution to the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum’s collection. One can only admire your passion for agricultural machinery and your determination to its preservation.

 

Thank you to Mr. Guy Charbonneau, mayor of Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, who played a key role in this artefact acquisition. Your devotion towards the preservation of your community’s agriculture heritage is truly appreciated.

 

Thank you to Mr. Luc Choinière, of Dion-Ag Inc., for his help in retracing the manufacturer’s history. His contributions were vital to the success of this acquisition.

 

References:

 

Robert N. Pripps, Threshers, History of the Separator, Threshing Machine, Reaper and Harvester, Osceola, Motorbooks International, 1992. 128 p.

 

 

 

 

Our examinations and discussions took place in a fairly active public space. There were several visitors from the nearby (and quite large) Kasturba hospital complex.

Summer School in India

From July 20-24, I had the privilege of being faculty at a challenging and inspiring Summer School at the Manipal Center for Philosophy and Humanities (MCPH) in India (co-organized by Cosmopolitanism and the Local in Science and Nature). Graduate students from across India came together for a week centered on the topic “Scientific Objects and Digital Cosmopolitanism.” As a break from the seminar format, Varun Bhatta (MCPH), Roland Wittje (IIT Chennai) and I organized an outing to the Museum of Anatomy and Pathology at the Kasturba Medical College of Manipal University. The museum, one of the largest of its kind in Asia, is used primarily for medical teaching, but has a growing role in the region for education and outreach.

Participants examining a specimen in the section devoted to the Nervous System.

Participants examining a specimen in the section devoted to the Nervous System.

We broke off into six groups to examine objects and critique the displays. Each group carried out examinations based on specific themes or questions, for example to “analyse biases in the displays,” “record personal responses,” “analyse local and cosmopolitan elements of a specimen or display,” “propose alternative exhibition themes” and “analyse the processes – technical and cultural – that go into making the final specimen.”

I was nervous about a session with human specimens, having more experience teaching with conspicuously designed and manufactured artifacts of metal, wood, glass and plastic. Would the students be able to “culturally dissect” the specimens within a seemingly airtight scientific setting?

Preparation, choices, tools and technique - Heart specimen as a cultural artifact.

Preparation, choices, tools and technique – Heart specimen as a cultural artifact.

The students presented punchy, brilliant critiques (all within 30 minutes!) that took us far beyond the traditional medical categories of the museum. They raised a number of issues related to translation (between English and Kannada) for words like monster in “Anencephalic Monster”; ethical concerns of the specimen sources; implications of specimens arranged and displayed as art pieces; cultural questions behind the choice and presentation of certain display themes and objects; the absence of information about the tools, processes and techniques used in specimen preparation; questions about labels, language and audience (the larger panels were all English); questions behind choices – technical and cultural – that go into making a seemingly non-problematic museum encounter; notions of objectivity in medical education and practice; and, strong gender themes throughout the displays.

Our examinations and discussions took place in a fairly active public space. There were several visitors from the nearby (and quite large) Kasturba hospital complex.

Our examinations and discussions took place in a fairly active public space. There were several visitors from the nearby (and quite large) Kasturba hospital complex.

Remarkably, in a very short time, we analysed the specimens and displays using careful observation, questions and multiple perspectives. India has vast, underexplored collections of scientific instruments, specimens, and archival materials. These collections have enormous potential for this kind of open-ended group exploration that inspires new approaches to teaching, research and exhibit development.

Locally made c. 1950s? There were several of these plaster and wooden anatomical models on display. They were all identical, but each featuring different anatomical systems.

Locally made c. 1950s? There were several of these plaster and wooden anatomical models on display. They were all identical, but each featuring different anatomical systems.

A student at Tribhuvan University administers ether by way of a Schimmelbush Mask. Photo Credit: Dr. Roger Maltby.

