A white full-length, lacey tea gown on a mannequin.
December 30, 2021

Dressed to Impress: The Art of Fitting Historic Textiles 

Dressed to Impress: The Art of Fitting Historic Textiles 

By Carolyn Sirett, Conservator, and Lee-Ann Blase, Conservation Volunteer 

We have all seen those lifeless mannequins looking sad and lonely in a store’s window front, longing for the next wardrobe change of a new season. Here at the Manitoba Museum we like to give our mannequins a bit more attention to detail compared to their retail cousins, what some might call, a full spa treatment! 

Humans are uniquely different from one another, and our clothing choices are also uniquely different, from size to shape to style. These human qualities are well represented in our historic textile collection, and when displaying these garments, every detail is assessed to ensure its preservation. 

Dressing a museum mannequin is the opposite of fitting a living person. Instead of fitting the clothes to the person, the mannequin is made to fit the clothes. Many of the mannequins we use at the Museum have been custom made by our conservation department using conservation-quality materials. We first begin by measuring the waist, chest, neck, arm, and leg lengths. The mannequin form is then either trimmed down, or padded out with polyester fibre to reach the required dimensions to properly support the clothing. 



Once the basic form is made and covered with a suitable fabric, we begin to dress the mannequin. This is where historic photographs are useful to see how the outfits were worn, and to bring a little more personality to our frozen foam bodies. Edith Rogers’ cotton-crocheted tea gown, displayed in the Winnipeg Gallery, is a good example of using research to determine the best fit. A tea gown bridges the gap between dress and undress as a corset is not worn with it. Research shows only an upper-class woman could have afforded this type of dress among their ball, dinner, reception, and afternoon dresses. 

A similar style dress from a 1913 Eaton’s of Toronto catalogue was used as a reference when building the mannequin for the Edith Rogers dress.

Image: Eaton’s Spring and Summer Catalogue, No. 106, 1913 

When this dress was chosen for display it first needed to be stabilized in the conservation lab with a fine net in the bodice and a few minor tear repairs. In order to make this garment appear as it would, we added a petticoat from the Museum’s collection to help support the textile. With the petticoat slipped over the custom form, then carefully sliding the dress on and using acid-free tissue to fill any gaps – voila – the tea gown was ready for exhibition. 

The last part of dressing a mannequin is in the finer details. The arms, hands, legs, waist, and head all need to be positioned. For the modern Pow Wow dancer in the renewed Prairies Gallery, the Curator wanted to evoke the idea that the mannequin is dancing, to look as if the mannequin is in-motion. When trying to imply movement, it can be difficult to balance the mannequin as a structure, but also to balance the preservation of the artifacts that are being displayed. 

On your next visit to the Museum, hopefully you are able to see some of these fabulously fitted forms. 

Conservator Carolyn Sirett adjusts the headdress of Pow Wow regalia on a mannequin in the conservation lab.

Making final adjustments to the mannequin in the conservation laboratory.

Image: © Manitoba Museum 

Intricate Pow Wow regalia on a mannequin posed to look as though it is mid-dance in a display case in the Prairies Gallery.

One of 22 custom mannequins created by Conservator Carolyn Sirett and installed in the new Prairies Gallery.

Image: © Manitoba Museum/Ian McCausland 

Carolyn Sirett

Meet the Conservation Team

Carolyn Sirett

Senior Conservator

Carolyn Sirett received her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba, Diploma in Cultural Resource Management from the University of Victoria, and Diploma in Collections Conservation and Management…
Meet Carolyn Sirett

How to Polish a Jellyfish

By Debbie Thompson, past Diorama and Collections Specialist 

More than 440 million years ago, during the Ordovician Period, northern Manitoba was at the edge of a sea near the equator. Among the many invertebrates that swam and lived in the salty waters were jellyfish. Their fossilized remains are the focus of ongoing research at the Museum.

After years of collecting, specific specimens were chosen to undergo a process called thin sectioning. This process creates ultra-thin slices of rock and fossil, supported by epoxy and glass slides. They are thin enough to allow light to pass through, revealing details about internal structures, which can then be studied using a microscope.

The fossils selected for this process can range in size from one to four centimeters in diameter. Every block is trimmed using a rock saw, so that the block will fit onto a glass slide.  The fossil surface then needs to be polished smooth and to an accurate scale in millimeters written on two sides of the block.

Five individual sitting and standing looking for fossils on a rocky outcropping with buckets and palaeontology tools at hand.

Palaeontologists and volunteers search for fossil jellyfish during Museum fieldwork. Image: © Manitoba Museum

A foil covered hot plate with three objects on it. With a red arrow pointing to it, on the left, is a fossil block, with foil peeled back from the top. WIth a purple arrow pointing to it, on the lower right, is a glass slide, and with a yellow arrow pointing to it, on the upper right, is a recycled yogurt container.

The red arrow points to the fossil block, note the scale (numbers written on sides of block).  The foil is peeled back to reveal the polished fossil surface. The purple arrow points to the glass slide, which has been polished so that epoxy glue will stick to it. The yellow arrow points to a container that is warming one part of a two-part epoxy. The hot plate heats up these components to aid in the even flow and setting of the epoxy. Image: © Manitoba Museum

A polished white fossil block from the side. On the top surface a specimen number is handwritten in black. On the short side a size scale is written in place showing 5-25 mm in increments of five.

Each slide is labeled with the data regarding that particular specimen. If too much epoxy is applied, it will flow over the edges and seep underneath the slide. Here the polished fossil surface has been epoxied to the glass slide. Image: © Manitoba Museum

A fossil block epoxied to a glass slide. A blue-gloved hand from out of frame scrapes the surface with a razor blade.

