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Getting young minds hooked on local history

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Cathy Dobson

Executive members of the new Sarnia Historical Society are working with elementary and high school students to get them excited about local history.

“We’re hoping we can introduce historical content about Sarnia into the Grade 7 and 8 curriculums by this September,” says President Ron Smith.

“When I went to QE II as a kid, we learned about Sarnia’s history in Grade 8 and I began to look at my hometown differently,” he said.

“Sarnians lack a sense of identity. We are so much more than Chemical Valley. When they learn about all that is here and all that happened here, they’ll fall in love with their hometown.”

Smith is in discussions with two teachers at Cathcart Boulevard School who hope to launch a pilot project incorporating local history into the curriculum.

“These teachers want to work with our website ( and develop questions and answers about Sarnia’s history. That will hopefully put a standard in place for other Grade 7s and 8s,” he said.

So many students walk past historic buildings without knowing the fascinating stories behind them, said executive member Laura Greaves.

“They’ll come to know stories like the shooting of (robber) Red Ryan or the death of Const. John Lewis, the first Sarnia police officer killed in the line of duty,” said the society’s chief editor Phil Egan.

He hopes students will be turned onto local history by stories such as the burning of the S.S. Hamonic on Point Edward’s waterfront, the Great Storm of 1913 that is the deadliest nature disaster to hit the lakes, or the role Polymer played in the Second World War.

Members of the society say no local history is currently taught in city schools.

At the same time, they’re hoping to launch a five-month co-op program for four high school students beginning next month.  Students will be chosen based on their interest in English and history – one each from SCITS, St. Patrick’s, St. Clair and Northern.

“It’s a research program for them to learn to do interviews for our oral history project, take photos, videos, and work on our social media site and contribute to our website,” Smith said.

“For those who like to write, it’s an excellent opportunity to be published.”

Co-op students will receive credit for conducting library research and assisting Egan with stories related to upcoming projects, like a history book on the local fire department.

Each week, students will be required to submit one story to be edited and promoted on social media.

If interested, candidates are asked to contact their school’s co-op co-ordinators or the Sarnia Historical Society at 519-328-5009.

Also, the Society is holding a public meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 20 from 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. for those interested in researching the history of their home.  Lambton County archivist Dana Thorne will be guest speaker at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 62 on Front Street.  All are welcome free-of-charge.

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