Calgary, Kathmandu and the Ether between them

Dr. Jan Davies, Professor of Anesthesia and Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of Calgary, contacted me last summer because she wanted to donate historic anesthesia instruments to the Museum on behalf of the Foothills Medical Centre. Dr. Davies selected items that filled gaps in the Museum’s anesthesia collection from a technical point of view, and also reflected the cultural side of medical work and research.

A collection of Tudor Williams Airways used in the operating rooms at Foothills Medical Centre, Calgary Alberta. Photo Credit: Dr. Jan Davies.

A collection of Tudor Williams Airways used in the operating rooms at Foothills Medical Centre, Calgary Alberta. Photo Credit: Dr. Jan Davies.

Her list contained a few intriguing items from Dr. Roger Maltby, a former staff anesthesiologist at Foothills Medical Centre and Professor Emeritus of Anesthesia at the University of Calgary. These pieces, a Schimmelbush Mask and an Epstein-Macintosh-Oxford inhaler complete with travelling case, were used during his time teaching medicine in Nepal in the 1980s.

 This EMO vaporiser was designed to deliver ether/air and is portable and robust. This object comes complete with an instruction booklet and travel case (note the old Canadian Airlines luggage tag). Photo Credit: Dr. Roger Maltby

This EMO vaporiser was designed to deliver ether/air and is portable and robust. This object comes complete with an instruction booklet and travel case (note the old Canadian Airlines luggage tag). Photo Credit: Dr. Roger Maltby

In the early 1980s, the World Health Organization projected that a minimum of 27 anaesthetists should be providing services in the country within that decade. While the need for these trained practitioners was there, the systems were not in place to train that many anesthetists in that short amount of time. By the mid-1980s, there were only seven anaesthetists for the whole of Nepal and they worked in hospitals in Kathmandu, leaving no anaesthetists for the rest of the country.

The Schimmelbush Mask has a shallow trough around the circumference of the mask. This element is designed to catch straying drops of liquid ether. Photo Credit: Dr. Roger Maltby.

The Schimmelbush Mask has a shallow trough around the circumference of the mask. This element is designed to catch straying drops of liquid ether. Photo Credit: Dr. Roger Maltby.

In the spring of 1984 the University of Calgary was approached to assist in establishing a Diploma in Anaesthesia Program at the Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu. Dr. Maltby agreed to be the Canadian co-ordinator, without any previous experience in facilitating programs appropriate for the conditions in a developing country. During our phone conversation this past winter, Dr. Maltby justified his decision to participate in the development of this diploma program by stating that, “they wouldn’t have asked me to do it if they didn’t think I could do it.”

His comment seems to minimize the enormity of the commitment he made to the program. And by commitment, I mean both the months at a time that Dr. Maltby spent in Nepal and the years that he dedicated to planning, evaluating, and reviewing various elements of the program.  While Dr. Maltby felt that it was “always their program”, he was instrumental in its success and realisation.

A student at Tribhuvan University administers ether by way of a Schimmelbush Mask. Photo Credit: Dr. Roger Maltby.

bob lee

“I prefer not to talk about it”

The Adventures of an Oral Historian: “I prefer not to talk about it”

In April, I made my way, for the first time, to Wild Rose Country. My trip had two purposes: the first was to promote our museum among Klingons, Catwomans and Cosplayers at the rapidly growing Calgary Expo; the second was to begin my yearlong Mining and Metallurgy Legacy Project. The latter requires me to interview approximately 70 people who have played a significant role in the world of mining, metallurgy and petroleum. As I was already headed to Calgary for Comiccon, I decided to begin interviewing some of the veterans of the natural resources world. Being in Alberta, talent in that department was not lacking. The first man I interviewed was Bob Lee, a renowned figure in the metallurgy world.

