History InSite 2018: Bringing Downtown History to Life

This year, as part of the In The Soil Arts Festival, we brought our third installment of History InSite to downtown St. Catharines. A site-specific photographic installation, History InSite uses the Museum’s collection to juxtapose the past against modern streetscapes as a way to emphasize the value of our city’s built heritage. Installations are dotted all around downtown, creating a fun sort of scavenger hunt for history buffs.

Sara leading a group on a very warm and sunny walking tour on Sunday at In the Soil.

We took History InSite one step further this year. Drawing on the idea of tableaux vivants, or living pictures, we brought in costumed volunteer performers to reenact live snap-shot versions of the photos in our installation. Members of the public could join us for guided walking tours of the installation and take in the tableau vivant reenactments. The results were pretty cool (in our humble opinion!)!

Take a look:

A crowd gathers to read a news bulletin on the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 | 17-21 Queen St. 

G.R. Holmes, carriage builder, stands in front of his workshop on William Street near St. Paul Street, c. 1901. | 3 William St.

Grand Re-Opening of the Canadian Department Stores (a division of Eaton’s) on the corner of William Street and St. Paul Street, 1937 | 15-31 St. Paul St. 

Postman Patrick Shields stands at the corner of Ontario Street and St. Paul Street, c. 1889.  Staff stand outside the storefront of Buehler Brothers butcher shop, c. 1935 | 87 St. Paul St. 

Two women cross a bustling St. Paul Street, c. 1945 | between Queen St. and James St. facing east.

*Special thanks to Dr. Keri Cronin for sharing this photo with us!

Bringing Downtown History To Life 

Downtown St. Catharines is a living, breathing, ever evolving space. History InSite gives us an opportunity to explore how people in our community have lived in, used, and created experiences in this space – experiences of both ordinary, everyday lives and those that are memorable. This year’s tableau vivant reenactments starkly reveal to us just how much our downtown has changed – not just in its streetscapes, but our city’s relationship to downtown as well. 

We are lucky to have photographs in the Museum’s collection that give us a glimpse into the lives of not only the people who made St. Catharines a community, but into the life of downtown, as well. History InSite brings this past back to life.  It gives us a chance to reflect on how the downtown has changed over time, what downtown means to us today, and to ask questions about what we want our downtown to be in the future.

So, we ask you: what kind of downtown St. Catharines do you want to see in the future?

Special Thank You

A big thanks goes to our cast of wonderful volunteer performers who brought History InSite to life this year. We are grateful for your commitment, patience, and continued enthusiasm (even in the rain!). Thank you!

2018 History InSite Cast: (left to right) Elizabeth, Des, Sara, Dave, Jacqueline, Ian, Emily, Victoria, Karen, and Paul.

Sara Nixon is a public historian and Public Programmer at the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre. 


The St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre, located next to Lock 3 of the historic Welland Canal, is a leading local history museum and community gathering place, engaging visitors and building relationships with partners, while demonstrating curatorial leadership and innovative programming and exhibits. The St. Catharines Museum is dedicated to engaging visitors in the celebration of our local stories and the cultural identity and history of the City. We are a community resource that interprets, exhibits, researches, acquires, and preserves material culture and stories of St. Catharines.

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