History on the Go: Capital Kiosks a Hit

By Joseph Mathieu
Photos by Chris Roussakis and Dave Weatherall

Although the best museums make culture, history and science accessible to everyone, the public still has to go visit. Not so for the Capital History Kiosks Project, which brought history to city sidewalks this summer.

The project transformed 17 grey traffic control boxes into street-side exhibits, with the collaborative efforts of the Workers’ History Museum, design firm Chapter One Studio, the Carleton Centre for Public History and local artist Ross Rheaume in a project funded by Ottawa 2017.

Carleton History Prof. David Dean, co-director of the centre, announced the completion of the project at a celebration in late November at Bank Street’s shareable offices, 25OneCommunity.

“It’s estimated approximately 32,000 pedestrians pass the boxes on a warm summer’s day,” said Dean. “This is a project that we’re hoping will have some legacy and stay up for several years, and we may crowdsource funding for future boxes.”

“I think this is a brilliant example of an interpretive project,” said Ottawa 2017 Executive Director Guy Laflamme.  “As people are waiting at a streetlight, they get to learn about our history. It’s even more significant that they can learn right where the history happened.”

Nineteen Department of History graduate students developed the stories about different moments in Ottawa’s history. Some paid homage to buildings, like the Plant Bath at Preston and Somerset West streets, the Lord Elgin Hotel, and the Ottawa Jail at the corner of Waller and McKenzie King.

Other stories focused on people, such as Victoria Cross winner Filip Konowal, who was a custodian for former prime minister Mackenzie King, and Élizabeth Bruyère, who opened the first hospital in Ottawa.

Each kiosk features an image with panel text and a QR code linking to capitalhistory.ca where visitors can find out more about each story.

“Out of all the arts and culture projects that we did, this is definitely one of the most stellar accomplishments,” said Laflamme.

“The original plan to have 12 structures eventually became 17,” said Dean, adding that Mayor Jim Watson was impressed at the unveiling of the first box last May.

Dean thanked city staff for their assistance, as well as André Mersereau of Chapter One Studio, who designed and installed the panels and created the project’s website, and Rheaume, who was commissioned to do five original paintings on the boxes. Rheaume worked closely with the students when they couldn’t find any archival images to illustrate the stories.

City councillors and Business Improvement Areas gave their help and blessings, while members of community shared local knowledge, experiences, and even opened their photo albums to the grad students. The funding for the collaborative project came from the Ottawa 2017’s Arts, Culture and Heritage program, (stewarded by AOE Arts Council, Ottawa Arts Council and Council of Heritage Organizations in Ottawa).