The Little Exhibit That Could

2019, Permanent Exhibit, Science, Toronto Railway Museum
child-friendly, Diesel, Engines, interactive activities, Locomotive, railway, safety, Steam, trains
About This Project

Date: Opening May 10, 2019
Partner: Toronto Railway Museum
Venue: Stall 17 in the Toronto Railway Museum
Project Members: Simon Termine, Kate Campbell, Daniel Genis, Michael Goodchild
Situated in Stall 17 of the Toronto Railway Museum adjacent to the 2016 student group’s Rail to the Rescue project, The Little Exhibit that Could offers educational material on various aspects of locomotive functionality and rail safety. Specifically, the exhibition addresses how steam- and diesel-powered locomotive engines operate, addresses why the transition to diesel-operated locomotives took place, and provides up-to-date safety precautions when acting around trains. Interactive activities illustrate the educational components and offer new opportunities for audiences to engage with the material.
The intended audience is families with children aged 4-12, as the Toronto Railway Museum wishes to accommodate younger audiences. Didactics were written to a fifth-grade level, intended to be readily understood by most visitor age-ranges.
Acting with the TRM, our main point of contact was Kelly Burwash, the Acting Museum Manager. She passed our suggestions and queries onto the executive board, while also providing invaluable clarity in determining our exhibit’s scope, content, and interactive components. In addition, we also benefited from the historical and technical expertise of Toronto Railway Historical Association Historian Derek Boles. Images were provided by the Toronto Railway Historical Association, Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia Commons, Operation Lifesaver, and photos taken by museum staff and the project team.
Planning for the exhibit began in September 2018. Our rough concept, timeline, and preliminary budget were drafted by the end of the month, and didactic research was completed in October. Our first draft was submitted for a series of review and feedback sessions starting in November, and was finalized in February 2019. Graphic design took place through January-March 2019 and was completed in April. Installation took place over April 1 – 30, and the exhibition was officially opened on May 10, 2019.
The Little Exhibit that Could consists of a single didactic panel and five interactive activities, plus descriptive labels where applicable. The panel is broken down into four subsections: introduction with key definitions; steam-power; diesel-power; and train safety. Each section is accompanied by photos to illustrate the facts being imparted and contextualize the purpose of specific components in the operation of locomotives. The accompanying interactive activities consist of a clothing stand with child-size locomotive engineer outfits for children to try on; a reading corner with books about trains and locomotives; train safety activity and colouring sheets; a flag-based game that educates visitors about rail-pedestrian communication and safety precautions; and a hand-cranked air engine model of a reciprocating piston that demonstrates how power is generated and implemented in a locomotive. The activities are designed to be flexible in terms of placement, aesthetically seamless to the exhibition space, and appropriately durable to withstand the rigors of child play.
Marketing and promotion for our exhibition have been provided by the Toronto Railway Museum and the University of Toronto iSchool. Our opening reception was hosted at the Toronto Railway Museum on May 10, 2019. We also promoted the exhibition on our personal social media accounts, and printed ‘train ticket’ postcards that were distributed to students and faculty throughout the iSchool building.
Feedback from the Toronto Railway Museum has been positive and encouraging, and they have been thoroughly supportive of our design choices thus far. Considering that our exhibition is intended to be a permanent addition to the museum’s offerings, long-term outcomes of our exhibit cannot be determined at this point in time.
We would like to thank Kelly Burwash, Derek Boles, and the staff and volunteers of the Toronto Railway Museum for allowing us to create this exhibition and for their continued assistance throughout the year. We would also like to express our gratitude to Wade Thompson, whose design skills ensured our interpretive material was presented at a high standard of quality. We offer thanks to our classmates for their helpful and constructive feedback throughout the project’s iterative planning and design. We are also grateful to Sabrina Greupner and Fotini Fokidis, Manager of the Weston Family Innovation Centre and Kidspark Coordinator at the Ontario Science Centre respectively. Their feedback enabled us to more effectively tailor our interactive activities to our intended audience and assess the feasibility of certain ideas. Finally, we would like to thank the course instructor, Matt Brower, whose guidance throughout the year ensured that our exhibition was a success.