After the adhesive sets, but before it cures hard, any epoxy that seeped underneath is carefully scraped off using a razor blade, and solvent removes remaining residue. Image: © Manitoba Museum

A fossil block epoxied to a glass slide. A blue-gloved hand from out of frame polishes the surface with a small piece of light blue material.

Normally, a whole day will be spent just gluing the specimens onto the slides.  To help pass the time, it helps to listen to country music while doing this (although the Curator would strongly disagree with my choice of music). Image: © Manitoba Museum

A work station set up with various tools and equipment including earplugs, ear muffs, safety glasses, blue rubber gloves, a sponge, and a high-quality face mask.

Before starting the rock-cutting saw, the radio is turned off, much to the Curator’s delight! The thin section machine is noisy, creating the need for ear plugs and heavy-duty earmuffs.  Safety glasses are a must, guarding against stone chips.  The gloves protect the hands from being water logged for extended periods of time.  A mask is needed to prevent breathing in the water spray laden with sediment, as the water is recycled and gradually becomes dirtier the more it’s used.  The sponge is used to clean up the sludge that accumulates in the tray. Image: © Manitoba Museum

From out of frame a hand wearing a blue rubber glove holds a fossil specimen in place on a machine arm, near a saw blade. The saw is in a green, high-edged container, with murky water at the bottom.

The block is held on the thin section machine’s arm, and gently pushed into the saw. Very thick blocks will require several cuts from each side. Being extremely cautious, this could take me about 5 minutes to cut. Image: © Manitoba Museum

From out of frame a hand wearing a blue rubber glove holds a cut piece of a fossil specimen block. The remainder of the block is attached to the machine arm, near a saw blade. The saw is in a green, high-edged container, with murky water at the bottom.

The cut is finished. The glass slide with the thin slice of rock and fossil is still attached to the arm while I hold the remaining block. On both surfaces, the paler, circular fossil jellyfish can be seen. Image: © Manitoba Museum

A saw in a green, high-edged container with a blue blade on the left side, and an orange-ish blade on the right side.

The saw, with the cutting blade on the left and the polishing wheel on the right. The gauge in the middle indicates the thickness of the slide being polished. The slide will now be moved to the right-hand arm of the thin section machine, where it is polished on a diamond wheel. Image: © Manitoba Museum

Gloved fingers carefully holding the edges of a fossil slice.

The fossil has been cut and partially polished so thin that light begins to pass through it. It is nearly thin enough for microscopic study. The final hand polishing will be done by the Curator, using a slurry of fine grit on a glass plate. The slide is then placed in a protective envelope. In this example, the fossil is near the top left corner of the slide. Some of the internal features are a dark reddish colour, due to the presence of iron oxide. The faint pale outline is the edge of the jellyfish’s bell. Image: © Manitoba Museum

A fossil block laid on a metallic surface. The top fo the block is smooth from a fresh cut. On the short side is written a size scale, showing 5-25 mm in 5 mm increments.

The newly exposed cut surface is re-polished, and the whole process is repeated. Depending on how deep into the rock it goes, each block can yield 4 to 6 thin sections, creating thin slices that are just two millimetres apart. If a new fossil appears, we keep making thin sections. If the fossil disappears, one more slide is made to confirm that we have reached the end of sectioning for that specimen. Image: © Manitoba Museum

A thinnly slices fossil specimen with light shining through from behind. A jellyfish bell is in the centre.

Light passes through a finished thin section, revealing such intricate details as the rust coloured internal canals (due to the presence of iron oxide), and the margin of the bell with faint traces of its tentacles around the outer edges. Ruler is in millimetres. Image: © Manitoba Museum

After sectioning, the slide is scanned on a photographic flatbed scanner. A computer program then digitally assembles the thin section photos for each jellyfish to generate a 3-D image of the body, including internal structures and in some cases, tentacles.

Glass Menageries

A wood and glass parlour case containing several dozen preserved animal specimens posed around a tree branch and ground reconstruction.

Amongst the many and varied Natural History Collections at the Manitoba Museum, is a most unusual collection of ‘cases’. These unique display cases of glass panels held together by dark varnished wood frames, are commonly known as parlour cases. The contents combine the artistry of fabricating faux habitats, with the expertise of creating life-like mounts through taxidermy. Some are as small as to only contain a single mounted Least Weasel, others are several feet tall, and may contain dozens of birds and mammals.

Parlour cases became highly popularized during the Victorian era, from about the early to mid 1800s into the early 1900s. This was a heightened time in the discovery of the natural world, and also coincided with, and was stimulated by, the great scientific exploration voyages of Darwin, and his contemporaries. Parlour cases were born out of this time of fascination and the desire to collect and display specimens.

It was commonplace to display these cases in the reception parlours of well-to-do households, thus the name. Owning and displaying these in your private collection reflected on their owners as having attained a certain level of good taste, intellect, and an aire of affluence; “parlour cred” if you will.


A true menagerie – this beautiful example of a traditional parlour case was donated to the Museum in 1973. Image: © Manitoba Museum, MM 3-6-501 to 3-6-532

However, displaying taxidermy mounts was a practice not only reserved for the rich. They were also displayed in schools for educational purposes, and in the houses of commoners, possibly to demonstrate hunting prowess, or as an attempt to be perceived as affluent.

A wood and glass display case containing a pair of Woodcocks, tawny birds with long thin beaks.

This very simply prepared case of Woodcocks was possibly a grade school project – see label “Presented by Dudley Fraser”, date unknown. Image: © Manitoba Museum, MM 3-6-5578, 5579

Early taxidermists were indeed artists and masters of many trades. Expert taxidermists of the time would have been in demand and could command high prices for commissioned work. Not only would they need to know the techniques involved to properly preserve the skin, but they must also have knowledge of anatomy, and aspects of animal behavior. It is extremely difficult to obtain the exact correct posture, or facial expression to match the particular theme of the case, whether it be animals at ease, or reconstructing a predator-prey scenario.

