Thursday, 17 December 2009

A Good Yarn of Dolls and Action Figure

You know you have fantastic volunteers when they're willing to take yarn home and wrap 700 "doll bodies." This requires taking yarn and wrapping it around a book 50 times -- and then repeat that 700 times. Why would our volunteers be so willing to take on this task? Well, because throughout the month of December hundreds of students came to the Galt to experience Christmas of the past (some of the over 8500 students who came to the Galt in 2009). And every student who came for Christmas made their own yarn doll (or "action figure") from the prepared body (as well as made a game and decorated cookies and more...).

I love to hear how the dolls do after they leave the museum. One of the parent volunteers this year said her older daughter (now in grade 3) still has her doll that she made when she was in kindergarten. And I personally have seen these dolls out and about Lethbridge with their proud new owners. If you have any other stories of what has happened to these dolls after they left the Galt, we would love to hear them!

Thank you again to all of the Galt volunteers who helped make the doll bodies. You helped make a lot of kids in southern Alberta very happy.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Sorry to break your heart, but...

I have been breaking a lot of hearts this last month or so (no, I’m not being egotistical). It’s just that when I explain to a class that pteranodons and plesiosaurs are not really dinosaurs (they’re extinct flying and marine reptiles, respectively) and that brontosaurus doesn’t exist, I break a lot of hearts. A lot of people name these as their FAVOURITE dinosaurs – but they’re not dinosaurs. Dinosaurs don’t fly and dinosaurs don’t swim and in the case of brontosaurus a mistake was made with the wrong head on the wrong body and he’s actually Apatosaurus.

When I was a kid I was taught all about brontosaurus. The books were full of him. I learned about his diet, his habitat – everything. Now I know most of what I was told is wrong and that in the past #*#&$ years (yeah, like I’m going to admit my age) a lot of what we know about dinosaurs has changed. New discoveries, new ways of looking at old evidence -- this is a major part of paleontology.

The same is and has always been true of history. And I found a great example of this. On Christmas Day 1907 there was a riot here in Lethbridge. The Lethbridge Herald of the time gives a rather interesting description of what happened. But the other day I was researching and found on-line a collection of folk tales from southern Alberta. In there was a description of the riot that differs a lot from the Herald account. Which is the more accurate? I’m not sure at this point.

But the on-line story does suggest an answer to one question. According to the newspaper the riot was started when a Chinese waiter got into a fight with a white customer and hit the customer over the head with a hammer. Rumour got around town that the customer was killed and the riot ensued. No cause is given for why the fight (between the customer and waiter) was started or why the waiter reacted the way he did.

According to the article found on-line two white customers had been drinking heavily and were shooting at tomato cans in the restaurant. They then had to be subdued by the Chinese waiter who hit one over the head with the blunt end of a cleaver. This story certainly has more explanation for why the waiter reacted the way he did.

Any find like this makes me want to go back and see what else I can find so back to researching for me…

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Galt volunteers

Dec 5th each year marks International Volunteer Day, a chance for us to say THANK YOU to volunteers in our organizations, our communities and all over the world.

A belated THANK YOU to every single one of you for your assistance.....whether you have helped with one event in 2009, or volunteer weekly in areas such as Collections or Archives, your support of the Galt Museum & Archives makes it what it is - we would never be able to offer what we do, nor be who we are, without your support.

I know many of you do not see each other in the work you do, because so many do work behind the scenes or from home, but believe me when I say that we have a HUGE number of volunteers supporting fact, we have close around 250 individuals who have volunteered in 2009, and the total hours to date this year are quickly approaching 8000....those are amazing statistics.

We have had two volunteers pass away this past year, and wish to also take some time to remember them both - Yosh Senda and Murielle Joliffe. Both were amazing contributors to the history of our city and region and we were fortunate to have them share some of their great lives with us.

We also have lost volunteers who have had to move away because of school, careers, family and for other reasons. We miss them all but appreciate all they did for us in their time in Lethbridge.

THANK YOU to each and every one of you! You are an important part of your community for stepping up and helping organizations like the Galt to be able to do what we do to make our community a better place.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Mewburn -- Master of the Retort

I want to share some stories that I came across during my research. Both of these concern Dr. Frank Mewburn, Lethbridge's 1st doctor. He was here both during the building of the 1891 Galt Hospital and the 1910 expansion (which is part of the Galt Museum & Archives today). In 1913 he moved to Calgary and after the First World War he became the 1st head of surgery at the University of Alberta Medical School. While both of these stories give an understanding of Mewburn's personality there is also a lot of information about the state of medicine at that time.

Mewburn was known as a master of the retort. He was often given to strong language when driven to the point of exasperation.

One time Dr. Mewburn was operating in the Galt Hospital at Lethbridge when the lights suddenly went out. Doctors and nurses who were in the room with him held their breath and waited for the blow to fall. One girl, nicely brought up, knew enough to put her fingers in her ears.
But the doctor chuckled quietly and merely said, "Gentlemen: I cannot do the subject justice."

On another occasion, Dr. Mewburn was operating at Macleod. The subject of the operation was a dignitary of the church, and a bishop of the same church was in the room where the operation was being performed.
It was a hot, sultry day and somehow or other a fly had gotten into the operating room. The fly buzzed around the room and showed particular interest in the operating table.
Dr. Mewburn kept muttering and brushing the fly away. Once or twice, he opened his mouth to say something appropriate about flies in general, but every time he started to speak, he remembered that there was a bishop seeing and hearing everything that went on.
Finally he reached the end of his tether. He turned to Dr. G.A. Kennedy, who was assisting with the operation, and said: "Kennedy, you've go to do one of two things! Either kill that fly or put the bishop out!"

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Fresh Ideas from 3 Weeks Away

It's been a while since I've blogged. I was away at an incredible seminar in Indianapolis for 3 weeks at the beginning of November (Seminar for Historical Administration). Thought I would share a few photos that highlight some of the things I saw and did.

This first one is from the Indiana State Museum. Indiana is well-known for its limestone and this exhibit shows how limestone was carved into many of the features and monuments found throughout Indiana. I would love to do something similar around sandstone for our area (especially for our Lethbridge 1906-1913 exhibit). As you may be able to see this part of the exhibit has a window directly outside where you can see real examples of limestone.

I took this next one from a hot air balloon at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park. It's very interesting to see what some sites are doing to add to the visitor experience. This was a fun experience but I found the story of John Conner and his two families incredibly more interesting. One thing we discussed a lot at the seminar was how to keep the "real thing" central to what we do (but also make it fun and different).

This next one is from the Indianapolis Children's Museum. This was a fascinating exhibit called the Power of Children and looked at the lives of Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges and Ryan White. This was one of the best examples I've ever seen for taking incredibly difficult subjects (Holocaust, racism, hatred) and making it understandable and powerful for children. I know this is one thing I struggle with for our education programs -- how to truly represent all of history (the positive and the negative) in a way that gives children a true sense of history and that is also done at their level. I really wish this was a traveling exhibit.

One of the other museums we visited was the Indiana Medical History Museum. This was an intriguing museum set in the old Pathology building. The actual classroom (with original chairs) is still there and much of the material is still in the laboratories from when the building was in use. I could have stayed a lot longer at this museum. But one thing I found rather interesting was that they had on display records from the asylum that you could look through and you could read people's names and what conditions lead to them being committed. One of the things I always question is how much private information can/should a historian reveal about a person even when that person is dead? Just because you know something, should you be able to use it for writing history?

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

From recently processed Archives files...

A letter postmarked CALGARY FEB 25, 5 PM, 1943 ALBERTA

addressed to

Mr. Larry Doyle
c/o Plunkett + Savage
Lethbridge, Alberta

Prohibition Headquarters
Calgary. Alberta Canada.

Dear Sir;

No doubt you have heard of me and my great work in the cause of Temperance. For several years I have been travelling about the country on the lecture platform. Perhaps you are familiar with some of my better known talks as "Down With The Drink Evil-- "Rum and Rebellion and "there is No Booze in Christianity ".

For the past few years I have had one Herman Fortescue who used to sit with me on the platform. I would point him out to the audience as a horrible example of the ravages of drink. Herman was originally a man of splendid background, had an excellent education, and fine family connections. During the years when he should have thought to the moulding of his character he developed an insatiable desire for Rum Whiskey and other strong drinks. How much better for him if he had turned to a more gainful occupation. There was times when poor Herman's condition was pitiful. Here was a brilliant man who had become a wreck of his former self. He would sit on the platform beside me, mouth wide open,and staring at the audience- a low down rum soaked bum.

Unfortunately last Spring poor Herman passed away.

A mutual friend has given me your name and I am wondering if you would consent to accompany me on a winter tour to take poor Herman's place.?

