[Leopard Frog,
Rana pipiens]

The Bishops Mills

Natural History Centre

provides for safekeeping

and use of natural history

specimens and observations.

It carries out research in

amphibians, clams, crayfish,

and invasive plants,

and teaches natural history

through art, museum practices,

species identification,

conservation, and ecology.

Opened in August 2002

in the large,

rambling old building

of the former Bishops Mills

General Store,

the BMNHC is the

physical development of

projects run by

Frederick W. Schueler

and Aleta Karstad

since 1992 as the Biological

Checklist of the

Kemptville Creek

Drainage Basin (BCKCDB).

The Natural History Centre

also has research and teaching

interests and activities

all across Canada.

Bishops Mills Natural History Centre

About us

Courses & Programmes

Nature Modelling workshops



Thirty Years Later

illustrated nature journals


Area Map

Contact us by phone

at (613)258-3107

e-mail Aleta at karstad@pinicola.ca

or Fred at bckcdb@istar.ca


Apprenticeship Programme

Our freedom from institutional constraints has made us natural supervisiors for teenage apprentices. Before we were parents we lived for several years in three-adult households and found that all three can work on their own while each still supports the work of the others. Since 1985 we have had eight teenagers & young adults travel or live with us, most explicitly as apprentices in biology and illustration, but two primarily for childcare. Jennifer (who is now at the age and maturity that we look for in a new apprentice) is credited with 'learning at home by imitating her parents,' and will now be spending much of her time away from home in another educational pursuit.

Among others: David Tomes was the commando force of the 1990 survey of the herpetofauna of the Bruce Peninsula National Park, Rose-Marie van der Ham went from child care to environmental biology in the course of the Fragile Inheritance trip (1986-1989), and Lee Ann Locker helped with everything from prose to provisioning on the 1994 'A Place to Walk' trip along Lake Ontario.

At the BMNHC we've got room for apprentices to work and live, and we've got a lot of work that they can help with, so we're interested in recruiting apprentices who can help us while they learn what we can teach, or can help us find out what we need to know. We've divided the possibilities into 'Museum Methods' (mostly working with Fred) and 'Natural Images' (mostly working with Aleta), but these are lists of possiblilites, not job descriptions. We've got a nearly infinite quantity of work, so what an apprentice winds up doing will depend on the interests and aptitude of the 'successful candidate' (if you like bone-stripping, we've got bone-stripping; if you like herbaria, we've got herbarium work, if you like programming or html we've got tasks in programming and html, and if you like field work that includes partial immersion in diverse dilutions of mud, water, and organic detritus, we've got mud).

Table of Contents

Museum Methods
Natural images
Reading Fellows
Our experiences with apprentices

Museum Methods

Help care for the collections that document local and global biodiversity, including fluid-preserved collections from Carleton University, the most extensive collections of Eastern Ontario fresh water mussels, and the Canadian Library of Drifted Material.

[in the Lab]

Activities include assisting on field trips, natural history journal keeping, computer data entry, website html editing, sorting, measuring and identifying specimens and statistical analysis, preparation of scientific papers and reports, reading and discussing books and articles in the large and varied library, topping up and sealing fluid-preserved material, labelling and mounting herbarium specimens, and construction of shelving and trays.

[field work]

Natural Images

Learn to produce, use, and care for images of oganisms, ecosystems, and scenes in both traditional and electronic media.

[Basque Whalers
rendering in carbon dust]

Activities include biological illustration, plein aire landscape and scene painting, website management, archival care of documents and drawings, publishing, assisting on field trips and art courses, digital photography, natural history journal keeping, and computer image manipulation.


Reading Fellows of the BMNHC are intellectual guests who visit to read and discuss the books in our large and varied library, or to write and discuss work of their own. Contact us about arrangements.

Apprentices may be either live-in or off-site. They should understand and be enthusiastic about our Thirty Years Later project, and should read and understand "Our experiences with Apprentices" below. Live-in apprentices and Fellows are expected to take a family part in the household to help things run smoothly. Everyone also gets 'time-off' too, of course. If you're interested, contact us by phone at (613)258-3107, or e-mail Aleta at karstad@pinicola.ca or Fred at bckcdb@istar.ca -- revised 30 Aug 2009, fws.


modified from: Karstad, Aleta, and Fred Schueler 1988. Suggestions for successful arrangements, in Focus: The apprenticeship model. Growing Without Schooling (63):22-23. This is somewhat modified to fit here, but retains some of the original article's tone of 'worst case scenario.'