A blue jay specimen posed on a tree branch with wings partially extended and head tilted up with open beak.

Excellent taxidermy of a Blue Jay that mimics John J. Audubon’s artistic vision. Image: © Manitoba Museum, MM 3-6-476

An artist's drawing of two blue jays on a tree branch. The lower of the two birds is posed with wings partially extended and head tilted up with open beak.

Plate 102, from John James Audubon’s Birds of America (1827-1838). Image: National Audubon Society

Knowledge of ecosystems must also be appreciated. For example, which animals and plants would actually be found together in the same habitat, or even in the same season. This knowledge and skill executed in taxidermy scenes, and even the large dioramas in our museum, makes for a highly believable portrayal.

However, some of parlour cases ignored that concept of realism out-right and had mounts of birds and/or mammals that would never have seen each other in a given day, or even in a lifetime.

A bull elk is situated in a parkland habitat full of grasses, herbs, shrubs and trembling aspen trees in the fall at the Birdtail Valley in Riding Mountain National Park.

Expertly prepared life mount of an Elk. This diorama in the Museum’s Parklands Gallery depicts rutting season in Riding Mountain National Park. Image: © Manitoba Museum

A wood and glass parlour case containing a Goshawk specimen standing over its prey, a Vesper sparrow, in a snowy landscape.

Goshawk with Vesper Sparrow prey is an example of two species that might not encounter each other in a North American winter. Image: © Manitoba Museum, MM 3-6-534, 536

Recently, we had to move our entire collection of large parlour cases from where they were stored in our main collections storage vault. Long tracks of ducting were being installed for the new environmental control unit, and we wanted these far from any danger. We took advantage of this move to inspect, photograph, clean, repair (if necessary), and ensure the database information was complete for each one of these large, fragile cases. The taxidermy specimens, faux substrate, glass panels, and the wood framing were expertly cleaned and repaired by the Museum’s conservator Carolyn Sirett.

Two photographs of the same parlour case side-by-side. In the photo on the left, the glass is opaque and white masking tape holds the front panel in place. On the right the glass and case are clean and the tape has been removed.

Before conservation treatment photograph on the left shows the old masking tape “holding” the glass panel in place, and the after conservation treatment photograph on the right shows a much improved parlour case that has been cleaned and repaired. Image: © Manitoba Museum, Parlour Case #3

A close-up on an ermine specimen with teeth bared.

During conservation treatment, the cases were also tested for the presence of arsenic. We were not surprised to find that many of the specimens tested positive.  Now that specimens have been identified, we take extra precautions when we have to handle them, such as wearing gloves and masks.

Arsenic was a common and favoured compound used by taxidermists from the late 1700s to at least the 1980s.  Eventually its use was banned due to its high toxicity to humans. It was prepared as an arsenical soap, and applied to the inside of prepared skins that not only preserved the skin, but also provided protection of the mount from insect damage.  This is the reason why so many of the old taxidermy mounts have survived in such splendid condition!


GUILTY! Ermine mount tested positive for arsenic! Image: © Manitoba Museum, MM 24116

Janis Klapecki

Janis Klapecki

Collections Management Specialist – Natural History

Janis Klapecki obtained a B.Sc. from the University of Manitoba, specializing in Zoology and Botany. She also holds a certificate in Managing Natural History Collections from the University of Victoria, BC. Janis retired from the Manitoba Museum in January 2024….
Meet Janis Klapecki

The Story of a Book: A Conservation Tale of Repair

As a repository for over 2.8 million artifacts and specimens, the Manitoba Museum possesses a collection that is made up of pretty much everything and anything you can imagine! One of the more humble artifacts that you might not think of in the museum’s collection, and one that is of practical use in everyday lives, are books. I personally only thought of books as the stories or information that was contained within, until two years ago, when a particular book came across my workbench. 

In the summer of 2018, a very excited Dr. Roland Sawatzky, Curator of History,  came into the conservation lab with a very large and heavy book in his hands. It was a Brown’s Bible, that belonged to Reverend John Black. I won’t delve into the specifics of John Black but will mention that his story is tied to the early beginnings of the Red River Settlement around 1851. 

When Dr. Sawatzky brought the Bible into the conservation lab, it was in very poor condition. Perhaps a sign of its dedicated use and a symbol of how far it has travelled both in time and distance. The coverboards were falling off, the spine was torn and abraded, numerous sections of pages were loose as well as heavily soiled and damaged. Chosen to be displayed in the new Prairies Gallery, opening in the fall of 2020, it would need a lot of love and care to ensure its safe display.

In January of 2019, I began to dissect the Bible, knowing the repair would take a few months. Books are interesting objects to work on because they are all created differently depending on their age. Binding structures, sewing methods, the type of glue used, printing methods, and machinery all play an important role in telling the history of these otherwise mute objects. The Brown’s Bible is an excellent example of this, in telling a larger narrative based on how it was made rather than the person who owned it or the written text. 

 The repair began with taking a large portion of the Bible apart. Loose pages were removed, the front and back cover boards were taken off, including cutting the spine. This was a frightening feeling for someone who is used to repairing damage, not creating more! From there, about one hundred of the loose pages were mechanically cleaned, washed, flattened, dried, and repaired. Did I say washed? Yes, that is correct. A small “secret” in conservation is that paper can be washed, but inks are first checked for solubility and we make sure the paper fibers can handle the process. 