Sincerely Yours

John Christian Rhodes (D.D.)

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Adopt-an-Artifact is back!

From Dr. Edmund Cairns Doctor’s Bag to a model of Fort Whoop-Up created by Dora Graham, from James Stewart’s Highland Costume Set to insecticide pads [“Sure Death For Flies and Ants”] dating back to the 1930s, we are now accepting bids on these and 18 other artifacts for symbolic adoption at the Adopt-an-Artifact website accessible from until 4:30 pm MST on November 30.

The successful bidder will receive a photo and description of their adopted artifact, a tax receipt for the value of their sponsorship, and an invitation to a Curator-led Behind-the-Scenes Collections Tour in 2010. This is the second year we've offered this initiative, which sees all artifacts remain in our care. We also retain ownership of the items.
There is already some furious bidding going on, and some items still looking to be adopted - check it out!

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Galt Hospital Hauntings

Happy Halloween! Here are two stories to set your spine a'tingling!

George Bailey

...died tragically in the Galt Hospital in 1933 while being wheeled to the operating room for a routine appendectomy. Half asleep from the anesthesia, George was pushed halfway onto the elevator when something went wrong. With the doors still open and George only half on, the elevator started to rise. The front legs of the gurney got caught on the elevator, dangling George above the elevator shaft and then dropping him head first onto the basement floor.

Unbelievably, George did not die immediately, but was up and shuffling around in the basement when people got to him. He died of head injuries the next day. Since then, reports of a presence being felt accompanied by the sound of shuffling feet and blasts of cold air with no known source have been felt throughout the hospital.

The quiet chattering and laughter of children...

A more recent tale takes place in the upper level of the museum, which once housed the nursery and children sections of the hospital, but now is home to administrative offices. In this area people claim to have heard the quiet chattering and laughter of children.

One man in particular was studying late and as he exited the museum felt an irresistible urge to turn around. As he did he looked up and spotted a young girl waving goodbye to him in the window of the room he had just left.

A Native elder working late at the museum reported seeing some Native children waving to him out of a window. He assumed the children belonged to a Native cleaning lady and forgot about it for a while, but later discussions revealed that the museum never employed a Native cleaning lady and that children should not have been in the museum after hours. The only conclusion left was that he had seen ghosts.

We dare you to visit!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Strange Happenings and Stranger Questions

Sometimes strange things happen during my job. And every so often I get a number of strange questions.

This is the strangest question I've been asked of late.
Did cave men use coal? This was asked by a grade 4 student during a class on coal mining history in Lethbridge. I'm not sure what prompted the question but I have to wonder if he wasn't trying to "stump the teacher" (I know I played that game often enough when I was a kid). So if someone asked you this, how would you answer? Did cave men use coal? I must admit, I've never given it any thought before but my answer? I let him know that as coal was dangerous to burn without having a proper stove and chimney to remove any poisonous/toxic gases, that if cave men lived in a place without proper ventilation, cave men could not use coal. But they knew coal burned (if nothing else, lightning would have started exposed coal on fire) and may have used it outside. Does anyone have a more definitive answer for the next time a grade 4 asks me this question?

Also, usually the Flashlight Cemetery Tours go off without a hitch (well, except for the uncooperative weather we had for a few weekends) but the last tour on Saturday (my 4th in a row that evening) was rather interesting. About 1/3 of the way through I noted that the entire group was looking to the side and there was a few gasps as it was noted that something was moving in the dark. For some reason on that tour a cat decided to join us and came with us for the rest of the tour. (And, before you ask, it was half black and half white) Then about 2/3 of the way through the tour coyotes started making a very loud noise. Of course sounds travel a long distance in the dark but it certainly sounded close. And in the last 4 years of tours I've never heard coyotes when I've been out in the cemetery. An interesting evening, to be sure.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Home Flooded Home -- Museum Exhibit Musings

I just did a class outside this morning in the snow (was rather fun but would have been nicer in the sun-shine) and it got me thinking about the weather of southern Alberta. A few years ago one of our volunteers put together a brochure on weird weather and weather extremes of southern Alberta. Such as the May 1903 snowstorm in which two boys perished. Or the Chinook in 1966 where the temperature in Pincher Creek rose 21 degrees Celsius in four minutes. Or January 1906 when the Chinooks warmed up southern Alberta enough that they played baseball. Or the floods of the river.

It seems that every 10 years or so the Oldman River has the “flood of the century.” Well, the 1906-1913 period was no different. In spring of 1908 the river flooded. The newspaper reported that on 10 June it had rained for 48 hours and that the river had risen 6 feet and was continuing to rise 4 to 5 inches an hour. People were forced to move out of the river bottom and the traffic bridge across the river was washed away.

Cellars were filled with water. Warehouses flooded. Sewer trenches in the streets and lawns fell in. This is an incredibly unpleasant image of Lethbridge during this time. We have to remember not only how prevalent outhouses were at this time but that the sewer system was not yet fully developed.

It was reported that the old wooden buildings were leaking like sieves and the wind was driving the rain through the roofs of even the newest and best built buildings.

In and around southern Alberta that were also a lot of damage. People were driven out of the lowlands in the Cardston area. In Raymond the reservoir broke near the Sugar Factory and took out some of the train tracks. At the Cameron Ranch the flood carried away every house and out-building on the ranch except for the main house.

And the telephone line between Lethbridge and Macleod was reported to be buried beneath 10 feet of mud in the Belly River near Macleod.

Reading and thinking about these events makes me wonder what people’s reactions were when they got to know this country they had recently come to call home. And some of these houses on the prairies would have been sod houses. In these houses one day's rain could lead to three days of leaks and drips.

You have to wonder about the conversations held in these houses. And how many wives turned to their husbands and said something like: I left my home and my family and moved thousands of miles for this?

But can I find any of these stories for the exhibit?

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Long Live the Random -- Museum Exhibit Musings

Today I just have some questions and random thoughts.

First, what’s your opinion of timelines? Should there be one in the exhibit? Would it help to provided connections between the various themes? Or is that unnecessary? And too scholarly? I have a fondness for timelines but that could just be me.

Second, I was looking on-line at descriptions and information on other museum exhibits that look at the growth of the community. Many focused on the cultural growth of the community and diversity. One such, the Changing Places exhibit at Levine Museum in North Carolina, explored new and long-time traditions (among many other themes in the exhibit). This got me thinking about some of the things we do in southern Alberta that may (okay, probably do) seem strange to new people and I’ve been trying to understand why we do these.

In your kitchen cupboard or china cabinet, are your glasses stored with the open end up or down? Many people raised across the prairies (or who comes from families who have been on the prairies a long time) seem to store their glasses with the open end down. Why? The theory is that our families learned their lesson during the Great Depression and Dirty Thirties that anyone silly enough to store glasses with the open side up ended up having to wash the glasses prior to every use (because they got full of dirt). I’d be interested in hearing what your family does and your background.

The other is when you enter your house, do you take your shoes off or leave them on? This one seems to be more wide spread across Canada but I hazard a guess that most of you take your shoes off? I have no idea as to the origin of this. I have a few speculations but I would love to hear yours. Why do you think people do this?

Third (and apologies to the Museum 2.0 blog for some paraphrasing – check out this blog if you have a chance) is back to HOW to tell stories in exhibits. They suggest that one of the reasons that museums such as Creationist museums do so well is that they employ three primary areas of storytelling: passion, people and purpose and that other museums shy away from being passionate about subjects (must maintain our objectivity, after all).

As you may recall from past blogs, I believe that (while still ensuring balance) we need to let people know our opinions and beliefs. The Museum 2.0 goes further and suggests that museums tell the funny stories, show our anger and gasps of delight and help the visitor to do the same. That only in this manner can we help people new to the subject learn how and why to care about the same things that we passionately care about. And then they’ll want to learn more about the subject.

I’ve always know that it’s a good thing I’m opinionated and willing to share what I like and dislike (and why). Now I just have to make you (and the visitors to the exhibit) as passionate and as willing to be opinionated, too!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

When People Used Opium to Calm a Fretful Child -- Museum Exhibit Musings

A friend recently sent me an email titled Why Our Great Grandparents Were Happier that looked at medicines popular at the end of the 19th and early 20th century that included everything from heroin to opium to marijuana to high quantities of alcohol. It is impossible to read the newspapers of the early 20th century without coming across advertisements for all kinds of medicines. Many of them are written as “articles” and have people telling of the benefits of the different products they have taken. This all got me thinking about what medicine was REALLY like in 1906-1913 in southern Alberta and Lethbridge.

