Friday, 26 February 2010

I heard a story once...

Anyone who comes along on my tours and programs and hears me say "I heard a story once..." or "people say..." or "according to legend..." should know that I'm going to tell a story/rumour/fact that I've heard (often many times and from many people) but which can not be proven or disproven.

When, as a historian, you hear a juicy piece of information, do you use it? Even if you present both sides of the story (as best you can), people will likely only remember that one piece of "gossip" that adds the spice to the story.

People who collect oral history have the same concern. People's memories are not always accurate and you can not rely on oral history to provide correct dates and even correct names. But they are wonderful for providing "atmosphere" and helping develop a sense of being in that time and place.

I've been thinking about this as I have come across several wonderful stories over the past few months. Here's just a few of the things that have gone on lately:

The Peel Collection has some wonderful folk history on-line. But, of course, the stories related to Lethbridge are usually written by "Anonymous" and many of the facts can't be verified. But there's a lot of info there I would love to use for the 1906-1913 exhibit. And there's a lot of interesting stories about famous southern Alberta people.

Greg, our Archivist, has been in email contact with a retired academic living in Maine who believes she can prove that one of our local citizens was the author of an anonymous autobiography called "Madeleine" (written in 1919) which purports to tell the story of a madam working in southern Alberta in the early 20th century. Oral history in Lethbridge has claimed for years that this woman was a madam before her marriage. Can it finally be proved?
And, of course, I constantly get told a lot of great stories but only if I promise to never say who told me the story. Should I use the stories or not...?

You'll have to find out for yourself whether or not I share the stories.

Daytime cemetery tours start in May (or contact us and book for a group).

St. Patrick's Cemetery Tour May 4, July 8 & 22, and August 5

Mountain View Cemetery Tour May 6, July 15 & 29 and August 12

Purchase tickets in advance or buy them at the gate. Just $4/person.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Even the Best Events Have Problems

While the rest of Canada was either embarrassed or disappointed with the Vancouver Olympic Opening Ceremonies and the one lantern arm not rising, I was sitting at home wondering how the event coordinator and production crew must have been feeling about the hydraulics, knowing the world was watching.

Every event planner has problems here and there.....most of the time we are lucky and no one attending the event knows anything didn't go as planned, but when it happens on TV in front of an audience of millions, and is as obvious as this was, well all you can do is hope that they can forgive and forget and move on quickly, though they probably sweated about this incident for days.

I think the key to event planning is keeping a cool head and dealing with those troublesome "oops" in a calm and quiet manner. Having plans B, C and D is also very helpful but sometimes you plan B, C and D for all the wrong things - the things that have no problem.

I think every good event planner has a few sleepless nights or crazy dreams as their event draws nearer, whether it is one they have done annually or a first time event. The nerves are good though as they force you to look at the event from all angles and be sure that you have evaluated and planned as best as you can for the foreseeable problems, and hopefully that will eliminate most of the unforeseeables as well.

"Event planning is not a career for the faint of heart." I have seen this quote over and over in my training and courses and workshops and over the years I believe more and more in the truth of this, though I believe I appear more and more calm with each year of event planning - I am better at hiding what I am nervous about!

I would never advise anyone to attend an event and try to find the problems - you won't enjoy the event if you are looking for those tiny things, but I do tell people that next time they go to an event enjoy and appreciate the smallest and finest of details because they are far more significant and took far more time than most of us ever think about - we all assumed the arms would all rise in that Opening Ceremony....until it didn't happen! But did we think about the details that also would have gone into having the cauldron hydraulics on the floor - that there were no tripping hazards or any visible different to the floor in that area for the whole ceremony; that the fire would move up each arm; that the cauldron would "catch"....we assumed that that was all going to happen but the amount of hours that went into ensuring that all the things that DID work out is mind-boggling. To watch that Opening Ceremony and think about those details, well you sure end up feeling a lot more appreciation for the event than considering the one thing that unfortunately did not work out.

