Burnaby Village Museum Projects (Summer 2021): Hands on Surveying and “The Hands On Our Food”  

In 2021, UBC INSTRCC student research assistants once again had the opportunity to partner with the Burnaby Village Museum (BVM) on summer projects that support their museum programs. This year, there were two student teams who supported program development and program evaluation. 

“The Hands on Our Food” 

Wei Yan Yeong and Rose Wu, both graduates of UBC’s Faculty of Land and Food Systems, collaborated with BVM staff on programming the empty space beside the Chinese market garden near the Love Farmhouse. 

“The Hands on Our Food” was a signage-guided journey through the BVM garden space that showcases the “hands” through which food passes through to get to our tables. The “hands” represent specific roles that Chinese Canadians played in the local food system—such as market gardeners, delivery people, restaurants, greengrocers, etc. The signs were life-sized, standing at six-feet, with illustrated characters of the various roles grouped under the categories of Producers, Distributors, Consumers, and Importers & Exporters. Each character was accompanied by short text boxes that gave historical background about each role. The standees provided context for the market cart and Chinese kitchen garden also in the area. 

With the help of BVM staff, the students built a Chinese kitchen garden—based upon the personal gardens many Chinese farmers and restaurateurs kept—and planted vegetables such as bok choy, bitter gourd, and winter melon. The garden was a big hit with the visitors, especially those who had their own gardens at home and enjoyed learning about new crops and gardening tips. 

The market cart, which represented the carts used to sell produce, included an activity board for children to discover facts about the vegetables growing in the garden and recipe cards strung across the top—an addition included because many visitors had never seen many of the vegetables growing in the garden and were curious about how to eat them. 

The goal of the project was to attract visitors to the garden space and help them better understand the systems and networks that were involved in the Burnaby food system back in the day; to showcase how food is not just a commodity, but something with a complex story before it ends up at the dinner table. 

“The Hands on Our Food” Photo Gallery

[Click to Enlarge]

Visitor Study 

The second student team, consisting of Celine Co and Kareena Shamdasani, were tasked with conducting a study on visitor trends and providing recommendations on how to improve traffic to under-visited parts of the museum. In their study, which involved engaging with and surveying visitors, they learned about visitors’ favourite exhibitions and those that were less popular. A valuable aspect of their work was discovering visitor preferences and the reasons behind liking a certain exhibit, be it the nostalgic value or the interactions with interpreters—which paints a story for the BVM on what factors are important to visitors. Additionally, visitors provided ideas and suggestions on what would make the exhibits with less traffic more interesting or attractive. 

Building off this initial study, the student team piloted prototype changes to some of the less visited exhibits, including changing the entry and exit points to the Seaforth School to encourage more visitors to the Brookfield Lane area. Additionally, for somewhat “hidden” exhibits that were easily missed, such as the Ofuro (Japanese bathhouse) and Tin Smith shop, the team decided to add ambient sounds to the exhibits to catch the attention of visitors. This strategy helped increase foot traffic to the Tin Smith shop. 

The students’ study and prototypes helped inform a set of recommendations for the BVM team on how to enhance some of their existing exhibits and also as general suggestions for enriching future programs. 

In wrapping up another successful summer of student internships, we express thanks to the Burnaby Village Museum for their ongoing support of student learning and their continued commitment to this partnership. We look forward to continued collaboration in the future! 

Written by Rose Wu