Two photos side-by-side. On the left, large, loose pages of the Brown's Bible are in three stacks on a table next to a fine bush. On the right, padded weights are placed around the edges of a page lying on a table to flatten it.

Loose pages were mechanically cleaned (left) and repaired once washed and flattened (right). Image: © Manitoba Museum, H9-4-973 

Two photos side-by-side. On the left, looking down on the spine of the Brown’s Bible with a torn section along the left side. The torn off section is lying beside the rest of the spine. On the right, the repaired spine in one piece.

To repair the spine of the bible, a cast was made and the detached piece was adhered back into position. Image: © Manitoba Museum, H9-4-973 

Two photos side-by-side. On the left, slices of gellan gum laying along the covered spine of the Brown’s Bible as it’s held in a vice. On the right, Conservator Carolyn Sirett uses her finger to apply some adhesive to the re-sewn spine of the Brown’s Bible, as it’s held flat and still on a table under padded weights.

Removing old adhesive from the original spine with gellan gum (left), and Carolyn consolidating re-sewn spine with adhesive (right). Image: © Manitoba Museum 

While the pages were drying, the front and back coverboards were worked on. These were cleaned, humidified and the leather re-adhered into the original position.  The spine was the trickiest part of the whole piece, in that the original cloth used to hold the coverboards to the text block was too weak and a new cast had to be made for the spine to go on. Small details such as the paper raised bands on the spine are telling signs of the type of intricate details the original bookbinder put into his craft. 

After about 8 months of work, the finale to this treatment was nearing. The old adhesive on the spine was removed, the cleaned pages were re-sewn and coverboards were ready to be attached.  Looking at this book now, as it hopefully resembles what it once did over two-hundred years ago, I am excited to see it showcased in the new gallery for others to learn not only who owned it, but how it was made and the story behind its repair. 

Two photos side-by-side. On the top, looking at the spine of the Brown’s Bible as it lies flat. The book is worn and falling apart, with the cover torn and peeling. On the bottom, the Brown’s Bible after conservation treatment, still looking its age, but now intact and lying flat.

Spine of the Bible before and after conservation treatment.

Image: © Manitoba Museum, H9-4-973 

Carolyn Sirett

Meet the Conservation Team

Carolyn Sirett

Senior Conservator

Carolyn Sirett received her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba, Diploma in Cultural Resource Management from the University of Victoria, and Diploma in Collections Conservation and Management…
Meet Carolyn Sirett

Revamping Madam Taro’s Room

With changes happening throughout the museum, we sometimes find opportunities to update existing exhibits and breathe new life into old favourites. Last spring, when our temporary exhibition about the Winnipeg General Strike, Strike 1919: Divided City, was installed in our Urban Gallery and the entire gallery received beautiful, new mannequins, I jumped at the chance to revamp one of my favourite exhibits – Madam Taro’s room.

Looking down onto the surface of a table where four tarot cards are laid out surrounding a face-down deck: the Emperor, the High Priestess, the Lovers, and Temperance. At the bottom a hand holds a yet-to-be-placed card: the Tower. To the right of the cards is a small ashtray and cigarette holder.

Depending on who you talk to, Madam Taro is a mysterious fortune teller from the old country or a woman earning her living working in the oldest profession. I’m inclined to believe the latter, but I appreciate her ingenuity in maintaining a ruse for decency’s sake. In a nod to her name, we swapped out her “crystal ball” (a glass orb) for a set of tarot cards we have in our collection, a reprint of a tarot deck from 1910, so they fit our time period perfectly. We laid the cards out as if she’s giving a reading, with her ashtray and cigarette holder at hand. We also added a decanter and glasses, in case any of her gentleman callers fancy a drink.


Madam Taro is ready to read your tarot card. Image: © Manitoba Museum, H9-30-731

From there, I decided which pieces should be removed from the room; some based on aesthetics (or the vibe, for my younger readers), others because they weren’t in keeping with the time period. We kept the majority of the furniture and bedding in the exhibit, but put most of the “dressings” like pictures, doilies, garments, and knickknacks back into storage. In their place, I wanted to feature objects that one might find in a woman’s bedroom – make up, nail polish, brushes, hairpins, perfumes, and powders. Thankfully, our collection is chockful of beautiful examples of personal care items from the early 20th century, so I had a lot of selection. The existing wardrobe is staged with the door ajar to give visitors a peek at some clothing, shoes, and accessories from our collection.

A wood dressing table with three levels. Each has a doily on it and various personal items including make up, a brush, perfume, and a jewelry box.

Madam Taro’s dressing table adorned with her personal items. Image: © Manitoba Museum

Close up view at a portion of a dressing table. Laid out on a daily are a hairbrush, comb, and hair-pick, as well as several creams and powders.

Close-up of Madam Taro’s personal items. Image: © Manitoba Museum

The main decorative addition to the space is the group of hand fans our talented conservator mounted and hung on the wall as art. This feature complements an existing parasol, feather boa, and astrological chart already decorating the room. We also added a gramophone to the space, along with a few records – and even though you can’t read the labels from the door, I made sure to pick records of the period: for instance, foxtrots by Coleman’s Orchestra, “I’m Coming Back to Dixie and You” by the Peerless Quartet, and “In the Hills of Old Kentucky” by Campbell and Burr.

The less romantic but essential elements of the space include a pitcher and basin for Madam Taro to use for washing up or bathing, and finally, the all-important chamber pot tucked under her nightstand. Her room may have included shared washroom and toilet facilities if any at all, so the chamber pot would come in handy for middle of the night relief.

