In an area teeming with history, you have your choice of local museums to explore! Prepare to be transported back in time as you explore themed exhibits, browse artifacts and delve into the stories of the past. Catering to both kids and adults, you’re sure to find something for everyone!
All Aboard Clinton’s CNR School on Wheels Museum!
By Lauren Ihrig
Clinton’s School on Wheels Museum offers more than just a glimpse into windows past. And, there’s good reason for its inclusion in Ron Brown’s Top 150 Unusual Things to See in Ontario!
Restored working railcar turned museum encourages visitors of all ages to experience the magic of an educational experiment turned unique family experience, firsthand and hands on!
Located in Sloman Memorial Park (76 Victoria Terrace, Clinton), CNR school car #15089 is equal parts mid-century classroom, Canadian railway gem, ‘tiny home’ and treasured family chronicle.
Passionate museum guides share the story of Fred and Cela Sloman and their five children, who helped realize Dr. J.B. MacDougall’s dream of delivering education to families in Northern Ontario through a mobile school on wheels.
During Fred’s WWI service overseas, he was inspired to pursue a teaching career as a way of empowering people through literacy. Fred and Cela took the helm of one of two railway routes servicing Ontario in 1926. Their school car route covered 237 kilometres of northern Ontario rail from Capreol near Sudbury to Foleyet. The Slomans spent the school year on the rail line and summered in Clinton. The program expanded to seven routes and lasted until 1967.
The museum celebrates the demographic diversity of those who attended the school on wheels, including children of loggers, trappers, First Nations families, railway and hydro-electric workers. Impressively, students would often travel long distances to attend the school car, sometimes by skis, dogsled, snowshoes or canoe, depending on the season! At various stops along the way, students would enjoy a week of classroom learning before heading home with a month of homework to tie them over until the school car returned in five weeks time.
Ahead of his time, Fred taught academic subjects and citizenship while maintaining an experiential approach to learning. This is something museum staff have creatively adapted to make the visitor experience extra special. Adult learners gained English language skills to help in writing letters, taking correspondence courses or ordering from Eaton’s catalogue.
Highlights of school car life included enjoying film reels of diverse hometowns played on Fred’s movie projector, participating in Christmas concerts, enjoying the company of the family’s pets, birthdays of students and celebrities, and, hands-on learning, including playing with farm models and observing railway life. The school car was a social and educational centre.
The museum also showcases the Slomans’ cleaver use of the small living quarters in the railcar’s rear by using multifunctional furniture and basic amenities. The abundance of artifacts and original records is but one of the perks of visiting the museum!
Fred and Cela’s legacy has included a royal visit in 1939, the receipt of the Order of Canada and induction into the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame. Current highlights include a popular Children’s Festival with Thomas the Tank Engine held the second week of August.
MUSEUMS AND ARCHIVES
Arkona Lions Museum & Information Centre
Discover Devonian Era fossils and aboriginal artifacts found at Rock Glen Conservation Area. April, May, June, September & October: Saturday & Sunday, Noon-5pm. July & August: Daily, Noon-5pm. 8680 Rock Glen Rd., Arkona. April-October: 519-828-3071; November-March: 519-235-2610.
Forest Lambton Museum
Themed exhibits located in the former Forest Home Bakery building. Open by chance or appointment. 8 Main St. N., Forest, 519-786-3239.
Lambton Heritage Museum
Explore two main galleries and seven outdoor historical buildings. Collection established to preserve and interpret local history. Main galleries open year-round; outdoor buildings open mid-April to mid-December. lambtonmuseums.ca, 10035 Museum Rd., Grand Bend, 519-243-2600.
Lucan Area Heritage & Donnelly Museum
Dedicated to the preservation and retelling of famous Lucan area historical events, such as the founding of Wilberforce by a Black community from Cincinnati, area settlement by Irish immigrants and the Donnelly murders. May to Thanksgiving. donnellymuseum.com, 171 Main St., Lucan, 519-227-0756.
School On Wheels Museum
Hands-on experience of an early 20th-Century classroom built into a railcar and used to educate children in remote Ontario. Annual Thomas the Tank event. Victory Day Saturday to last Sunday in September. Thursday to Sunday 11am – 4pm. centralhuron.com/schoolcar, 76 Victoria Terrace, Clinton, 519-482-3997St.
Joseph Museum & Archives
Photographs and digital scans of original documents about the Huron Tract, the City of St. Joseph, the St. Joseph Canal, Narcisse Cantin and Saint André. Memorial Park (Hwy. 21 & CR. 84) displays historical plaques and statues of St. Joseph and Saint André. Open by chance or appointment. stjosephmuseum.ca, 72981 Bluewater Highway, 519-236-7707.