Dr. Robert Lee was born and raised in the city of Montreal. He began his career with Canadian Liquid Air Ltd as research assistant in metallurgy. Throughout his time at the company, Lee proved himself a prolific innovator, improving many facets of metallurgy. He eventually became the Manager of Metallurgy which led to Manager of the Research Department and then Director of Research and Technology for Liquid Air. By the end of his career with the company, Bob Lee owned well over 200 patents which had earned him multiple prestigious awards such as the Order of Canada and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

For our interview, he was wearing the tie of his alma mater, which paired well with the first series of questions I asked him concerning his education at McGill:

“In the old times, they called it the metallurgical engineering department, but now they call it materials engineering. And some of the work that I did while I was at university, I prefer not to talk about it.”

 

Bob Lee during our interview in Calgary.

Bob Lee during our interview in Calgary.

 

 

“In the old times, they called it the metallurgical engineering department, but now they call it materials engineering.

And some of the work that I did while I was at university, I prefer not to talk about it.”

∼ Bob Lee

 

 

 

 

In fact, after a gentle inquiry on my part, he was quite forthcoming about his student years and various not-so-calculated experiments involving grape juice, alcohol and even mercury. His stories related to his subsequent career were equally as colourful. I learned that one of his most important accomplishments, the idea of the porous plug, which allows gas to rise from the bottom of the ladle [a vessel used to transport and pour molten metals] and stir the molten steel, came to him while he was in the bathtub:

“…that was the time I was sitting in the bathtub and released some flatus they call it, a fart. And I went oh! That’s the idea, that’s how it came about. And that’s how I got the highest award of the AIME [American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers].” A story he had presented when receiving the aforementioned award in 2010.

It was evident to Bob and myself however, that flatulence was a very simplified version of the story. In fact, creating his famous porous plug took much more time and effort than it did to take a bath. In order to provide homogeneous temperatures and chemical composition to the molten metal, he needed a way to inject gas from the bottom of the ladle. For that, he needed to get his hands on some porous bricks, which conveniently, did not exist at the time. He was shown the door by some refractory companies who insisted on making solid, dense bricks to increase their service lives, not bricks with holes in them. Finally, a Canadian government ceramics lab helped him develop the porous brick which, after much experimentation, led to the porous plug. This technology and process changed steelmaking and is now used around the world. Because of it, steelmaking has increased in safety and quality. Mr. Lee told me that to this day, it has been the biggest challenge and proudest accomplishment of his career.

 

Bob Lee and Guy Savard patent for treating molten steel with oxygen.

Bob Lee and Guy Savard patent for treating molten steel with oxygen.

 

Dr. Lee is also considered an expert in the fields of gases, energy, combustion, pulp and paper, environment, entomology and cryobiology. Furthermore, he has worked with Hydrogenics to help them finance and develop the hydrogen fuel cell back in its start-up phase. He even helped Seagram’s develop a way to age alcohol (with the help of his porous plug!) by feeding oxygen into the alcohol. This technique, which dramatically sped up the aging process of alcohol, is still used to fortify wines such as port.

At 91 years young, Bob Lee shows no signs of slowing down. Although “retired”, he still acts as an independent technical advisor for Canadian Liquid Air and still has plenty of potential inventions up his sleeve. They might just be a soak away!

 

Steel Irony, July 2012, courtesy Association for Iron and Steel Technology.

Steel Irony, July 2012, courtesy Association for Iron and Steel Technology.

 

Acknowledgements:

Thank you to Dr. Bob Lee for making this a very enjoyable first interview. Your combination of experience, expertise and humour is a virtue that should inspire all. Your support for the Mining and Metallurgy Project is greatly appreciated.

Sources:

The American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers, AIME Honorary Membership 2010, updated 2015.

http://www.aimehq.org/programs/award/bio/robert-gh-lee

ASRL Quarterly Bulletin No.163 Vol. XLIX No.3, October – December 2012, pp.124-125.

Lee, Robert. Interview with Robert Lee, Mining and Metallurgy Legacy Project April 16, 2015. Calgary, Alberta, in person (William McRae)

Air Liquide, Method and Apparatus for Treating Molten Metal with Oxygen, 1958.

http://www.google.com/patents/US2855293