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The Smell of History

It's fairly obvious based on my current job and previous work experience that I love all things old.  I love the smell of old books, antique furniture, and apparently historic sites.

One of the goals for my recent trip to York Factory National Historic Site was to capture the site for our visitors with a videography team, but in the planning it seems I forgot about the other senses.

A lot of people have asked me about my trip and whether or not York Factory lived up to my expectations.  I am happy to report that it exceeded my expectations, and in ways that I hadn't really considered.  Yes, the site is visually impressive and completely captivating but what really struck me was the smell of York Factory.

What does York Factory smell like?  It smells like history!  Each floor of the Depot had a different smell, and none of them bad (somewhat surprising considering that this particular structure has been standing for 177 years!).  The main floor had an earthy smell, not musty but the cooler air at ground level made it feel like you were still outside.

The saleshop (converted from storage in the 1930s).

The saleshop (converted from storage in the 1930s).

The second floor was my favourite, the wood walls seemed to glow in the sunlight and it smelled warm and cozy.  The rooms on the second floor were used for storing trade goods and it's almost as if you can smell the goods themselves.  Little maps show visitors what the rooms used to contain, and my absolute favourite room apparently used to store salt, sugar, and liquor (three things I enjoy!).

 

Looking out over the tables of artefacts you can see the warm glow of the walls and all the bright light from the windows. I wish you could smell it.

Looking out over the tables of artefacts you can see the warm glow of the walls and all the bright light from the windows. I wish you could smell it!

Parks Canada placed these neat maps on each floor so visitors can see each room's purpose.

Parks Canada placed these neat maps on each floor so visitors can see each room's purpose.

The third floor felt a bit like a cabin, but it lacked the same warm and cozy smell of the second floor.  From the third floor you can head up through a small attic area and step into the cupola (a look-out on top of the depot), which might be the only part of the whole Depot that had a slightly musty scent.

The third floor still has that lovely glow, but it didn't smell as wonderful as the second floor!

The third floor still has that lovely glow, but it didn't smell as wonderful as the second floor!

So how does one describe the smell of history?  It smells like years of human interaction and activity I guess.  The Depot at York Factory had people moving goods in and out, and even though I am certain it was hard work and not all happy-fun times like my visit, the place just feels good.  From all senses.

Laying on the second floor and looking up at this beautiful ceiling.

Lying on the second floor and looking up at this beautiful ceiling.

 

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Amelia Fay

Curator of HBC Collection

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Amelia Fay joined The Manitoba Museum in September 2013. She received her BA in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba, an MA in Archaeology from Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN), and is currently finishing her Doctoral degree from MUN. Amelia’s research has focused on Inuit-European contact along the Labrador coast, and her interests are continually expanding to explore Aboriginal-European contact throughout Canada during the fur trade era.

Amelia’s job as Curator of the Hudson’s Bay Company Museum Collection involves building the collection, responding to public inquiries, preparing exhibits, and conducting her own research. Her research interests centre on the interactions between Europeans (including HBC employees) and Aboriginal peoples as they negotiated space, material culture, and their daily activities. Amelia’s goal is to showcase this amazing collection, and highlight the important role that Aboriginal people played in the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company.