The most striking change in this exhibit is the new Madam Taro; instead of faceless forms, our new mannequins are lifelike, lending to the story of each exhibit. In this case, we wanted a mannequin who was culturally ambiguous and slightly older, someone who has worked long enough to establish herself and afford the “luxuries” I wanted to showcase in her room. Selecting a head made me feel like I was Princess Mombi in the movie Return to Oz, to be honest! The face we chose has a sympathetic expression with eyes that I feel have a bit of sadness behind them – or like she’s tired after a long day at…the office.

All of these elements – the artifacts, the new mannequin, the staging – work together to create a narrative of a woman working and living in Winnipeg in the 1920s.  Next time you’re visiting the Manitoba Museum, make sure you stop by Madam Taro’s for a reading…and maybe more!

The new mannequin helps to give Madam Taro her personality and enliven the exhibit. Image: © Manitoba Museum
A bedroom. A mannequin of a woman from behind wearing a robe and ruff is seated at a small table with tarot cards laid out on it near a bay window. On the right side of the room is a small neatly-made bed with a quilt folded along the foot. A wardrobe is in the corner across from the centre of frame.
Cortney Pachet

Cortney Pachet

Collections Technician – Human History

Cortney Pachet started working at the Manitoba Museum in 2001 as a tour guide while earning her a BA (Honours) from the University of Winnipeg. She quickly realized that she wanted a career in museums…
Meet Cortney Pachet

Fowlie Collection Homecoming

Throughout its history, the Hudson’s Bay Company had a tradition of recruiting young men from Scotland to serve as clerks, traders, and labourers in its North American posts, offering both adventure and security of employment. Housing and basic needs were covered, but luxuries like sugar, tea, tobacco, and brandy were bought from the post by the men themselves and deducted from their wages. Commerce didn’t stop at the four walls of the post; these men frequently acquired handmade objects from Indigenous women in the communities they lived in, both for their personal use and to send home as gifts for loved ones. Since arriving at the Manitoba Museum, the Hudson’s Bay Company Museum Collection has received donations of these objects from former HBC employees and their descendants, highlighting the skilled work of Indigenous women across Canada. By and large, unfortunately, we lack information on these artisans and turn to our collection for answers – using other objects with similar breading or embroidery styles and techniques that have more robust records, we can often identify which cultures or communities may have produced specific objects.

In the summer of 2018, we received a package from Scotland, full of objects, photographs, and documents that told the story of an HBC employee in northern Manitoba in the 1920s. By the 1920s, HBC was more rigorous in their recruiting process. As opposed to “just showing up” like days of yore, men needed to present personal and professional references and pass a physical examination before being offered a contract. Our new acquisition had all these documents and more…but who was this intrepid young Scot that sailed across the Atlantic to the unknown?

Sephia-toned photograph of a man seated outside, leaning against a building with his legs drawn up, with a pipe in his mouth.

Born May 25, 1902 in Aberdeen, Scotland, George Fowlie lost his father at a young age. After finishing school at Robert Gordon’s College in 1917, he worked at North of Scotland and Town & Country Bank. In 1923, when he entered into service on a five-year contract with the Hudson’s Bay Company as an apprentice clerk at York Factory in HBC’s Nelson River District. We have no concrete evidence as to why Fowlie decided to join HBC or leave the bank; his references were glowing- but his daughter suggested that he was single and looking for adventure. Fowlie made the most of his time at York Factory. He traded his desk job for a cariole and dog whip as Fowlie worked with dog sled teams, creating strong bonds with his canine colleagues. He also formed a tight knit community with his fellow Scotsmen, enjoying music played on the gramophone and partaking in the culture of York Factory, which include socializing and working with the Indigenous community in the area.


George Fowlie in York Factory. Image: © Manitoba Museum, HBC 018-84

Fowlie documented his experiences and the people at York Factory through photography, including his work mates, his dogs, himself playing with local children and sharing a laugh with young women in front of the Anglican Church.

These candid images of HBC employees, local Indigenous peoples and the buildings and landscape also give us a rare glimpse at HBC’s working class and a real idea of what life was like for the community at York Factory.

Three men and a child sit outdoors against the outer wall of a building, wearing hats and coats, along with three seated dogs.

George Fowlie and friends with his canine companions, York Factory. Image: © Manitoba Museum, HBC 018-76

Sepia-toned photograph of a group of men and women standing outside of a wooden church building. The women are wearing light coloured dresses and hats, and the men are wearing suits and hats. A few in the group are smiling or laughing.

A gathering outside the Anglican church in York Factory. Image: © Manitoba Museum, HBC 018-107

A sepia toned photograph of three men and a child smiling at the camera. They are standing indoors, with shelves stocked with supplies behind them, and a laundry line of mitts, boot liners, and other clothing items hanging from the ceiling above them.

George Folwie and colleagues, York Factory. Image: © Manitoba Museum, HBC 018-76

Fowlie also carefully preserved the beloved handmade objects he likely acquired from Cree or Métis women during his tenure at the post –some that he used in his everyday life such as moccasins and gauntlet gloves and some that he sent back to Scotland as gifts for his mother, a number of wall pockets and a beaded belt.

An intricately beaded belt with a light coloured base and colourful beaded flowers.

Beaded belt. Image: © Manitoba Museum, HBC 018-28

An embroidered wall pocket with dark green edging and colourful floral embroidery on the tan hide of the middle portions.

Embroidered wall pocket. Image: © Manitoba Museum, HBC 018-33

A pair of worn light tan gauntlet gloves with flower and berry beadwork on the backs of the hand and wrist portion, and a fringe along the outside of the wrist.

