Ryan Collins standing by a Voyageur canoe.

Ryan Collins standing by a Voyageur canoe.

If you haven’t seen a Voyageur canoe in person it is hard to imagine - let alone convey to others - the magnitude of a 30-40 foot, paper birch and white cedar fur trade giant that could hold as many as sixteen individuals.   Used to transport goods like blankets, firearms, tools and textiles to forts, in exchange for valuable furs, these canoes were a vital mode of transportation during the height of Minnesota’s fur trade.  

Fortunately for Ryan Collins’ students, Minnesota’s history isn’t hard to imagine.  They can see it for themselves.  

Collins teaches Minnesota history at the middle school and as a member of the Minnesota Historical Society and a board member for the Washington County Historical Society, he spends his summers touring Minnesota’s history sites.   But, he confesses, “my budget keeps me from travelling too far from home.”  This past summer proved differently.  Collins received funding from MAEF and the Hansen Inspired Teacher Grant and was able to travel farther and further into the annals of Minnesota’s history.

MAEF’s funding provided Collins with the means to venture north well into the Arrowhead region of our state.  He toured fur trade forts in Grand Portage and Fort William in Thunder Bay - both headquarters for the North West Company.  “I wanted to take advantage of being that far north,” and curious for more information about Minnesota’s logging and mining industries, Collins also stopped at the Hull Rust Mahoning Mine in Hibbing and toured the Minnesota Discovery Center in Virginia; “The homestead replica and mining equipment was incredible.” His final destination was experiencing, first hand, a 1900s logging camp and the life of lumberjacks at the Forest History Center in Grand Rapids.

“Many of my students want to know why Minnesota history matters.” Collins explains how MAEF’s support has given him “the opportunity to include pictures and experiences into my classroom discussions which makes history all the more meaningful.”  With a wry smile, Collins points to Curious George over his shoulder, the stuffed animal aptly sitting on the back of a Common Loon, “I want my students to be curious about our state’s history…and then before I know it, students begin connecting historical figures like Henry Sibley with their everyday lives.”  Collins’ grin grows wide, “I have had a student say to me, ‘Hey, I know that name. There is a high school named Sibley.”  The moment students make the connection between the past and the present “is what I love about teaching.”