ArticleSainte Marie Among The Hurons
Norway is far from being the only country that embraced the "Open Air Museum" concept. In fact, the very first such museum in the world - Skansen - was created in 1891 in Stockholm, Sweden. Norway and Finland followed suit, and the new cultural phenomenon began to spread across Northern and Central Europe. Within about a quarter of a century it found its way overseas, and yet another northern country - Canada - grabbed a chance to celebrate its recent past in a very special way. Sainte Marie Among The Hurons (SMATH) joined the growing list of Open Airs.
Four centuries ago, a success in turning a motley collection of separate buildings into a well-governed village meant the difference between Life and Death, quite literally. Nowadays, when the village has been reconstructed and turned into a museum, such a success means but a cultural achievement – and yet, the task of doing justice to the period in question by properly presenting it is utterly dear to everyone involved. And "properly present" means “to show” rather than “to tell about”. That’s why visitors are met by, as the museum brochure phrases it, “men and women in period dress who welcome them into their daily lives and invite them to share in their activities”. Combined with various shows and presentations, this approach helps one to get into the mood of the epoch, which is a precondition to turning a pastime into a real experience. There is indeed no better way to enjoy and understand something than to identify with it as fully as possible.
That identification is largely facilitated by an exhibited wigwam, where it’s possible to “live” (though but for a few minutes) just like a native would, or by a curl of acid smoke produced by an open fire, and hurting one’s eyes and throat. Besides, everybody is welcome to grind a handful of grain into a powder, using a very special wooden spoon, or to take a glimpse of wealthy people’s underwear by looking through a couple of special slits made in their shirts. According to the guides’ explanation, that was the only way to emphasize the social difference because the main garment had to be purely functional – mostly providing warmth and insect protection – and, therefore, practically identical.
Unfortunately, trying on a pair of moccasins, touted as by far the best shoes for the climate and conditions in question, or writing a note with a quill peacefully lying on a rough but solid table, was not on the agenda yet. That might be the next step in the museum’s development!