September 29, 2020

IMG_5731BY STEPH SMITH

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? This question went unanswered as the Waterloo Region Museum’s forest was filled with students.

The Waterloo Region Museum held its second annual Forest Festival on Oct. 9 and 10 in partnership with the City of Kitchener, the City of Waterloo, the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA), the Waterloo Stewardship Network and the Children’s Water Education Council. The two-day festival teaches students several key messages about the forest resources in the Region of Waterloo.

“The goal is to try to educate students on forest resources, ecology and biodiversity issues,” said Dave Neufeld, the education co-ordinator at the Waterloo Region Museum.

Neufeld said the festival is directed at Grade 6 and 7 students because the material learned at the stations covers topics in their school’s science curriculum.

There were stations set up throughout the Doon Heritage Village, located directly behind the museum, which had hands-on activities for the students.

At the Medicinal Forest, an area set up behind one of the houses in the village, students learned about the different medicinal plants that our forests have to offer by following a series of clues.

“Trees provide the basis for pharmacology. They’re worth so much more than just firewood,” said Peter Pautler, a resource interpreter with the GRCA. “The bark from the willow tree was the basis for Aspirin. White pine needle oil is an ingredient in Buckley’s cough syrup.”

The Forest Feast table featured nuts, berries and other edibles that can be found in our forests. Here, Daniel Brockerville and Benjamin Cecile, two student volunteers, asked the students various questions about the nuts and plants.

“What can be sauteed with garlic?” Brockerville said. “The answer is puffball mushrooms.”

“What can you eat right off the branch after you pick them?” Cecile said. “Hickory nuts.”

There was also a table that displayed the different types of woods that our forests contain, such as maple, walnut, cherry and ash. This station showed the different colours, textures and hardness of the woods.

“Have you ever looked at the rings of a tree before? The white gap shows how much the tree grew in the summer. The black rings show how much it grew in winter,” said Evan Legare, a student volunteer.

Legare said in wood, such as that of the walnut tree, there are two types. The sap wood, which is white and stores the nutrients and water, and the hardwood, which is black and the hardest part of the tree.

One of the indoor stations was on archaeobotany, a type of archaeology that looks at the identification of plant remains found on archaeological sites. This station had various specimens of ancient walnut shells, plum pits and grains, which were compared to specimens from today.

Rudy Fecteau, the archaeobotanist operating the archaeobotany station, said that participating in the festival was a real thrill.

Fecteau’s wife, Margaret-Ann, said that it was great to see how the kids reacted to the station’s charcoal specimens.

“The charcoal is about 2,000 years old, and their teacher said, ‘what year is it?’ and the children replied that it was 2013,” Margaret-Ann said. “When their teacher asked them what year the charcoal was from, they said, ‘13.’ They were so amazed.”

The kids ran around with excitement the whole afternoon, rushing from one station to another.

“They’re learning biodiversity in school, so I thought it would be good to bring them here where the real biodiversity is,” said Monica Neil, a Grade 6 teacher at W.T. Townshend Public School in Kitchener.