There was formal medicine through the hospitals (and there were a wide variety of hospitals including isolation for contagious diseases, maternity and general hospitals) but there was also informal, folk medicine that people brought with them from all over the world. A few years ago I had the opportunity to collect home remedies from across southern Alberta. Some of these are incredibly funny. Some scientists and doctors could probably learn from. I certainly don’t recommend or endorse any of these remedies but include these two for their historical and archival interest.

Contagious Diseases
Put saxifrage in a small cotton bag which is then hung on a string around the neck. Saxifrage has a strong unpleasant odour. Saxifrage was used to ward off disease, especially during epidemics of communicable diseases. It was used whenever you were in contact with people at school or meetings. Rhea Martin says her “grandfather prepared this remedy for his children to wear to school or church as a protection from current diseases. It was probably effective because it kept people at a distance. My mother was required to wear this.”
Saxifrage is a plant (herb) that grows abundantly in dry, chalky pastures, and is very generally distributed over the country.

Arlie Bodnar says that sulfur mixed with molasses was used to “clean you out.”
Hilda Rogers, of Lethbridge, says her father swore by licorice powder as a cure for constipation. She says it worked well, though you didn’t want to use it too often.
Epsom salts and castor oil were also commonly used to cure constipation. They gave you great belly aches but they worked.

Did certain home remedies come from particular countries? Can they be linked to immigration? Or are they more representative of the time period and not of specific cultures? But what about, as mentioned earlier, some of those various now illegal substances? Were they actually being used? And were there concerns around them?

This joke from the 17 June 1913 Lethbridge Herald highlights some of the issues regarding what was being used in medicine. Keep in mind, though, that these issues were not just related to 1906-1913 and paregoric was available over-the-counter in the States until the 1970s.
The First Born
Young Father: “I am amazed, shocked, my dear, to hear you say you intend to give the baby some paregoric. Don’t you know paregoric is opium, and opium stops the growth, enfeebles the constitution, weakens the brain, destroys the nerves, and produces rickets, marasinus, consumption, insanity, and death?”
Young Mother: “Horrors! I never heard a word about that. I won’t give the little darling a drop – no, indeed. But something must be done to stop his yelling. You carry him awhile.”
Father (after an hour’s steady stamping with the squalling infant): “Where in thunder is that paregoric?”

Should medicine (the type of information provided here) be part of the 1906-1913 exhibit? Does it warrant becoming a theme in the exhibit?

Monday, 5 October 2009

Embracing Eccentricity -- Museum Exhibit Musings

I was reading a blog and someone listed a museum’s ability to embrace eccentricity as a reason she liked museums (one among a long list of reasons she liked museums). I like that concept and I think that not only is this a reason I like some museums (though I don’t think as many embrace eccentricity as they used to) but it’s also why I like southern Alberta history – because there’s a lot of eccentricity sprinkled throughout our history (and, no, I’m not talking about me).

In the years 1906-1913 Lethbridge and southern Alberta had more than their fair share of “interesting” people and their stories give a different perspective of that time period.

George “Steamboat Bill” Messmer was one of those people. Born in Sun River, Pennsylvania in 1848, Steamboat Bill came first to Montana and then up to southern Alberta in the 1880s working as a bull whacker for the I.G. Baker Company. It is said that he could easily handle a team of 10 span of oxen. He later worked as a miner in Lethbridge and then went into sheepherding, spending his off seasons in Lethbridge.

To get to his sheepherding camp, which was in the Warner/Milk River area, Steamboat Bill would hitch a free ride on the train. Engineers were usually kind enough to stop (or at least slow down) when George got to the area around his camp. One time the engineer, Robert O’Hagan, would not give Bill a free ride. Bill said nothing but when the train left Lethbridge, he was riding on the cow catcher. This time, though, the train didn’t slow down for him to jump off. The train fireman reported that Bill rolled a long way but then got up, dusted himself off, and walked to his camp.

When he was in town, Steamboat Bill became known for his frequent altercations with the police. He also got into frequent fights. His remedy for cuts and bruises? Axle grease. He passed away in 1927 and his grave was purchased by the Lethbridge Old Timers’ Association.

Another such person was James “Coyote” Henry, who lived in the Chin Coulee area prior to moving into Lethbridge. Out there, he raised Clydesdales, which seem to have been quite well known throughout the area, and trained race horses. When he moved into Lethbridge he first lived in a dugout in the coulee just north of the Galt Hospital but was asked to move and relocated to a dug-out/shanty in a coulee just north of the railway tracks.

Not much is known about him before his arrival in southern Alberta. He was reported to be well-spoken and well-read and could quote chapter and verse from the Bible but he never talked of his past. No one knows how he acquired the nickname “Coyote” Henry but what is well known is that he bitterly resented the name “Coyote” and threatened physical harm to anyone who used it in his presence.

Also well known was his fear and obsession with mountain lions, who he thought were out to get him. Reports are that the least noise would have him grabbing for his shotgun and he often fired through the walls and roof of his house at the imaginary lions.

Following an incident where he threatened and shot at a neighbour, James Henry was committed to the asylum at Ponoka in 1911 where he died a few years later.

Include these stories in the exhibit or not? Are they case studies for how the area was changing? Or are the stories themselves just too eccentric?

Friday, 2 October 2009

Lethbridge Conservatory of Music -- Museum Exhibit Musings

A few weeks ago I asked people if they had a favourite building that was built between 1906-1913. And to also let me know what they liked about the building and what they remembered. Trish Purkis, who works in the Archives of the Galt, sent me the information below on one of her favourite buildings – the Lethbridge Conservatory of Music/Spudnuts Shop. The Lethbridge Conservatory of Music started there in 1910 (with the growth of Lethbridge it was important to the people of Lethbridge to have a community rich in the arts). As you can see, Trish is looking for some more information on the building…

Many of us remember the Spudnut Shop on 11 Street and 5th Avenue. It was a place to go for treats of spudnuts, ice cream and flavourful drinks after school, Sunday School, sports events at the Civic Centre and Remembrance Day Services. But does anyone recall the original purpose for the building?
In the beginning it was the Lethbridge Conservatory of Music, the largest conservatory in Western Canada. The conservatory started out modestly in a two-roomed studio above the Union Grocery Store located where Southminster United Church Hall is today. The Director James George Harper, proficient in all instruments taught the students the first year. When the enrolment increased, he hired other musical teachers to aid him. They remained at that location for three years and as the enrolment increased, the space decreased. It was time to find a new home for the conservatory.
George Harper along with his brother-in-lay Joseph Morgan, a School Inspector, chose a location opposite the NWMP Barracks and in the spring of 1910 opened the doors. The top floor or auditorium was used for community events, dances, parties lectures and meetings as well as dance classes. The first floor had lesson rooms, an instrument repair shop and Music shop.
The music conservatory remained in business from 1910 until the early 1940’s. It is not known when the conservatory closed it’s doors but if anyone knows please let me know.
From 1950 until 2000 the Spudnut Shop operated there and in 2006 the Crazy Cakes business opened serving cupcakes and on a weekly basis the once loved spudnut.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Themes and Storylines -- Museum Exhibit Musings

I have been told it’s time I start thinking of “themes” and the storyline of the exhibit – to start fleshing things out. So, then, what would they be? Do you see the same areas in the exhibit as I do? Do I have too many themes? Not enough?
I see the introductory panel with that Sage quote (see June 21 blog). Then something about how much of Lethbridge today developed during the boom period of 1906-1913. What is the same? What is different? What do we think of Lethbridge in 1906-1913 and what do we think of Lethbridge today?

To understand how much Lethbridge (and Canada) changed 1906-1913, there must be a small section of background on the years prior. Some pictures of Lethbridge in the 1880s and 1890s, some population stats, descriptions from early arrivals – that sort of thing.

An area with highlights of why these years are important – population stats, list of developments, photos of before and afters, firsts of the time period. Should I include something in this area about why I personally find this such a fascinating time period?

Would it be too cliché to set this up as a classroom from that period? With information provided on the blackboard? A copy of a class schedule. The rules/behaviours of students. A copy of a report card. Picture of the king. A union jack. Copies of readers and text books of the period.

I really do think I will interview people about buildings built during this time and have them tell me what (from their own point of view) they like about that building. Lots of pictures here but also audio. Links or directions for the downtown podcast. Reminder that one of the buildings from this time period is our own Galt Hospital. Also the suggestion to have a map with layers where you can overlap the maps and see the changes.

A lot was happening politically in Lethbridge during this time period. We became a city, adopted the commissioner form of government, and took over Staffordville . What were the effects of these?

The more I think about it, the more I like using some of the Brower editorials. Will have to use some statistics. This is one area where, while the exhibit is looking at Lethbridge, should the story of southern Alberta be more included here? I was surprised to find last week that Barons was settled by Estonian immigrants. And there’s many more such stories. Perhaps a chance to tell some of those lesser known stories?

