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.