Friday, 26 June 2009

Winds of Change -- More Museum Exhibit Musings

The other day I received an email talking about the Winds of Change and asking museums to identify how they are responding to the factors that “continue to blow across our communities and the world.” When I read them, I realized that one way 1906-1913 is incredibly important to people today is that they had to respond to many of the same factors. Their successes and failures can help us better plan our response. What can we learn from 100 years ago?

Here’s a list of some of the winds of change this person identified:
- climate change
- unemployment
- urban sprawl
- loss of biodiversity
- increased ethno-cultural diversity in cities
- desertification
- globalized economics
- use of energy (renewable and non-renewable)
- equity (economic, education, employment, social, etc)
- immigration (as an essential component of economic growth)
- an economic system based on continuous growth
- any social, environmental, cultural or economic issue that is rooted in a given community

Let’s start with immigration. Over the last 10 years Canada has welcomed about 200,000 immigrants a year or about 2 million people into a country of approximately 30 million people. In the 8 years from 1906-1913, Canada welcomed almost 2.2 million people or an average of 270,000 people a year. The total population of Canada in the early 20th century was less than 8 million people. Said another way, in 1914, ¼ of all people in Canada were immigrants who had arrived in the past 10 years.

In Lethbridge the population went from 2,313 in 1906 to 8,050 in 1911 for a growth of 248.03%. How did they manage that growth or did they even try? How did they handle housing? (do you think the city would still let us set up tents and cots in Galt Gardens?) Construction of roads and infrastructure? (as I've said before, we came out of this period greatly in debt) What were the concerns around immigration discussed then? Now? Is there something here for us to learn? Does our response to growth and immigration differ from theirs 100 years ago? If yes, how and why? What does it tell us about how our community is different now? What does it show us has persisted in our community?

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- 1912 Quote -- What do you think of us now?

So far the feedback is to use a boosterism slogan for the title. I’m glad – any opportunity I have to use grandiose and verbose verbiage is a most sought after situation.

I found the quote below on the last page of a 1912 Board of Trade Souvenir Picture book for Lethbridge.

In 1885 Galt said
"Let there be Lethbridge,"
And there was Lethbridge;
What do you think of her now?

There is something to me so very Canadian in this quote. It starts out with bravado – the power to control and create – and then it ends with worry about how people think about us. Please, please like us. Have we Canadians always wondered how we’re viewed by others and what they think of us? (okay, maybe too much psychology for a history exhibit).

There’s also, though, the recognition of how very much Lethbridge has changed in just 27 years. That awareness, certainly, fuelled the rampant belief in growth that people had in the early 20th century – so much had been achieved and they didn’t see the growth ending any time soon. Gee, does that sound familiar? Why do people always forget that what goes up, must come down?

An idea came to me to use this quote on the introductory panel for the exhibit. Because, really, the exhibit is about studying this time period in-depthly and each person deciding for him and herself exactly what he or she does think of Lethbridge 1906-1913 The natural extension, of course, is to also then ask yourself what you think of Lethbridge today? The real trick with this exhibit will be to not only to explain this period but to show its importance to today. So, how can I make YOU care about 1906-1913? Some more ideas on that next time....

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- Thoughts on a Title

Doing some research on-line I got distracted when I found a 1911 book on Lethbridge. This was one of those boosterism books that highlighted the many advantages of the community. The sub-title for the pamphlet was A City of Potentialities and I’m wondering if that wouldn’t be a good name for the exhibit: A City of Potentialities: Lethbridge 1906-1913. It would be a play on words because most of the potential that they saw in the early 20th century did not come to pass. So the exhibit could highlight some of the pie in the sky ideas of the time. But it could also look at many of the potentialities that were brought to pass and which still affect us today.

Or, another line I found in a writing from that time period: “The mineral resources of Pittsburgh, the Agricultural area of Minneapolis”. Okay, that one could be a little long. What about: “A Pennsylvania Under Prairie Farms”? Would really require you to know about the coal fields of Pennsylvania so it probably won’t work either. But what’s obvious from this time period is that they are often trying to highlight both the coal and the agricultural potential. Of all the boosterism slogans that balance coal and wheat, I still think I like “Coal City in the Wheat Country” best. But if we want to go another direction there’s also – “Bright, Sunny Skies – No Smoke” and “The Gateway Between the Prairie and the Pacific.”

But, seriously, would one of the boosterism slogans of that time period work for a title? Would it be too ‘tongue in cheek’ to work? Would we have to explain the title? Or would it be self-explanatory? Should the title be obvious or should it be something people have to figure out for themselves? Maybe use their potentialities?