I hope those event planners have moved on and feel ok with their work because they did amazing work, even if there was one glitch that millions of people saw. It made the event unique and probably more memorable. My hearts go out to them but so do many kudos for the incredible job that they did do! I'd have been proud to have been part of such an amazing team but I'll save my talents for the upcoming events here at the Galt Museum & Archives - our Donor Recognition Event, Taste of Downtown, Eggstravaganza, and more!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Why did you come to Lethbridge?

A teacher gave me a tambourine as a gift this week. This has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of my blog but I just couldn't resist sharing.

I was at the Teachers' Convention yesterday and today. A great opportunity to meet and talk with teachers and to catch up with some people I don't see very often. Teachers, needless to say, are among my favourite people (historians being another group I find to be universally fabulous people). And kids, too, of course. Probably a good thing, then, that I'm a teacher who works in a history museum.

I gave a presentation on Thursday afternoon on Critical Thinking. I chose to lead the group through a case study on immigration in the early 20th century.

I have been working/researching around immigration and we have a few projects going around this subject.

A few of us here at the museum (Greg, Lori and myself) will soon be working with a class of students on a project where each student picks an ethnic/cultural group and then researches that group's experience of moving to Lethbridge in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

As well, one of our volunteers has been working on putting together an Archives Kit of documents, photographs and material related to immigration. This is designed to tie in with the grade 5 curriculum and will be available for teachers from across southern Alberta to use with their students.

And immigration is one of the topics I'm researching for the Lethbridge 1906-1913 exhibit.

Through this, I have come across a lot of incredible stories and information. It is fascinating to see why people came to Lethbridge and what their experiences were. Of course, the experiences differed depending on their age, gender and ethnic background.

I personally love the stories of why people came here that aren't generally well-known. For example, most people know that Nicholas Sheran came to the area looking for gold and instead started the coal mine and operated the ferry across the river. But how many know that his sister Marcella came here because her brother convinced her to leave New York City to come here and keep house for him? How many of you would have traveled from New York City to the prairies of southern Alberta in 1874 because your brother was lonely? Within a year or two of arriving, Marcella married Joseph McFarland of Fort Macleod.
If your family has an interesting story of coming to southern Alberta, I would love to hear it.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

We Want be a Tour Guide!

With our upcoming exhibit we anticipate a great response from the public. The public generally like to come to museums to see "stuff" and well, having about 200 artifacts in the next exhibit, there will be lots of it to see! Following "Treasures & Curiosities" is summer-time, our peak visiting time AND a Blackfoot Shirt exhibit being done in conjunction with the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, with the shirts coming from Oxford England!

As the Volunteer Coordinator I get many requests for support from the staff. I very much enjoy recruiting people for the right spot - the spot where they can use their skills, develop new skills, and generally enjoy their chosen way to spend their free time with us. Sometimes though, we build a program from the bare bones and that is what we are going through right now with this brand new volunteer position.

When we created our new Community Programmer position, the opportunity arose to build a program where Tour Guides would be available at all (or most) visiting hours to spend time with the visitors and ensure that they experience the whole building, not just the Discovery Hall and Special Exhibit space. Over the last almost-year, she has been creating the training and support pieces for this position. We are now at the point where we believe we are ready to work with a few (or hopefully many!) good men and women, and boys and girls, to spend time with the visitor and enhance their experience. These volunteers are very special because they will enhance the face of the Galt Museum & Archives to the visitors so they need to be people passionate about the Galt, passionate about the history of our area, and passionate about people!

Slowly I am spreading word that this volunteer position will be rolling out over the next few months. Already six of our current volunteers have stepped up and are interested in taking the training. Once they have done the different levels of training, they and the Community Programmer can decide if this position is right for them or not (the nice thing about a volunteer job is if it doesn't end up being what you thought, you can step down or change to something else - much more easily, usually, than in a paid position). After some careful supervision and evaluation, these tour guides will be ready to go!

It will be fantastic to have volunteers available to play such an important role. We currently have a few, like Silvio, who dedicate a few hours each week to us, but sadly we cannot ask Silvio to be here 10 am - 4:30 pm most days of the week! We appreciate him and his skills and hope he will be able to demonstrate to our new volunteers the friendliness, the kindness, and the ability to be a wealth of local information (not just historical, but also "where do we go to buy...." and "how far is it to ......") that so many visitors have come to love and appreciate in Silvio.