...An apprenticeship is more like employment than conventional schooling is, as neither the state nor parents are paying the mentor to instruct the apprentice. An apprentice pays the mentor by helping with tasks that are educational for him, but tedious for the mentor. If the apprentice is living in the mentor's household, he must also make an adult contribution to the working of the household. This evidently is often difficult, and requires careful screening of potential apprentices. Teaching and learning between individuals is such a fundamental human instinct that there is little to describe about it, but it may be hard to arrange in a society in which 'learning' and 'living' are often treated as different activities.

We naively replied to our first potential apprentice with: "We are committed to apprenticeship as the only effective method of education, and for my part, would be very glad to have you come to stay with us for as long as you feel that this is worthwhile for you... I hope this does not sound too forward, but beyond your letter the recommendations of John Holt and capriculture suffice for us," but we have found that much more than that is required to ensure a successful apprenticeship.

Our Recognized Responsibilities as Mentors:

1) We try to have plenty of work for an apprentice that will be both useful to us and instructive to the apprentice, and to see that the apprentice has free access to the literature of their subject, and to other workers in the field.

2) We try to provide the apprentice with satisfactory privacy, food, and other personal requirements - though we're wary of proceeding with an apprenticeship in which these requirements are too different from our own - an indication of incompatibility.

3) We try to calmly delegate authority, and to be prepared to tolerate mistakes, errors, and setbacks, while not assigning an excess of house-keeping tasks, or becoming sullen when weeks of rain keep us cooped up in a small tent.

3) We try to be sensitive to signs of concealed misunderstanding, or defensiveness due to intimidation. A mentor may be tall and bearded, talk in an off-hand polysyllabic jargon, and carry a 2 m dipnet and a goatskin bag for reasons entirely unrelated to intimidation - but still terrify a potential apprentice into silence.


1) Be sure that you are able to live cheerfully and comfortably with people other than your immediate family, and that you have verified this by successful month-long visits in the households of friends or relatives.

2) Be sure that your knowledge of a field is at an appropriate level; that you have learned all you can on your own. If you are leaving home solely to live and work with someone, it would seem appropriate that you have the level of knowledge of the field imparted by a senior high school or introductory university course in the subject. Have examples of your work for the mentor to evaluate.

3) Be sure that you are skilled in listening to other people talk to each other, and that you participate in decision-making in your family. If your parents decide what to do in your presence and then must explain it to you, then you are not ready for apprenticeship - your mentor may explain something to his spouse in great detail so that you can have the opportunity to learn it without direct instruction, and after that special effort, they will be irked if you haven't listened because he wasn't talking directly to you.

4) Be sure that you can understand and accept praise and critisicm from someone who is much better at what you are doing than you are, and who is focused on doing the work, rather than on what you've done: "OK," or "smooth it down a bit over there," or "Have you checked Wildlife Abstracts?" may be the response for work that would be showered with praise or A's at home or school. The highest praise available will often be "That's done about as well as I could have done it," and assessments will be understated and intermittent.

5) Be sure that you are prepared for the drudgery of your field, and are not just caught up in the romance of its products. Fishing may be all bright air, and flashing fins, and pan-fried fillets, but fisheries are grams of secondary benthic production per square metre, and ambiguous scale annuli, and half-digested stomach contents, and mathematical models of population structure. Original work in any field requires lots of tedious repetitive tasks that must be done exactly right.


The best way to begin an apprenticeship would be a gradually intensifying relationship between people who already know each other in a community: first bringing an unidentified pet Crocodile into a museum herpetology collection, hanging around the collection and its curators for years, and then finally publishing the definitive study of American Crocodylus. This is rarely possible. Our experience suggests some ideas for long-distance investigation of compatibility beyond a simple exchange of letters:

1) Be sure that the apprentice admires and understands the mentor's work, and that the books that the mentor thinks are good introductions to the field are exciting to the apprentice.

2) Exchange references, for both apprentice and mentor, of people who would be able to comment on each participant's suitability for the apprenticeship.

3) Write a contract that outlines the responsibilities of each party.

4) Begin the apprenticeship by short visits, if possible, or be very careful that other conditions above are met if this is not possible.