Gauntlet gloves. Image: © Manitoba Museum, HBC 018-25

Upon leaving the HBC, Fowlie returned to Scotland and worked as a chauffeur until WWII. Following his service in WWII as clerk in the Royal Air Force, he married Madge Briggs and had daughter Marjorie in 1947. When Fowlie passed away in 1985, his HBC collection was passed down to Marjorie, who appreciated the historical significance of her father’s objects. She decided to donate the collection to the Manitoba Museum, but not before making a quick stop on Antiques Roadshow to showcase these beautiful pieces, and allowing them to be researched and exhibited by the University of Aberdeen. Thanks to George Fowlie and his family’s care, these objects have officially made their Manitoba homecoming.

Cortney Pachet

Cortney Pachet

Collections Technician – Human History

Cortney Pachet started working at the Manitoba Museum in 2001 as a tour guide while earning her a BA (Honours) from the University of Winnipeg. She quickly realized that she wanted a career in museums…
Meet Cortney Pachet

Monumental Moves: Sweating over Big Artifacts (Part 2)

It’s time for the sweaty part of the blog – not the panicky sweating type of emotion I first experienced when large fragile artifacts were being transported all over the city – but literally sweaty in the sense that big artifacts get your muscles moving prepping them for exhibition. Our first workout began after the stained glass window was delivered to Prairie Studio Glass for its complete restoration. Prairie Studio undertook the joyful task of dismantling the entire window, which started with making a template and numbering over 300 pieces of glass. Next, the components were taken out of the original wood frame and piece by piece placed into containers. That’s when the conservation team decided to join in on the fun and help scrub 100-year-old putty and dirt off each individual piece. After three and a half hours, and only a small section of the puzzle back together, Conservation Technician Loren Rudisuela and I decided we would leave the rest up to Prairie Studio Glass staff. 

A large section of the stained glass window on a flat surface. To the left, gloved hands of someone out of frame are removing pieces of glass from the came.

Removing the glass pieces from the old lead came.

Image: Prairie Studio Glass 

The second time the Loren and I went back to the studio was to help squish new putty in-between the lead came after the pieces were put back together in their new frame. This was a lot of elbow and thumb grease to make sure everything would be secured. A few weeks later and the big day arrived for the window to be installed into its new wall niche, again making me sweat a little more watching it being hoisted about fifteen feet in the air after having it painstakingly restored. But everything went according to plan and you can now see this amazing artifact on display in our new Winnipeg Gallery! 

Conservator Carolyn Sirett (left) and Conservation Technician Loren Rudisuela (right) working either side of a work bench, putting putty onto the new lead came of a large stained glass window.

Carolyn and Loren putting putty into the new lead came. Image: Prairie Studio Glass 

Three individuals supporting and lifting a large stained glass window up to a hole the shape of the window near the top of the wall in front of them.

Installing restored window into the new gallery. Image: © Manitoba Museum 

Two photos side-by-side. On the left, an adult and child walk hand in hand towards a doorway leading into the Winnipeg 1920 Cityscape. Above the doorway is a large half-circle stained glass window. On the right, two adults with a child between them stand facing a doorway leading into the Winnipeg 1920 Cityscape, looking up at the half-circle stained glass window above the doorway.

Restored stained glass window now on exhibition in the new Winnipeg Gallery. Images: © Manitoba Museum / Ian McCausland 

Another big workout was prepping the Eaton’s lintel for its debut and installation. Architectural features are beautiful to look at, however harsh outdoor environments can really change the finish to some of the materials. For our Eaton’s lintel, the visible deterioration was mainly on the brass components where years of oxidation, rain, snow … lots of snow … and pollution left a layer of thick corrosion along the surface. Once again, we rolled up our sleeves and spent several days scrubbing off the corrosion. 

Conservator Carolyn Sirett and Conservation Technician Loren Rudisuela, both wearing face masks, sit or kneel on the ground working on the brass edging the limestone lintel laid out on the floor in front of them.

Carolyn and Loren cleaning the brass on the Eaton’s lintel.

Image: © Manitoba Museum 

Another added touch to the treatment included making a replica rosette for one that was missing. Installing this artifact was a monumental feat on its own as it required careful lifting, mounting and engineered bracketing in order to ensure its long-term preservation. Now in its new home, I think I can finally put down the workout towel for a little bit – until the next big artifact rolls into the lab. 

A limestone lintel framing a projector screen in the Manitoba Museum Winnipeg Gallery.

Eaton’s lintel installed in the new Winnipeg Gallery.

Image: © Manitoba Museum / Ian McCausland 

Carolyn Sirett

Carolyn Sirett

Senior Conservator

Carolyn Sirett received her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba, Diploma in Cultural Resource Management from the University of Victoria, and Diploma in Collections Conservation and Management…
Meet Carolyn Sirett

Dioramas: Where Science Meets Art

Post by Debbie Thompson, Diorama and Collections Technician


Dioramas are incredible works of “science meets art”. Planning the layout, construction, and content often takes years, with a tremendous amount of research and collaboration with curators, diorama artists, carpenters, and electricians. Volunteers are also a vital part of the making of dioramas; they take on the mammoth task of hand painting individual leaves. But what happens after the fanfare of the grand opening? What happens as time passes by? There are just a few people to keep a close eye on them, monitoring them for insects, rodents, dust, and repairs.

As Diorama and Collections Technician, I am one of those people. One of my main tasks is the maintenance and repair of the dioramas. Many people, of all ages, want to know if what they see in a diorama is real or not. The temptation to reach in and just test a blade of grass, flower, or a leaf on a tree is enticing. Sometimes, damages occur as a result. Then it’s time for repairs.

Along the fence of the rye field diorama is a thin section of prairie. All the tall grasses and flowers are within reach of visitors, and over time, the combination of accidental and intentional handling had led to the degradation of this section of the diorama. What was once a tall grass prairie has been beaten down to a matted mass of broken, unrecognizable stems.

