Tour brings history to life for high school students
Castle Hill interpreter Cyril Bambrick outlines the significance of Castle Hill which overlooks the town of Placentia.
Helping bring the history and French past of Placentia to life for high school students is the main point of Christopher Newhook's walking tour of Placentia, but there are other advantages as well.
Mr. Newhook is the organizer and facilitator of the tour, in which students from schools on the Avalon come to Placentia for the day to experience for themselves what they read about in their course studies.
The tour started a number of years ago, but since Mr. Newhook began offering it, he's added to it, bringing more and more of Placentia's past to life for the high school students who participate for the full day's event. He said since students study the history of Placentia, it certainly fits their curriculum, a notion echoed by teachers who take the tour along with the students.
He said high school French students, along with French immersion students have participated in the tour, and so far the response has been great.
Sites they visit include Castle Hill, the archaeological dig at Fort Louis, O'Reilly House Museum, St. Luke's Church, the chaloupe and French bread oven and more recently St. Anne's school, where a mural, painted by Mr. Newhook himself through an Arts Smarts program, tells the entire history of Placentia in its panels, a good starting point for the students in their day-long journey, he said.
"I started thinking you know that's not a bad introduction to the history of Placentia as Mile Zero, so that's how it started. I started seeing all these little pockets of attractions and I kind of just sewed them together on my own as a little walking tour. And what's neat about it is that I've fine-tuned this tour over the last couple of years. They come for an entire day. The bus drops them off and they walk, which is kind of a nice thing, especially if it is a beautiful fall day like it was this past week," explained Mr. Newhook.
He said the murals give an introduction to the history of the place from 1504 to the present and points out all the various countries that have affected Placentia.
"It touches on the various sites and some of the things they are learning in their high school French. So, I stress some of the things they touch on in their textbooks and here it is. Then I talk about archaeology and I say when we get down to the dig you will see this place and you will see some of these artifacts and you will see the pipe stems that were in the mural and this old guy here holding the pipe stem, well, this is what we are finding today. So I really link it all together really well," he said.
From the school mural, students get on a bus that takes them to Castle Hill, where interpreters take them through the site, explaining the French past and significance of Placentia, and also offers a wonderful view of the town below.
From there, they hike down over the hill on the original path to the beachside walking trail taking them to the archaeological dig at Fort Louis.
They reach the archaeological dig at Fort Louis and archaeologist David Fry explains to the students what they are finding, while Mr. Newhook reminds them of what they've already been learning along the tour.
"I am tagging along and pointing out things like, for instance, remember we talked about this back at the mural and take a look at it here. So all along I am reiterating, I am stressing and pulling up stuff. We have lunch, a picnic up on the hill and then we walk down the hill down to the archaeology dig site. We walk down the trail the men actually walked," said Mr. Newhook. "I walk with them, we get to know each other. They start asking really neat questions, I get to point out things about the place and so it is a very intuitive, very hands-on tour."
Mr. Newhook then leads the students across the lift bridge, another attraction unique to the area, he pointed out, to the archaeology lab where the archaeologist can show them things they've found.
After that, it is on to O'Reilly House, and with help from Michael Collins, students get a tour of that and then St. Luke's Church. After that, it's back to the chaloupe and bread oven, where, sometimes, Philip Meade might just be there with bread coming straight out of the oven. That was a feature not available this year as the bread over needs repairs.
"He would have French bread and fresh baked apple jam and he would interpret the bread oven. They'd get to taste it, touch it, see the flames, see it fresh and hot. If the chaloupe is there, we'd interpret that and then the bus would be waiting for them and they'd get on," said Mr. Newhook.
He said he's happy to promote Placentia in this way and realizes there are spin-off benefits to such a tour.
"When they go home, tell their parents, they will probably come back. That's happened a lot. So there is a secondary and tertiary spin off to promoting this place, to showing them that this is not just a terminal spot for the ferry, there is a lot going on here, there is a lot of history and there is a value to that."
He said he's sometimes had tourists join the group because it is so interesting, which has also encouraged them to stay in the area a bit longer.
Although he is aware it could be further developed, he said it does take a lot of time and effort to organize, so he's not sure if it will continue beyond school tours at this point.
David Butt, Marie Neil and Daniel Grimes are teachers from Ascension Collegiate in Bay Roberts who took the tour with their Francais 1202 and French 3201 classes on Sept. 23.
"It was definitely a valuable experience," said Mr. Butt. "Because French Newfoundland or Franco Terre-Neuve is a major focus in Level I, by visiting Castle Hill it enables students to see first-hand the site itself and understand the significance of Placentia as the French capital back in the 17th century. They get an opportunity to see for themselves what the early settlers would have seen from their lookout, their observation posts. They also get an idea then of what life was like for the French settlers at that time."
He explained seeing these sites themselves makes the experience real for them, and the history come alive.
"I think that they do enjoy the day. It is a lot. It is sometimes a little bit overwhelming because they see and take in so much but it undoubtedly gives them a better understanding as to the history itself and the significance of Placentia so it is always a good day," said Mr. Butt.
He said students are asked afterwards to give a personal reflection of the trip on a later test and he's seen some wonderful responses.
"Going to Placentia was great! I learned so much about the history of Placentia and the people that live and lived there. It was an experience that I would recommend to anyone and an opportunity I would gladly take again," said one student.
"In my opinion I thought that the trip was fantastic. The views from the top of the mountains, from the different sites were amazing, they were worth all the climbing. To see old ruins and foundations, the O'Reilly House and the church really help understanding your past. Even though the site was filled in when we got there it was still awesome to see. Overall, I really enjoyed the trip and would love to go back one day," said another.
One even wrote their report in French.
"Notre voyage À Plaisance n'Était pas ce que j'ai imaginÉ, c'Était plus. C'Était trÈs intÉressant de voir l'histoire de la rÉgion et les vrais endroit oÙ les soldats ont veÇu dans le passÉ."
In English, the student wrote: "Our trip to Placentia was not what I imagined, it was more. It was very interesting to see the history of the region and the real places where the soldiers lived in the past."