Grade Eight: Victorian Life

Pre-Visit Activity: Glossary of Terms

Hillary House: Specifically called the Hillary House National Historic Site and Koffler Museum of Medicine, this is a house located at 15372 Yonge Street in Aurora, ON, which has now been turned into a special museum run by the Aurora Historical Society. It was originally built for Dr. Walter Geike and his family and was used both as a home and as a doctor’s office. Four different doctors – Dr. Geike, Dr. Frederick Strange, Dr. Robert William Hillary and Dr. Robert Michael Hillary and their families lived in the house. When the Hillary family lived there, they referred to the building as “The Manor.” Today, it is set up to look how it did when the Hillary family lived here (from 1876 onwards), but also has other exhibits throughout the year in special exhibit rooms.

Artifacts: Objects and items that have been made by people, that are often displayed in museums.

Victorian Era: A span of time that covered the reign of Queen Victoria, from 1837 until 1901. It is particularly a measurement of time in the United Kingdom, but also relatable to Canada because of its connections to Great Britain. This time period has many points of cultural significance and also coincides with the turn of the century.

Edwardian Era: A span of time that covered the reign of King Edward VII, from 1901 to 1910. It followed the Victorian era, as Edward VII was the son of Queen Victoria. It is particularly a measurement of time in the United Kingdom, but also relatable to Canada because of its connections to Great Britain.

Primary Source: An object or document that is original to the time period being studied. For example, a book from 1890 is a primary source for the time period. [Note: If a page is photocopied from this text, the written words are still considered a primary source as they were written at that time period.]

Inference:A conclusion that can be made using evidence and reasoning. In history, inferences can be made from observations made off of primary sources.

Research: Investigating using various sources of materials to establish facts, present new evidence and reach new conclusions.

Hypotheses: Often used in Science, but also applicable to the study of History: a proposed explanation or guess that you can make, but have yet to prove. It is something that is usually put forward in order to promote further research, discussion and study to find evidence to support it.

Archives: A place where objects and documents of historical significance are stored to keep them safe and preserved. There are various types of archives, such as academic (i.e. at colleges, universities), government (i.e. town/city, province, country) and business (i.e. companies have their own archival documents stored in their own archives).

Archivist: The person who maintains and preserves items in an Archive. They have a range of responsibilities, including (but not limited to): collecting, assessing, preserving and maintaining archival materials. If they work in a public Archive location, they can also assist clients and visitors with research and locating items.

Activities Overview

Activity #1: Then & Now Graffiti
Students complete a “Graffiti” activity in groups using a photo they are given from either the present day or late 19th century. In their groups, they will name as many terms and descriptors as they can to explain the details of their photo, such as: what is the photo? Who is in the photo? What can we learn from looking at this? What clothing/outfits are they wearing? As a class, we will then compare and contrast the photos through a Venn diagram to get a base knowledge of how to use a primary source and make simple comparative analyses between sources from different time periods.

Activity #2: Object Skit
Working in small groups, students will be shown an artifact (one unique item per group) from the Hillary House collections relating to the Victorian period. They must use their detective skills to note clues that they can obtain telling them what the object was used for, who may have owned it, why it was important and why we decided to keep in the museum. Without any background knowledge, they will create a short (2 minute) skit to act out either what they think the artifact was used for/how it was used, or why we decided to keep it at the museum. Post-activity, we will discuss the true historical details of the artifacts, but also how we can make hypotheses and educated guesses about objects and documents even when we do not have full details.

Activity #3: Convince the Curator
Using the same artifacts from the “Object Skit” activity, students get to choose their favourite and write a one-page opinion piece to our curator about why they feel this artifact is important enough to stay in the Hillary House collections. Through the skills that they have gained on studying artifacts for clues, using their prior knowledge on the time period and making educated guesses/inferences, they will show what they have learned about these objects and how to use them. [Note: This activity can be extended further as a research project. See Suggested Post-Visit Activities]

Suggested Post-Visit Activities

(1) Take a class trip to Hillary House National Historic Site at 15372 Yonge Street (If you have not already!) to get a better sense of how the Hillary family lived. You can find out details about the architecture, changes over time to suit the various families that lived at the house, as well as personal details on the Hillary family and their lives during the Victorian period.

(2) Encourage students to visit their local library and archives where they can obtain more information on Aurora history, specifically during this time period. Also encourage them to look into other archives, such as: the City of Toronto Archives, Archives Ontario, Library and Archives Canada, where they can find out more detailed information on the history of Ontario and Canada.

(3) Extend Activity #3: Convince the Curator into a research project. In this activity, students select an artifact that most interests them and they try to convince the curator of Hillary House, based on the clues and educated guesses they make from looking at the artifact (and any historical information the educator can provide to them), why this item belongs in a museum.

In order to facilitate research, students can create a list of questions surrounding the item and a topic that they think it most relates to and start a research project from there. A variety of Victorian era items may be brought in and may not be the same for every program, but the following topics may be relatable for most of them and allow for further study and inquiry by your students:

  • Lives of women/women’s rights (comparing now and then or women of different status, etc.)
  • Lives of children/adolescents (comparing now and then or the difference geographic location played on children’s lives)
  • Education and educational programs
  • Differences in Social Statuses
  • Differences in families made their living (e.g. Robert William and Robert Michael Hillary were doctors, but there were also store owners, blacksmiths, and even farmers in Aurora)
  • Differences geography played on family living

These are just some suggestions – there is no limit to what students can study and research, they can just base it on the questions they have and what most interests them.

To see the current Ontario curriculum connections for this program click here.