Boosterism/Dry Farming Congress
I must have an area on how the people who lived during 1906-1913 both viewed their own time period and how they saw the future development of Lethbridge and area. What came true and what didn’t? I might want to end the exhibit with this area because it would give the opportunity for people to make predictions on how they see Lethbridge and area developing.
This area must also include a section on the Dry Farming Congress which was one of the most incredible weeks ever in Lethbridge history (and, of course, helped lead to our 16 year debt).

So, this is what I’m thinking to date will be the themes of the exhibit.
But, as soon as I’ve said that, I’m already questioning myself. Should the real estate boom and economy be a theme or included in one of the others? Are there other themes I’m missing? Under what theme, or in what place, to include just some of the errata and fun stories of the time period? Does this fully capture what makes this time period unique and stand out? How to capture the ephemeral “identity” of a time in a list of themes?

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Immigrant Experiences -- Museum Exhibit Musings

One of our staff recently attended a presentation on supporting volunteerism among, and having volunteer programs designed for, people who are new to Canada. While at the presentation she felt it important to point out to the group that it would benefit the discussion if they all had a historical overview of immigration to Lethbridge as well as the opportunity to see how various immigrant groups have been treated in Lethbridge in the past. Studying history (when it’s studied well and not allowed to become mythology where “truth” is never contested) encourages people to see an issue in a broader, more complete context.

As she told me about what she had learned at the presentation it reminded me again of the importance of deciding how to present immigration in the exhibit. Immigration and the growth and change of Lethbridge from 1906-1913 must be in the exhibit but there are many ways I could present it. As statistics? As photographs? As recollections and stories from people living today of their family’s arrival in southern Alberta? The medium chosen is just as important in telling the story as the facts and figure and material presented.

One of the difficulties in telling the complete truth of immigration is that immigrant stories from certain groups from 100 years ago are often missing from our historic (written) record. For a wide variety of reasons, these stories were often not collected in the past. (And I know our Archives, and many other Archives across the province, would like to help change this so if you have or know of such documents contact the Galt Archives.)

So it was a pleasant surprise to find in the newspaper a series of letters to the editor written by L.D. Brower, a recent Black immigrant to southern Alberta. Unfortunately, Mr. Brower found it necessary to write the letters as a way of speaking out against the racism he and others were facing. But his letters are a powerful reminder that during the early part of the 20th century people of all colours, religions, and ethnic backgrounds were moving to Lethbridge, southern Alberta and western Canada and that many “pioneers” do not fit the stereotypical image that many people still hold.

And, the more I read Mr. Brower’s letters, I realize that whatever labels and information I write for the exhibit I can not more clearly and succinctly as he explain the issues of that day and that perhaps using his letters, and others like them if I can find them, would be a good way to present some of the information in the area of the exhibit related to immigration.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Do you read exhibit labels? Museum Exhibit Musings

Do you read labels when you visit a museum exhibit?
Yesterday afternoon, during a volunteer function here at the museum, I went into an exhibit we had on 3-dimensional art and sculptures. When I walked in (knowing most of the people in the room), I made the comment that one thing I liked to do was try to decide for myself what the artist was saying and then read the label to see what the artist intended to say. This got the group talking. I mentioned that for one of the statues in the room I had a very different perspective of it when I first looked at it and then started to see it in a completely different light when I read the label.

This started a fascinating discussion. No one in the room had read any of the labels. And each person had a different perspective on that piece of art. Some were a little offended by it until I explained the artist’s intended meaning. Others, from a different generation, saw a pop culture reference in the work that others hadn’t seen (and which was not intended by the artist). But what, again, struck me most of all was that no one had read the label. Not reading the label had led to them creating their own opinions that were created from a great deal of misinformation. After a discussion around the labels their opinion of the object completely changed.

Knowing the amount of time curators spend researching and writing labels (and the amount of important information on them), this gave me a lot of pause for thought. What makes people want to read labels? What stops them from reading labels? What would you like to see on the labels?

This discussion also got me thinking about intended and perceived meaning. Is one of these stronger? Which one has more relevance? Is the most important thing what a curator WANTS an exhibit to say or is it more important what visitors BELIEVE an exhibit says?

Oh, and just for the record, I do read museum labels. But I often wish there was a second label (or more) that was erasable where the visitor (okay, me) could create their own personal label about how they interact with that object or topic.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Theoretical History or Brick Building 101 -- Museum Exhibit Musings

I have been in the mood lately for a little discussion and contemplation. So I decided to see what other museum blogs have been discussing. I came across a blog called ExhibiTricks that looks at museums, exhibits and design.

I got quite caught up in reading some of their blogs. The one that suggested that museums stop funding huge projects and mega-museums and instead “fund small ‘risky’ projects instead of ‘safe’ big projects” reminded me that the most fun I ever have and when I learn the most is when I do projects that get me in trouble with the “powers that be” or the arbiters of what’s right and wrong. But in the end they usually turn out to be the ones most worth the risk. Also, I’ve always found that organizations that live by their wits are required to be much more in tune with their community and their fans (I prefer that to visitors right now) because they have to be.

There were also a blog that questioned if you were designing an exhibit what one feature would you absolutely include and which would you absolutely not. The WOULD include was something that got the wheels in my head absolutely churning.

The idea was to have a Fablab or, as the writer described it, computerized or non-computerized designs tools to create objects to take home because, as the blog continued, exhibits usually show the end projects (the historical artefact, the art object, the building or whatever) without helping people appreciate the process.

This really spoke to me. The other day I described myself as a theoretical historian (I did once consider becoming a theoretical physicist but that’s a story for another day). A fablab would help me and many other people gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of how things were achieved. I have absolutely no idea if it would actually be possible to do any of these (whether in the exhibit or not) but how hard would it be to make a brick? Could we bring in sandstone and see if we could shape it into something useful? If we set out the math needed for one area of the bridge, how many of us could accurately work it out? If we found a nursing textbook from that time period, could we attempt some of the things that nurses learned during their training? I don’t know about you but I would sure be game to try.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Museum Exhibit Musing -- Lethbridge's political leanings

I was having difficulty last night thinking of something to write so I decided to do a search on the internet just to see what I might find. So I went onto Google Scholar and put in Lethbridge 1906 1913.

I came across two rather interesting articles: The Rise and Fall of the Labour Party in Alberta and Socialists and Workers in the Western Canadian Coal Mines 1900-1921.

Rather than trying to explain the information, I thought it would be easiest to start with two quotes:

“Lethbridge elected Donald McNabb, a coal miner and moderate socialist, in a provincial by-election in January 1909. McNabb, however, had won by acclamation and proved unable even to keep his deposit in the general election.”

Lethbridge was the first Alberta constituency in which a self-styled Labour candidate had run for provincial office. Though no Labour candidates were in the running in Alberta’s first provincial election in 1905, an independent Labourite ran in a by-election in Lethbridge in April 1906, and receive[d] 463 votes against 543 for the victorious Liberal and 231 for the Conservative.”

To say that Lethbridge was a coal mining town in 1906-1913 is like saying that Fort McMurray is an oil town. While Lethbridge was working to diversify and was slowly becoming the agricultural centre of the area, coal was still the major industry. Over time the role of coal mining in Lethbridge’s economy diminished and agriculture became more and more important.

Could a moderate socialist win in a by-election in Lethbridge today? Can the fact that the first Labour candidate in the province came from Lethbridge be directly linked to Lethbridge’s coal mining past? Would it then follow that there is a link between Lethbridge becoming more conservative as coal mining (labour) decreased in importance? What is different about the identity of Lethbridge in the early 20th century and today? Can we see this difference reflected in voting patterns? How is identity (the underlying beliefs of a community) to be reflected in an exhibit? Certainly it is going to be important to look a great deal more into the labour activities going on in Lethbridge and southern Alberta in the early 20th century.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- Changing of the Old Guard

One of the other documents that Kelti located was the Rent Rolls for The Alberta Railway and Coal Company for the month of 15 May 1908. Strangely for a form calling itself a rent roll, there is no record of what people paid in rent. Instead, this form seems to be a summary of who rented each property as well as what had happened to certain properties. For example, items 7 and 8 burned while 9 and 10 were sold to Iron Works. Some were vacant. At least one property was lost in the 1902 flood. And Lady Galt House was sold to E.H. Wilson (I’m not certain exactly to which property this refers but I’m going to try and track it down.).

But for most of the properties there is a name associated with each. If we combine this document with information from the 3 September posting, it is interesting to note that none of the men listed on this document as tenants would have been able to vote in municipal elections.