Well, I don’t have to come up with a title just yet but I’m certainly going to be reading more of these books on-line. If you’re interested in reading them they are on Our Future Our Past under the local histories.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Museum Exhibt Musings -- A 1st Look at the Collections

I have started going through the Collections database looking at objects related to 1906-1913 for the exhibit I'm curating on those years. I must admit I’m more familiar researching with documents and photographs. So trying to think about how the objects tie into the story is more of a stretch for me. Right now I’m just going through them all and seeing what looks interesting to me. I haven’t had much time to make sense of them just yet.

But one thing that hit me quite quickly after looking at objects from this time period was how many trophies and cups there were. Shouldn’t really be surprising, though. How many of us (or more likely our parents) still have all of the medallions, trophies and awards we received through sports and other activities from our childhood? These are something we keep.

And, like today, the ones from 1906-1913 were given for a wide variety of reasons. The Downer Cup (1913) was given to the Annual Cadet Company Competition in Lethbridge Public Schools. There was a Football Trophy (1913-1915) that appears to have been a prize for a football league comprised of teams representing local freight handlers’ offices.

There were several related to agriculture: one for a championship Holstein bull (won by G.H. (Herb) Watson), one to be awarded to the champion heavy double team (award to W.T. McCaugherty) and one for the Champion Exhibitor from the Raymond District (also won by G.H. (Herb) Watson).

C.A. Magrath donated the Magrath Cup for Lethbridge Public Schools. This one was presented between 1912 and 1919. Unfortunately, I don’t yet know for what purpose the cup was given.

And, most interestingly to me, there is a cup that was “Presented to Joseph Gillespie upon his retiring from Lethbridge City Police by members of the force Sept 10, 1912.” While this seems innocuous enough, Gillespie didn’t retire but was fired (I’ll have to go into his story at a later date). Gillespie was, though, well thought of by the force and was rehired as Police Chief in 1920.

Do the trophies have a story to tell? Do they tie in with boosterism? Or do they simply highlight individual achievement and not the story of a community?

Can’t wait to see what other treasures I uncover in the Collections database. More soon….

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- 1911 Was an Interesting Year in Lethbridge

While I didn't mean to be working on my 1906-1913 research this weekend, these years are such an important part of the early development of Lethbridge that whatever items I'm working on, episodes from these years crop up. And I can't resist capturing them for possible use in the 1906-1913 exhibit.

The year 1911 appears to have been an incredibly interesting one in Lethbridge. In the space of just a little research I have found:

  • 1 case of a woman escaping an abusive husband in England; this woman is caught "living in sin" with a man in Lethbridge and is sentenced to be deported -- the woman sneaks back to Lethbridge to be with the 2nd man and is deported again
  • the Balmoral Hotel fire and the death of the Fire Chief 2 months later from pneumonia
  • a case involving attempted assault on a woman, attempted blackmail, a woman who deserted her husband (who tried to get her to work in a brothel) and the woman is now living with another man in Lethbridge claiming he's her husband (and this is all part of the same case) (a 1913 Lethbridge Herald article was titled "Lethbridge a Mecca for Runaway Wives")
  • at least 25 people up on charges of running, being an inmate of or a frequenter of a "house of ill fame" (at one time!)
  • Starland theatre opened in 1911
  • only execution ever in City of Lethbridge (at NWMP barracks)
  • several liquor cases before the court
  • great preparations for the coronation of George V
  • home mail delivery started
  • it's announced the Lethbridge will have a CPR Superintendent and 10 more train crews will be posted here
  • the Lethbridge Board of Trade put a full page ad in the London Daily Times and discussed the possibility of placing a full time publicity commissioner in London, England, to attract immigrants

What else will I found? And, remember, this is only 1911.

And, most importantly, which of these stories do you want to learn more about? Let me know -- I still have a lot more research to go but I would love to hear what you think should go into the exhibit.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Museum Exhibit Muse -- West Lethbridge in 1913?

It is interesting when different parts of your life all come together at the same time. As I’m working on this research for an exhibit on the years 1906-1913 in Lethbridge, I am also sitting as a member of the Community Advisory Group for Plan Your City. This is the development of a Municipal Development plan that will be used to make decisions for planning Lethbridge for the next 40-50 years. A large part of the discussions I’ve heard is about where growth should take place and what type of growth – high-density, low-density, houses, or apartments and what should it all look like in the end.

Between 1908 and 1912 eager developers in Lethbridge carved out about 20 subdivisions (most on the south side). But, what may surprise people is that the west side wasn’t ignored and two subdivisions planned during the boom were West Lethbridge and Westmount. But these west side developments (or, indeed, most of the planned subdivisions) of the early 20th century were not to be. The real estate bust in 1913 forced the boosters and dreamers to recognize that these were unrealistic hopes. The city annexed most of the subdivisions following the 1913 boom and it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that some of these subdivisions finally were developed. West Lethbridge had to wait until the 1970s and the construction of the University of Lethbridge for growth to take place on that side of town.

I don’t like to play “what if” history but I have to wonder how different Lethbridge would have looked today if the bust of 1913 had happened a few short years later?