Knowing where to collect the plant materials, receiving permission to collect in that area, ensuring what I’m collecting isn’t endangered nor threatened, and then processing the plant materials to preserve them is only the first step in repairing the damage. Once the plant material is preserved, its original colours have faded, so the plants must be painted “back to life”. Before the plants were even picked, detailed notes on colour are taken so when the plant is painted, it resembles its living counterpart.

Once the plant materials are painted, then it’s time for the repairs.

A portion of diorama base covered in broken stalks of grass and prairie flowers.

This piece of the diorama has been removed from along the fence that is easily accessible to visitors. The foam base had been painted a dirt colour, and originally it had clumps of tall grasses and flowers.  But now, the plant material lies broken. © Manitoba Museum

The same protion of diorama as the previous image, but the ground layer is more bare. Three green arrows point out particular clumps.

I removed all the broken grasses and stems, revealing a few of the original stumps of grass clumps (green arrows). However, these clumps cannot be reused and so must be removed. © Manitoba Museum

The same portion of diorama base as the previous two image, now looking even barer. In places the white ethafoam base is visible through the surrounding ground and grass areas, signified with yellow arrows. Propped up at the back of the piece are a flathead screwdriver and a hammer.

All the grass clumps are removed with a hammer and chisel (yellow arrows). Not only would it look unnatural to have broken grass clumps, but a level surface to work with is needed for the repairs. The exposed white ethafoam will have to be painted back to a “dirt” colour. © Manitoba Museum

The same diorama portion as the previous three images on a countertop from the side. The white portions of foam have been painted to match the dirt (signified by a blue arrow), and in an aluminum tray sits several clumps of grasses (signified with an orange arrow).

Here you can see that the exposed ethafoam has been painted a dirt colour and then allowed to dry (blue arrow). In the aluminum trays is a special solution that the grasses are soaking in (orange arrow). The soaked grass clumps are placed in the chiseled out areas. When the solution dries, it dries clear and hard, cementing the grass clumps in place. This will in time have to be removed the same way, with hammer and chisel, as damages build up. © Manitoba Museum

The repaired piece of diorama ground from the previous four images. The portion now has upright specimens of Little Blue stem grass (signified with a purple arrow), Stipa grass (green arrow), and Slender Goldenrod flowers (two grey arrows).

Here is a newly repaired section of prairie, with Little Blue Stem (purple arrow ), Stipa (another type of prairie grass, green arrow) and Slender Goldenrod flowers (grey arrows). Extra dirt was placed between the newly installed grasses, with sun bleached grass debris sprinkled over top. © Manitoba Museum

From start to finish, this one piece took just over 2 hours to repair. In all, there were 9 pieces that had to be repaired in this fashion.

Many of the dioramas are composed of real, once living plant materials that have been responsibly harvested and preserved using different chemicals and techniques. Examples of these types of plants include the aspens in the rye field and elk dioramas and mosses and spruces in the  Boreal Gallery. However, the green, living looking plants are made of plastic, such as the many plant species in the wolf den diorama. And then there are combinations, like a real stem but plastic flowers, such as the Black-Eyed Susans in the rye field diorama.

I hope this blog gives you a better understanding of what goes into maintaining the dioramas at the Manitoba Museum.

Monumental Moves: Sweating over Big Artifacts (Part 1)

If you want to see the blood pressure rise in a conservator, display really big, historically significant, breakable objects at least ten feet off the ground. It’s the next phase in our Bringing Our Stories Forward capital gallery renewal project, and the conservation team has moved to treating artifacts for the Winnipeg Gallery set to open in the fall of 2019. The objects going on display are not only monumental in size, but genuine monuments from some of the city’s most iconic architectural buildings. 

Remember the second old city hall? For anyone born after 1962, probably not, as this was the year the building was demolished. But that’s OK! Before the wrecking ball came crashing down to make way for the new modern city hall, the Manitoba Museum was given two large stained glass windows that stood above the main entryways. These beautiful stained glass objects measure approximately nine feet wide by four feet tall and weigh a little over 100 pounds. Being so large, and obviously fragile in nature, you can see why a conservator, who repairs artifacts daily, becomes hesitant when they are handed design drawings of one of these windows being displayed above the entrance to the new Winnipeg Gallery. 

So what’s the big deal? No matter the size, all artifacts are prone to deterioration. The issue that was assessed for our chosen window is that over the last one hundred years the glass on the window has begun to slump and a visible concave shape has formed in the object, as well as several cracks and some areas of loss. In order to reverse this damage, we teamed up with Prairie Studio Glass who will help us with the restoration process. The first big step was moving the nine foot wide window from our basement storage, to the loading dock, onto a trailer, and safely transported to Prairie Studio Glass’s workshop twelve blocks away where they can begin to dismantle each piece before putting it back together again – did I mention that this all needed to be done without causing more damage? 

Three individuals moving a large half-circle stained glass window onto a wheeled cart.

Moving the stained glass window out of basement storage. © Manitoba Museum 

Conservator Carolyn Sirett and Conservation Technician Loren Rudisuela standing smiling at the camera behind a large half-circle stained glass window on wooden supports. The stained glass has a City of Winnipeg crest in the middle.

A very excited conservation team that we made it all the way to the loading dock. © Manitoba Museum 

Large half-circle stained glass window propped up on wooden supports in front of a window. The stained glass features a City of Winnipeg crest in the middle framed by a green wreath.