It is premature to speculate from only one document but this rent roll intrigues me, especially given that it is from 1908. Could this document have been something prepared for the sale of the company to the Canadian Pacific Railway? The CPR slowly acquired the Galt companies, starting with the Dunmore line in the 1890s. With negotiations started in 1907 and completed in 1908, the CPR gained controlling interest in the Galt Companies and then purchased all assets of the company in 1912. This transfer from the Galts to the CPR had to have had a profound effect on Lethbridge.

Up until the early 20th century, Lethbridge (and southern Alberta) and the Galt family were incredibly linked. Elliott Galt, while he kept a low profile, was influential in local politics and economics. In 1890, Galt successfully blocked the incorporation of the Town of Lethbridge until the Galt Companies were declared exempt from local taxes (excepting the school levy). It was Elliott Galt and his assistant (and future brother-in-law) Charles Magrath who made an arrangement with the Mormon Church for the development of the irrigation system. Elliott Galt and Charles Magrath worked with Jesse Knight to develop the Knight Sugar Company. Elliott Galt donated land near Lethbridge for the model farm which eventually developed into the Research Centre. He also contributed half the money for the new Galt Hospital in 1910. Galt Gardens, Lethbridge’s oldest park, was donated to the city by Elliott Galt (he was convinced to do so by Charles Magrath). And the list could continue related to what the company and the Galts built, contributed to and influenced. (The Stafford family even named one of their sons, Elliott Torrance Stafford, in honour of Elliott Torrance Galt.)

In 1905, ill health caused Elliott Galt to withdraw from the daily operations of the company. A few years later he left Lethbridge for retirement in Montreal and Vancouver.
During a time of massive growth and change, the old guard, the “father of Lethbridge,” moved away. Did the identity of Lethbridge change with the end of the Galt era and the purchase of The Alberta Railway and Coal Company by the CPR and, if so, how and in what ways? How does an exhibit capture this sort of change in the identity of a community (or should it even try)?

Monday, 7 September 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- Document Stories

Kelti Boissoneault, who worked with us here at the museum this summer, was kind enough to go through the Archives and pull out some documents from this time period and review them for me. Kelti not only gave me a description of each document beyond what was available in the catalogue information but rated each document on an interest scale as to whether or not she thought I should use it in the exhibit. I thought I would share some of the documents she thought were interesting and see how they relate to the overall themes I’m considering for this exhibit.

On 6 July I posted some information on White Man’s Cafe, one of the cafes in the early 20th century that would only hire white employees. The menu for the cafe is in the Archives. And, as an opportunity to compare today’s prices with those of 100 years ago, it lets us know, for example, that a Clubhouse Sandwich was $0.45.

Another item found was the souvenir booklet issued with Fleetwood School opened in 1911. This book provides a lot of information on what school was like 100 years ago. Would be very interesting for students and teachers today to see what they would have had to deal with back then. In the school realm, there is also a monthly report sheet for Dora Nimmons for high school in 1907. While Dora was not (of course) signed up for all of the classes, this is the list of classes for which she could have been enrolled:
  • reading,
  • literature,
  • grammar,
  • composition,
  • history,
  • geography,
  • arithmetic,
  • algebra,
  • geometry,
  • agriculture,
  • hygiene,
  • physics,
  • botany,
  • chemistry,
  • animal life,
  • book keeping,
  • Latin,
  • French and
  • drawing.

I also find it fascinating that the report also provides Dora’s standing in the class so every month she (and her parents) know how she compares with the other students. Considering that this was also a time when students marks and standing were publicly reported in the newspaper, this shouldn’t be too surprising.

If we combine these documents with the physical objects we have (cornerstones, things buried in the cornerstones) and photographs and books/textbooks such as the Alexandra Readers, I foresee an interesting section in the exhibit on changes in education and schools.

How to tell the story of immigration in the 1906-1913 time period? Certainly the statistics alone and the growth of Lethbridge and Alberta tell part of the story. But in the Archives are some incredible documents. One file has several documents related to a Lewis Stockwell including his steamer ticket, inspection card from the immigration officer, train ticket from Montreal to Lethbridge, and other documents. There are also homestead certificates, letters home and from the old country and much more. Would case studies be a good way to tell the immigration story?

These are only a few of the document Kelti came across. More later.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- Could you vote?

I was thinking the other day that during the time period of this exhibit (1906-1913) I, and many of you, would not have been permitted to vote in municipal elections in Lethbridge. First, you would have had to be 21 years of age. Secondly, most women would not have been able to vote (the first woman to vote in a Lethbridge municipal election was in the 1890s – a widow who was able to vote in the election on behalf of her family – but this was a very rare exception). And, third, if you were a renter you COULD NOT vote in municipal elections. Only male homeowners over the age of 21 could vote. Greg Ellis, the Archivist here, and I have been trying to find when women and tenants were permitted to vote in municipal elections. It appears that women could first vote in 1918 but we have two different dates (1913 and 1918) for renters. So more research definitely needs to be done.

There were two events in 1913 that most definitely had a profound effect on Lethbridge. First, in 1913 the City of Lethbridge annexed the Village of Stafford or Staffordville. In 1890 construction started on Galt Mine No. 3 and the mine was opened in 1892. A community, originally known simply as Number Three, developed around the mine shaft and achieved village status in 1900. Staffordville is north of Dave Elton ball park and east to Stafford Drive. Lethbridge’s take over of the village in 1913 made the North Ward (as it was called then) more prominent in the development of Lethbridge.

When Lethbridge initially developed in the 1880s, there was a small settlement in the river valley and two small areas on the north side, but the major development was south of the rail tracks from the top of the Old Man River valley east to 13th Street South. The addition of Staffordville provided Lethbridge an impetus to grow north (along with the coal mines and the construction of Galbraith School in the north ward in 1913).

I’ve been told that when the Village of Stafford stopped operations they never officially adjourned their last meeting. While the City of Lethbridge did not want to annex Staffordville, Staffordville had been requesting just such an annexation for years. The lack of adjournment may have been due to their excitement at this being the last meeting of the Village of Stafford.

The other major political development in 1913 was the adoption of the Commission form of government for the City of Lethbridge. A relatively new form of governance at that time (it first developed in Texas in 1900), voters elected three commissioners who were responsible for the operation of the city. Much of the control was in the hands of the Mayor who was also responsible for finance. This form of government remained in Lethbridge until 1928. Some day when I have more time, I definitely want to do more research into into the commission form of government and its effect on Lethbridge.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- I remember ...

Sorry, it’s been a while since I posted. I was on vacation for some of the time. But a big part of the reason is that I had a few blog ideas put together and then, horrors, my memory stick crashed and I lost the past 6 weeks of stuff saved on it. Fortunately, most things were backed up elsewhere but my Blog musings were not.

This weekend I had a fun, informal tour of Red Deer (thanks, Rod) and it started me thinking about historic buildings. Historic buildings need to be part of this exhibit. In many ways, they are the most concrete, visual reminder of the time period. But how to include them in the exhibit?

I have the thought to list, with photographs, many of the buildings built during this time period and in the year or so before the exhibit goes up, ask people to say what they like and what they remember about the building. The idea would be to ask everyone from children to “experts”. Which is your favourite building? Why? What do you like about the building? What’s your favourite memory about this building? Which building would you stand in front of a bull dozer to protect?

If possible, I would want to record some of these so they could be listened to during the exhibit. Others could be captured in writing. And then during the exhibit visitors would be asked to add to this. I think (hope?) some responses would be personal (I remember going there as a child and they had the best candy in Lethbridge); others might be aesthetic; and others would be based on historical relevance.

Then, in the exhibit, combine these memories, feelings and recollections with a small amount of historical data on the building and some of the description (usually from the newspaper) of the opening of the building all with really good photographs. What do you think? Would you enjoy an area of the exhibit designed and developed this way? And if you already have a favourite building, let me know!

Monday, 24 August 2009

People on the Wall podcasts

It's official! We've stepped into the world of podcasting, and have uploaded the first number in the series "People on the Wall"! These describe the portraits in our Discovery Hall, so if you have an mp3 player, feel free to download the files to enhance your next visit! You can also subscribe on iTunes, or just listen to the stories on your computer. We'd love to hear from you on this project: is it interesting, does it provide enough details, do you find it easy or hard to listen to?

The podcasts were made possible by VoicePrint and our wonderful volunteer readers... thanks everyone!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- Sometimes It's Just a Cigar

There are few things more frustrating than when you get a glimpse of something that occurred in the past but can find no in-depth information on it. Going through the Galt Archives I came across a picture of men standing outside the Lethbridge Cigar Factory holding “Lethbridge Belle” cigars. Lethbridge had a cigar factory? Actually at one time there may have been two cigar manufacturers in town but frustratingly little is written about them.

The 1st appears to have started around 1906 and continues until 1911 or so. We have advertisements, including:

If your’re [sic] on the W. W. and
someone says. ''Have something,"
always demand a "Lethbridge
Belle." It's a good smoke, and it's
home manufactured.


