The Bartlett Saga software program was conceived in the early 1980s. At that time, the Ontario Ministry of Education was seeking exemplary software to support its newly-released ICON computer. Interactive Image Technologies, a Toronto-based software developer headed by Joseph Koenig, formerly producer of educational films at the National Film Board of Canada, proposed the development of a series of history simulations that would support the Ontario curriculum at the Intermediate level. The simulation would highlight significant events spanning a period of over 100 years in Canadian History.
Each of the resulting four software programs recreated the experiences of a generation of the fictional Bartlett family. Students were challenged to make decisions for the various family members as they “lived through” historical events. The programs—Refugees in the Wilderness: United Empire Loyalists 1784-1793, The Rebels: Rebellion in Upper Canada 1830-1844, United We Stand: Confederation 1864-1873, The Golden West: Settling the Plains 1897-1911—supported units in the grades 7 and 8 history curriculum.
Findings from a series of field tests for the Ministry supported the concept that well-designed computer simulations provided students with historically correct content while actively engaging them as readers. Although not designed as reading programs, the students' behaviours and comments while using the programs demonstrated that they provided a structured and exciting reading environment. Though designed for students of average ability and knowledge, they were used successfully by all—especially when students worked in groups. By helping the Bartletts, students experienced life in Early Canada and learned about events that helped shape Canada as we know it today. They interacted with history, perceived the circumstances of people in the past, and made comparisons between the past and the present.
Today the ICON computer is no more. The present Bartlett project began in 2009 when a former student in Ottawa, who had used and loved the program when he was in grade 7 in the 1980s, contacted the original developers, wondering what happened to it. A search found that the disks—programmed for what was now archaic technology—were no longer around and a new project team took on the task of rewriting, recreating, and reprogramming the first in the series, Refugees in the Wilderness: United Empire Loyalists.