Stained glass window successfully transported to Prairie Studio Glass’s workshop. © Manitoba Museum 

Our second big artifact preparation is what we like to call the Eaton’s lintel. This structure once resided on Portage Avenue as part of the exterior facade of the downtown Eaton’s department store (1905 – 2003), which after demolition became the home of our beloved Winnipeg Jets. Spanning seventeen feet in length, weighing approximately 5,000 pounds, composed of 17 separate limestone blocks, and three brass fixtures, it is the largest and heaviest artifact going into the new gallery. Currently located in our off-site storage facility, groundwork for this object will include construction of an engineered mount to support the weight of stones, pre-assembly of all the pieces (to make sure everything fits!) and general cleaning of the limestone and brass surfaces. 

Four individuals lining up a metal support beam along the edge of a limestone facade lined up in several large pieces on the ground.

Beginning to piece the lintel together in our off-site storage facility.

© Manitoba Museum 


Once this is complete the lintel will be moved to the Museum, carted across the galleries, and installed in its new home. Again, a lot of moving around here! 

Several individuals standing and crouching around the pieces of the Eaton’s lintel and metal support beam in a storage space. Conservator Carolyn Sirett is turned, facing the camera, grinning.

How many architects, engineers, and museum staff does it take to build a mount for a 5,000 pound artifact? © Manitoba Museum 

No matter the size of the artifact, as a conservator we are always up for the challenge of preserving our biggest or littlest objects. Stay tuned for part two of this blog which will capture some of the treatment work performed on both of these monumental pieces. 

Carolyn Sirett

Meet the Conservation Team

Carolyn Sirett

Senior Conservator

Carolyn Sirett received her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba, Diploma in Cultural Resource Management from the University of Victoria, and Diploma in Collections Conservation and Management…
Meet Carolyn Sirett

Lesser Known Manitoba Botanists (Part 1)

Post by Karen Sereda, Collections Registration Associate (Natural History)


The incredible diversity of the Museum’s herbarium can only be credited to the dedicated collectors of botanical specimens, both modern and historical. Recently, while updating some herbarium specimens, I came across some plants in our collection dating from the early part of the 20th century. The importance of these specimens cannot be emphasized enough, as many of them come from locations that are no longer the same as when these collectors visited them. The stories of many of these early Manitoba collectors are fascinating.

John Macoun

John Macoun immigrated with his family to Canada from Ireland in 1850. Being unsatisfied with farming, John took up teaching in 1856 and developed an obsessive interest in botany. Although he had little formal education he became a Professor of Botany and Geology in Ontario in 1868, and in 1872 was recruited for railway surveys in the west. Due largely to his efforts, natural history came to be regarded as an important aspect of these surveys.

John published extensively, and his 1882 publication “Manitoba and the Great North-west” was wildly popular. It was as a botanical field naturalist, however, that Macoun’s abilities shone.

He was able to recognize new plant forms at first sight, and discovered many new species. Many of these were named after him using the specific epithet macounii.

John Macoun’s autobiography was published in 1922 by the Ottawa Field-Naturalists Club; it has now been digitized. Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson also highlighted John Macoun in one of her blogs.

Formal photograph of an older man with a long beard looking off to the side.

John Macoun in 1891. Image: McCord Museum

A screenshot of a catalogue entry of a botanical specimen with the sections for name of plant, date collected, location collection, and collector name pointed out.

Screenshots of the catalogue entries of a botanical specimen (31715) collected by John Macoun in 1879 in Manitoba © Manitoba Museum.

Close up on a Herbarium specimen catalogue entry with the specimen name Ranunculus macounii.

Catalogued Ranunculus macounii (6348) specimen © Manitoba Museum.

William Alfred Burman

In 1875, William Alfred Burman was persuaded to immigrate to Canada at the age of 18. He studied theology and the natural sciences at university, and in 1880 was sent by the Anglican church to Griswold, now the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, to teach and establish a mission.

While there, he became fluent in and wrote about the language of the Dakotas. As well, he helped to found the Forestry and Horticultural Association of Manitoba which still promotes horticulture on the prairies. Burman later returned to Winnipeg to lecture in botany and biblical literature, plus act as the steward and bursar for St. John’s College at the University of Manitoba. He had a high opinion of both John Macoun and Norman Criddle (to be discussed in Part 2), two amateur, yet extremely competent botanists. Burman was an avid nature lover, and was also an examiner in botany at the University of Manitoba for many years.

Black and white formal photograph of a middle aged man with a trimmed beard and somewhat stern facial expression.

William A. Burman. Source.

Faintly sepia-toned photograph of a tall rectangular building in an open field with a three sided staircase leading to the front door, and a small bell tower at the top.

Griswold School near Brandon, Manitoba where W.A. Burman taught. Source.

Reginald Buller

Reginald Buller was an eccentric man. Although he went by Reginald, his full name was actually Arthur Henry Reginald Buller.

He was hired by the University of Manitoba in 1904, and the Buller Building is named after him. One of the first six science professors, he taught botany and mycology, and was a prolific researcher.

A perpetual bachelor despite the interests of various women, he never owned a house in Winnipeg, but lived in various downtown hotels his 40 years in Manitoba. Buller was a serious billiards player, and also wrote poetry. He especially enjoyed writing limericks such as this one he based on Einstein’s theory of relativity.

There was a young lady named Bright,
Whose speed was far faster than light.
She set out one day,
In a relative way,
And returned home the previous night.

Formal black and white photograph of a man with neatly arranged hair and a kempt moustache wearing a three-piece suit.

A.H. Reginald Buller in 1904.

A large four-storey building built of light-coloured stone, with snow covering the grounds in front of it.

Today’s Buller Building at the University of Manitoba. © Manitoba Museum.

If you are interested in more information about Buller,  you can read this article by Dr. Gordon Goldsborough.


Part 2 features the next generation of Manitoba botanists; Norman Criddle, Charles W. Lowe, and Margaret G. Dudley.