Smoke the "Lethbridge Belle”
and patronize home industry.

Not certain what the W.W. is (or why you’d be on it), but if you know or have ideas what that is, please let me know.

This immediately led me to think about where the tobacco would come from. I had a chance to speak with Henry Janzen from the Research Centre. He believes in the early 20th century there were some attempts to grow tobacco locally on experimental plots but, because of the short growing season and climate, doesn’t think there was any commercial growth of tobacco. This suggests the tobacco was imported. In a 1908 advertisement “Lethbridge Belle” cigars are included under a line about Clear Havana Cigars which suggested that the tobacco may have been Cuban in origin. This had to have been expensive – to import the tobacco for local manufacturing here. The same advertisement also noted that the cigars were strictly union made. I suspect that the high cost of business (and no local tobacco) may have been a significant part of the reason the industry disappeared in southern Alberta.

Two names are reported in connection with the cigar factories. The 1908 ad has “manufactured by T.W. Hanrahan” And a 1910 article has “The Lethbridge Cigar Factory, H. Cunningham, Proprietor.” In a 1908 article, T.W. Hanrahan’s daughter, Irene, is reported to be in Fernie with her uncle, H.J. Cunningham so it is likely that the two men were related. Also in 1908 Hanrahan purchased four lots on Ford Street from Robert Green. This was for the cigar factory and residence.

And what about the workers in the factory? Is making cigars a specialized skill? Would these men have been encouraged to come to Lethbridge to work in the factory? Or were they local men who found work when the factory opened? Nothing is known about the men and none of them are identified in the picture.

You have to admire the entrepreneur spirit of the time. While a lot of the things they attempted beween 1906 and 1913 to diversify the economy didn’t work out, they were at least trying to develop new industries and strengthen Lethbridge and southern Alberta through economic means.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Japanese Canadians | Broder Canning Company

Workers weighing packaged peas at the Broder's Canning Company, July 24, 1953. Courtesy Galt Museum Archives. P19752501029.

We recently received the following inquiry by email:

Would you be able to advise me where I can access information regarding the farms in southern Alberta where Japanese families were assigned to between 1942-1950?
Does the Galt Museum have the archives of the Broder (?) Canning Company for the years between 1942-1950?
Thank you for your assistance in this matter.
Sincerely yours,

Our Archivist, Greg Ellis, provided the following response:

Unfortunately, the Galt Archives do not have the records of which farms Japanese Canadian evacuees were sent to. Since the relocation was carried out by the federal government, there may be information at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa that would be of help to you. Click on this link to their holdings regarding the Japanese Canadian relocation. An inquiry to them might also produce some results.

With respect to the Broder Canning Company, while the Galt Archives have quite a few photographs of the company’s operations, we do not have the firm’s business records. An inquiry to the Glenbow Archives in Calgary might turn up something, but I am not optimistic.

The Galt’s photographs are accessible through our on-line database at Just click on the word ‘Archives’ at the homepage and follow the links to the database. Type the word ‘Broder’ in the ‘Description’ field, and you should be able to review everything we have about the Broder Canning Company.

If you find anything you would like a copy of, that can be done as well. Just use the online ‘Request Form’ to contact us.

Do you have a subject of southwestern Alberta history you have questions about? You can post it here, or send an email to


Monday, 10 August 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- Archives Foray

I need to start looking at what’s in the Archives collections. I have a pretty good idea from past research about photographs related to 1906-1913 so I thought I would focus on manuscripts. What a treasure trove!

There’s the expected. A Dominion Lands Homestead Receipt issued to James Bowen in 1906. There would have been a lot of these given out during the land rushes.

The unexpected but really shouldn’t be surprised knowing the time period. There’s a character reference issued to Nekolai Kuszniruk by the municipal authorities of Rarancze that states he led an upstanding life in the community and has an unblemished reputation. Mr. Kuszniruk required this as part of his application to come to Canada. Did all immigrants need such documentation or only those from certain countries? This may be useful to tell about ethnic diversity during this time period.

The everyday – calendars, pamphlets promoting settlement in southern Alberta, maps, Christmas cards, a resignation letter, and baseball ribbons.

Some that I can definitely see in the exhibit including a 1908 driver’s license for C.B. Bowman – would have been one of the first licenses in Lethbridge.

Some that were buried and found – including all of the objects that were placed inside the cornerstone of Central School in 1908 and then rediscovered when the building was demolished in 1971.

Things that instantly remind me how much times have changed, such as a calling card for Miss Florence Aylward.

Things that instantly remind me how very much I'm glad things have changed. Such as a bound booklet of City of Lethbridge Bylaw no. 84 . This was the bylaw respecting the sanitary conditions of Lethbridge and the regulation of plumbing. As one of the jobs available for city employees at the time was to empty nightsoil from the privies and scavenge dead animals from the coulees, thank heavens for indoor plumbing.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- Intellect V. Emotion

The other article I read last weekend (Visitors as Partners in Exhibition) was a report on a forum from a conference. The discussion focused on the role visitors have in the creation of exhibitions.

This article dealt with the issues: Are we really making visitors a partner in exhibitions? Whom are our exhibits useful to? How are we dealing with highly-polarized populations? We say we want to design for spontaneous community, civic engagement and to provide open-ended visitor driven experiences, but are we really doing it?

The discussion developed around five general topics: relevance of exhibits to visitors; being challenging and provocative (but also having a dialogue about visitor preconceptions); working with community, risk (risking failure, risking the exhibit going into areas you weren’t expecting); and polarization and diversity.

What do I need to do to make this exhibit about the visitor? About the community?

Two of the statements that participants said during the discussion have stayed with me. The first was that: Museums “just want to talk; we don’t want to listen.” And the second was:
“Museums are dying because they are blatantly factual and non-inspiring. ‘Where’s the passion in the truth you’re trying to present, the compelling, engaging experience?’ We offer too many facts, and not enough emotion.”

Why don’t museums focus on “emotions?” I have to immediately admit a bias. When I do oral presentations (tours, classes, etc.) I often employ emotions. I try to get people to feel, to not only see the facts of history but to think about how people felt and why they reacted the ways they did. I still have students angry at me years later for crashing the stock market and taking their money in one of our role playing games around the Great Depression. And I find the frisson of fear some people experience on the flashlight cemetery tours get them much more involved in the stories. But I find it incredibly difficult to do this in writing – especially without coming across too emotional or sounding stupid. Things that work in spoken conversation don’t always translate to a written environment such as an exhibit. Even if a museum wanted to create an exhibit that offered less facts and more emotion, how could it be achieved while still maintaining professionalism and balance? Could it be done without coming across as heavy-handed? Do visitors want an emotional connection with an exhibit?

Again, let me know your thoughts. And if you have ideas on how to be compelling and engaging and include emotion in an exhibit setting, please let me know.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- Moderator or Advocate?

Had a chance this weekend to read some articles. One I read was called “The Latest in Exhibit Trends (From the Designer’s Perspective” and was in the Fall ’06 Exhibitionist (a magazine about museum exhibits). The article had 8 exhibit designers present on what they believed were the newest trends in exhibit development.

Larry Bell said that exhibits had to be CLEAR:
· Curiosity (does it provoke curiosity and an emotional response?),
· Learning (does the exhibit create the kinds of non-verbal learning experiences hard to get elsewhere – experiential, visceral learning?),
· Empowerment (do the visitors feel like they can do something they couldn’t do before?),
· Access (is the content accessible to lots of different kinds of visitors?) and
· Relevance (can the visitors relate this content to their lives?).

Bell got me thinking about what I want to achieve with the exhibit. More knowledge of the time period? Sure. But knowledge is only a part of it. The empowerment portion speaks to me. With a program, we often want people to learn, experience and do something differently because of having attended the program. But I hadn’t thought of exhibits in that same way. What do I want people to DO after having seen the 1906-1913 exhibit? Leave knowing how they can and why they should protect buildings from this time period? Encourage organizations, places and institutions to celebrate the many centennials coming up in the next few years? Celebrate that cultural diversity has always been a part of Lethbridge and recognize the contributions of all groups in Lethbridge? Is building empowerment into the exhibit presumptuous? Can I decide how people will be “empowered” or is that up to each visitor? What does, can or should an exhibit do regarding empowerment?

In the same article, Peter Kuttner spoke about museums and a point of view. He broke museums into 3 groups: museums that stop short of tough issues and avoid the risk of controversy, museums dedicated to a particular point of view and, a new type, advocacy groups/museums. He concluded that some (most?) museums put themselves in as moderators – illustrating multiple points of view and opening the floor for debate. Some museums, which he says “occupy a place of dubious merit in the exhibit world” are about making a partisan point of view. The last group, the advocacy groups, he has between the partisan and moderators – this group has a point of view but work to keep the discussion open.

I know I have very definite opinions about certain events, people and themes in the 1906-1913 time period. Where on the spectrum discussed above should I aim to place the exhibit? Can I be an advocate (if I’m fully up front about my opinions and biases and accept those of visitors)? Or should I try to be neutral? Thinking back to the earlier article that suggested “signing” an exhibit, does linking an exhibit to an author encourage or discourage advocacy? Please let me know what you think and your thoughts on the exhibit.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- Cost of Christmas Supper 1911

As I promised Vicky in my reply to her comment (27 July post), I will look more into buildings and recreation and get back to you as to what I find.

I did get a chance to look into a few ads to see what things cost in 1906-1913. I haven’t had a chance to compare yet with today’s prices. If you have a sense of what this would cost today, please let me know.

One great advertisement I found was from the Hudson’s Bay in Lethbridge. They were advertising Christmas Hampers in December 1911. They had a wide range of different ones.
Some included only alcohol.
Hamper No. 54
Price $3.00
(Weight 30 pounds)
1 bottle Hudson’s Bay Niagara Port
1 bottle Hudson’s Bay Sherry
1 bottle Hudson’s Bay Special Native
1 bottle Hudson’s Bay Calawba
1 bottle Hudson’s Bay Ginger Wine
1 bottle Hudson’s Bay Claret
6 bottles

Hamper No. 55
Price $4.50
(Weight 30 pounds)
1 bottle Hudson’s Bay Brandy
1 bottle Hudson’s Bay Claret
1 bottle Hudson’s Bay London Dock Port
1 bottle Hudson’s Bay Old Rye
1 bottle Hudson’s Bay Sherry
1 bottle Hudson’s Bay Scotch
6 bottles

Some were food and assorted items.

Hamper No. 66
Price $7.50
(Approximate weight 45 pounds)
10 lb. Turkey
1 lb. Cranberries
2 lb. Plum Pudding
1 package Mince Meat
1 lb. New Figs
1 can Tomatoes or Corn
1 lb. best Cluster Table Raisins
1 lb. New Season’s Mixed Nuts
1 box Somebody’s Luggage
1 lb. Finest Mocha and Java Coffee
1 lb. Finest Quality Chocolates
1 lb. Huntley & Palmer’s Fancy Mixed Biscuits
1 3 lb. can Bowlby’s Pears
1 bottle C & B Mixed Pickles
Fancy 3 lb. Tin Tetley’s Tea

They will ship to any address. Please prepay if being given as a gift. And each hampers is nicely packed in a painted box with hinged lid and fastener. The most expensive hamper was $15.00 and that was for 12 bottles of assorted alcohol. For $13.25 you could get a turkey, assorted food and 5 bottles of alcohol.

How to use this sort of information in the exhibit? Just for fun? To show how some people lived (and compare with the lives of the poor)? Still working on those questions.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- Has anything changed?

For today’s blog, I thought I would read the July 27, 1909, Lethbridge Daily Herald and see what was on the minds of Lethbridge citizens exactly a century ago.

Not surprisingly, there were many of the same concerns as today. Crime was reported – a man from Taber was given sixty days hard labour for stealing a sack of grain. There were
labour problems – there was a report on a letter sent to the Minister of Labour. This letter reported on a settlement about discrimination in the mines. The letter reminded everyone that the settlement agreed that there would be “no discrimination on the part of the companies against union men, or on the part of the union against non-union men employed.”

There were advertisements. Hudson Bay had Men’s Oxfords on for $3.25 a pair when normally they were $4.50. And Wellington Bros. had the largest and best stock of wall paper in the city.

There was a notice that for all Curlers that the curlers were having a meeting the next night. Sports scores were provided.

There were notices that you could get your palm read for 50¢ or go to the Eureka Theatre and watch one of three movies: A Mountain Feud, Mysterious Correspondent or Worthy Young Man.

There was a letter to the editor regarding water use in the city. The letter highlighted the wastefulness of “the sprinkling of the various weed beds which border the streets and equal quantity is used in watering the plank sidewalks and the edge of the road.”

There were advertised opportunities for investment and making money. “Don’t Miss This Chance Of Making Money. Invest in a few nice level building lots on Westminster Road and Fair Grounds, while we are selling them for $100 each and on easy payments. The City is building in that direction very rapidly. These lots are sure to double in value in a very short time. They are going fast.”

Except for the boys being arrested for stealing a chicken from a back yard and the coal being advertised for sale, one could almost imagine that she was reading a modern newspaper.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- What Women Built

I was speaking with one of the Galt volunteers yesterday and she said what she loves about doing history is being a detective – searching for the facts, pictures and stories you need. I agree. There is great fun in hunting down something, especially something you’ve been looking for a very long time.

But as much as we sometimes hunt down information, I think sometimes information is also waiting out there to pounce on us because often you find exactly what you’re not looking for but need.

Such was the case last night when I was researching on health laws in Alberta and came across a great write-up on the Van Haarlem Hospital. So far I had overlooked the growth of private hospitals in 1906-1913.

The Van Haarlem Hospital started in 1910. Like other hospitals both in Lethbridge and across Alberta, the Van Haarlem was started by an individual nurse. In this case, it was Marie Elizabeth Van Haarlem. The hospital became so successful that it was eventually taken over by the Sisters of St. Martha as St. Michaels Hospital in 1929. The Van Haarlem Hospital building is still standing on 7th Avenue South. Elizabeth Van Haarlem became a school nurse when she sold the hospital. Over 2000 babies were born in the Van Haarlem Hospital.

The Van Haarlem wasn’t the only private hospital opened in Lethbridge during this time. Grace Dainty opened a private maternity hospital in north Lethbridge in 1909. This hospital was transformed into a general hospital during the epidemic of 1918 and then closed in 1923. Grace Dainty went on to become the first public health nurse in Lethbridge.

Additionally, Mrs. E.M. Blue and other midwives worked in Lethbridge starting around 1909. These midwives would open up a room in their houses for expectant mothers.

It is also in this time period that the Isolation Hospital started. In 1911 Mildred Dobbs took over its operations. She worked 39 years at the hospital nursing up to 4 different contagious diseases at once without ever having a case of a patient acquiring another disease while in the hospital.

Certainly that these places all started around the same time is linked to the astonishing population growth at that time. But does it also say something about the role of nurses in these communities? Does the fact that the maternity hospitals were separate from the general hospitals tell us something about how our “treatment” of pregnancy has changed? Or does it just remind us of what pioneer women were capable of and what was built by women?

Monday, 20 July 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- Bricks and Blocks

Ah, serendipity. I started writing this blog and then went to the Archives to do research on another topic. I did not find what I was looking for in the Archives but found several documents relevant to this blog. Just goes to show that researchers need to be open to what they find.

Many buildings were constructed in Lethbridge from 1906-1913. Some still here: Galt Hospital, Bowman Art Gallery, Post Office, Castle Apartments, Fire Hall No. 1, Odd Fellows Building and Alec Arms. Where did the materials for these buildings come from?

A lot of the materials were locally sourced. Lethbridge had a brick plant, called the Lethbridge Brick and Terra Cotta Company. The brickyard was in the coulee just south of St. Patrick’s Cemetery. In 1963 (and now I really have to go and see if there’s anything left) the pit which was created by the removal of clay and parts of a number of foundations were still visible. Tom Arnold said that in the summer of 1907 about half a dozen “of us boys” came to Lethbridge from England and immediately found work in the brickyard. When they arrived, the yard was making 35,000 bricks a day. The public library (built in the 1920s) used 70,000 bricks.

The foundation for many of these buildings was sandstone. The Monarch sandstone quarry, called the MacLeod Quarrying and Contracting Company, was also known as the The Townsite or Scotsman’s Quarry. Quarrying began here in 1910. The quarrymen first removed the few feet of shale. Then they blasted out large slabs of sandstone which were hoisted out of the quarry by a heavy winch, loaded on carts and carried to a giant saw, which roughly cut the stone into required widths and thicknesses. Then the stone-cutters did all of the cutting, shaping and polishing necessary. Some 60 to 80 men worked there and sandstone from this quarry went to Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Fort Macleod, High River, Calgary, Edmonton and even Regina.

In the Galt Collections is a cornerstone from the 1910 Fleetwood School. The sandstone from the cornerstone came from the Monarch Quarry. Carved into the sandstone are these words: “Trustees 1910 J.H. Fleetwood Chairman, W.S. Galbraith MD, O.H. Johnston, J.S. Stewart, O.D. Austin, C.B. Bowman Sec. Treas., Architects H.M. & W.A. Whiddington” There is history in our old buildings – not only just in the uses and the people but also in the materials and construction. Looks for these cornerstones as you’re out and about in Lethbridge. There’s more of them than you may imagine.

FYI -- Fleetwood School was built in 1910 on the present day site of Fleetwood-Bawden School. The 1910 building was demolished in 1971.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- Lethbridge's Canoeing Past

Maybe it’s the nice weather (supposed to be 28 today and 30 tomorrow), but last night I thought, why not look more deeply into Henderson Lake.

Henderson, after all, was built between 1911 and 1912 to provide recreation for the rapidly growing community and as a showcase for the Dryland Farming Congress (1912). The park was the jewel in the city Parks department. In 1911, the Exhibition moved just east of Henderson Lake and started a brisk building campaign – including a grandstand, race track and other facilities. At Henderson Lake, the city damned Slaughterhouse Slough (yes, you read it correctly), built a footbridge near the west end and enlarged, levelled and, eventually, concreted some of the shore lines. To encourage swimmers, the Rotary Club built an artificial beach while the city put up changing rooms.

When I typed in Henderson Lake, I found the article below.

Bruce Ridpath, the peerless canoe performer, who has already been “Heralded,” finds himself still weak from the accident which overtook him last fall in Toronto. The noted hockey star and canoeist has not done anything with a canoe from that day until Monday evening last when he went to Henderson Lake and gave himself a try out in a borrowed canoe. He found himself so much out of practice and lacking in strength from his enforced lay off that he will not be able to accommodate his friends and admirers here who have so urgently requested him to give one of his celebrated canoe performances at the lake during his visit to the city. Bruce, in talking to the Herald, said it would take him a considerable space of time to get in condition for the work and he will be leaving Lethbridge at the end of the week. Although he has completely recovered from the accident which laid him up for several months, he is not yet in athletic form but promises to be heard from when the hockey season opens up. He relations here wish him to give Southern Alberta serious thought as a place of residence and business, but “Riddy” has big interests in the hockey world as well as being in demand as a coach in the canoe clubs of the east.
14 August 1912 p 6 Lethbridge Daily Herald

It’s usually never difficult to get me off on a tangent and I had to know about Bruce Ridpath.

Bruce Ridpath played for the Ottawa Senators when they won the Stanley Cup in 1911. He was very high-scoring, with an average of better than a goal per game in his four years in professional hockey. His hockey career was cut short by an automobile accident that fractured his skull. While he attempted a comeback, it wasn’t to be. He was also renowned, before his accident, as a canoe racer and stunt paddler.

What brought Bruce Ridpath to Lethbridge? His brother, Thomas Ridpath, had moved to Lethbridge in 1911. Like his brother, Thomas was also an expert canoeist and on his arrival in Lethbridge was involved in helping develop the Lethbridge Aquatic Club, which sponsored canoeing and sailing on Henderson Lake. A lot of sporting and recreation clubs got their start in this 1906-1913 time period. But, I must admit, canoeing wasn’t one I was expecting to find.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- Object Lessons

I was spending some time looking again at objects we have in the museum from the 1906-1913 time period. A few sort of jumped out at me as part of this story. These are objects that at first glance seem simple but have much to tell.

The first is a steel and leather riding spur. The collected information on this spur, which is described in the records as a “rather crude spur,” is that it was one of a pair made for Thomas F. Smith, the first farm manager of the Lethbridge Provincial Jail. The spur was made by a prisoner; one of the first horse thieves convicted after the jail was completed in July 1911.
Gets me thinking. I knew the jail had a farm and, according to stories I’ve been told, it was later forced to close it because local farmers complained it had an unfair advantage (cheap labour) and the farmers couldn’t compete with it. I should learn more about the farm. What were the reasons given for the farm when they first built the jail? What was is supposed to achieve? Does it reflect an understanding of rehabilitation of that time period? Or was it a chance to get some free labour?
The spur also highlights how times have changed. Today would anyone be legally or ethically able to accept a “gift” from a prisoner under his supervision?

The second is a hydrant thawing kit from the fire department. It may seem simply a technical piece of equipment but this highlights how the fire department moved from a volunteer to a professional organization during this time period.
In the early part of the 20th century, water hauling contractors would regularly obtain their water from the water hydrants. As a result, some hydrants were broken and others became frozen during cold temperatures. This greatly increased dangers when fighting fires in winter. In January 1911 the Fire Department fought 2 fires in minute 40 degree weather. Since the hydrant was frozen shut, the fire department could not use the closest hydrant and had to run a hose to one about a block away. The weather already made fighting this fire incredibly dangerous (the newspaper described the firefighters as frozen statues) and not being able to access water greatly added to the problem. A by-law was passed making it illegal for anyone but the fire and waterworks departments to touch or operate fire hydrants.

The third is a fare box from the street car. The street car system was built as part of the feelings of expansion, prosperity and boundless optimism of the early 20th century. Since they believed Lethbridge would soon have a population of 25,000 and, eager to impress delegates of the Dry Farming Congress, a great deal of money was invested in this new public transportation system. The first 11 miles (17 km) of track was opened by Mayor Hatch in August 1912, coinciding with the annual fair being held at the Exhibition Grounds. The grand dream was not to be. The downtown line was discontinued soon after it was built. A few years later the street car staff was let go and re-hired at reduced wages. And a few years after that one of the south-side residential lines was closed.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- 1906 to 1913 Exhibits

Today’s musing about the exhibit is a bit different from ones in the past. This one isn’t about content but about how exhibits are created.

Sometimes just one sentence or two in an article or piece of writing can really get you to think and to question how you do something.

The other day I was reading an article on tips for writing for museum visitors. I’ve read articles by the author, Philip Yenawine, before and also sat in on a webinar where he was a presenter. I always enjoy his work and find it to offers a lot of ideas. Such was again true of this article.
Days later I’m still thinking about the article or, more specifically, the last two sentences:

“Sign your writing, ensuring that the reader knows that the comments come from some source that they could get to know as they do a columnist. Avoid the anonymous voice of authority.”

Right on the cover of a book it is obvious who the author is. There is usually no doubt who wrote an article. Artists sign their work. Movies proudly claim who the actors are. But for the regular museum visitor there is no “author” for an exhibit. The exhibit comes from that magical world of “authority” and “experts.”

So, why’s this the case? How would visitors react if at the beginning of an exhibit, there was a sign: Research and labels by…, Exhibit design by …, Direction and project management by … Would it make people feel as if they could better interact with the exhibit? Would it increase their involvement?

Monday, 6 July 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- The Darker Side

Continuing with my posts, this is some early research into the years 1906-1913. Please keep in mind that this is just bits and pieces and includes musings and early ideas for the exhibit. As always, please let me know your thoughts, concerns, ideas.

When I started I tended to look at the 1906-1913 boom as generally a good thing. But there is a lot more going on beneath the surface. Certainly not everyone benefited equally. How to balance the story to tell both the good and bad of the time period?

Looking deeper at immigration and diversity in Lethbridge shows us many of the issues facing the community and its response to these issues. On Christmas Day 1907 a riot took place in downtown Lethbridge. As the Lethbridge Herald of 1 January 1908 (p6) reported “there was a spontaneous movement to clean out the supposed murderers of Harry Smith and all their fellow-countrymen.” Approximately 500 people (many of whom may have been observers) smashed through the Columbia Restaurant, damaged the Alberta Restaurant and Joe Fong’s restaurant and accosted several Chinese workers. Other Chinese workers were forced to lock themselves into the basement of the restaurants for their own safety. Mayor Galbraith called in the Mounted Police, swore in special constables and made a speech to the rioters. “By ten o’clock everything was quiet and one of the most unfortunate and disgraceful affairs in the history of Lethbridge was over.” [Lethbridge Herald 1 January 1908 p 6]

In January 1909 City Council ordered its engineer to employ English speaking workers in preference to “foreigners.” Several restaurants, including the Hub Café, Castle Hotel and Hotel Alexandra, promoted themselves as hiring only white staff and one café went so far as to call itself White Man’s Café in recognition of its hiring policies. Even the Fashion Café, with Quon Sang proprietor, stated in its advertising that it had white waitresses.

In 1910 City Council passed by-law 83 (on the books 1911-1916). All laundries were consigned to a specifically designated area (west of 4th Street South and between 1st and 6th Avenues South). This by-law was presented as being about the prevention of fire and putting laundries in an area where there were good sewer connections. The fact that a white-owned laundry, Lethbridge Steam Laundry, while outside the area, was not required to move highlights the real purpose – to segregate the Chinese businesses and limit the number of Chinese laundries.

Why? Was it based on fear? Unemployment and economic concerns? Prejudice? Sense of superiority? What was going on then? And what is different today? Still a lot more to research.