Are you interested in this opportunity? If so, make sure you put your name on the wait list for training and we will contact you as we bring more and more people into this position. Give Lori a shout at 403-320-4219 or email . What a great way to meet people from around the world, and if you are a student, to build your resume!

Friday, 12 February 2010

Bus Tours are Back

This is a quick post to announce that I`m planning bus tours for summer 2010! The tours will again feature topics from Southwest Alberta history. Our tours have experts on each topic who spend the day with the participants. We also try to provide behind the scenes access and excellent food. Tours leave from the museum in the morning, and return in the afternoon or early evening depending on the length of the tour. All of our tours are full day tours except for the Hutterites History and Culture tour in August.

In June (Saturday that 19th), we`ll travel to Waterton and learn about natural history on the bus ride, and at Red Rock Canyon. We`ll return to the town site for lunch followed by a special guided tour from the Wildflower Festival. Last year we had a wonderful time searching out the flowers, and I think the guests would have been happy to stay all day if I had allowed it :)

In July we`ll go to Indian Days on the Kainai Reserve and learn about Blackfoot history, culture, and modern life. The tour last year was a wonderful and full day - the dancing was a particular favorite, as was the chance to learn about current projects on the reserve including wind power and agricultural initiatives. The visit to Red Crow College, formerly St. Mary`s Indian Residential School, was interesting and informative.

In July we will also go to Writing-On-Stone Provincial park for a tour of the rock formations and the new interpretive centre. A trip to Writing-On-Stone was the most requested tour in our visitor surveys from our tours over the past three years. I`m really looking forward to the trip myself as I have many fond memories of visiting the park while growing up in Lethbridge.

In August we`ll have our only half-day tour to Wilson Hutterite Colony. Last year`s tour provided unprecedented access to modern Hutterite culture. The tour guides from the colony were more than generous with their knowledge and time, and served a delicious lunch.

I`ll post more info about these tours once I have it confirmed. I think it`s going to be a fun summer!

Treasures & Curiosities Sneak Peek

Our new exhibit Treasures & Curiosities is opening on Saturday February 20th with a free-admission community day. The exhibit celebrates some of the thousands of artifacts in our collections at the museum. Staff and other community members were invited to work with a volunteer in the collections area to select an artifact. Many people chose artifacts with a personal meaning or connection, and many of these artifacts have fabulous stories that you are going to enjoy in the exhibit.

During Community Day on February 20th we`ll have programs all day including screening the three episodes of Antiques Roadshow that were filmed in Lethbridge; old-fashioned games for children; and a fair of treasures from our regional museums network. The ribbon cutting for the exhibit will be at 11am.

One of the regional museums, the Old Jail and Museum in Granum, is bringing this item to Community Day among other things:
When you explore the Treasures & Curiosities exhibit you`ll find things that are both interesting to look at that have fascinating stories. Here are some of my personal favorites from my sneak peek at the exhibit set up yesterday.

This is a calf weaner. Note that it recycles (upcycles?) nails: This hat is from the prisoner of war camp here in town:

I remember the Tale of Cock Robin from when I was young:

This is a piece of a hangman`s rope: There are many more fabulous finds in this exhibit - come check it out soon!

No, I'm not 75 years old

Yesterday, I had a student ask if I had been a child during the Second World War. I chose to take that as a compliment because obviously my stories and discussions about the topic were so engaging and knowledgeable that he assumed the only way I must know these things was to have lived through it. (And I truly don't wish to hear any other possible theory as to why he might have thought that.)

Bringing the past alive (truly alive) is one of the most challenging, rewarding and frustrating parts of a historians' job. With time travel not available, how do you really get people to experience the past? How do you show them what it would have been like to live during that time period? How was life for people of different ages and backgrounds? What would the experiences of daily life have been? What would be the sounds, smells, tastes? And, yet, that's what people often want.

I have received back the responses from the Lethbridge 1906-1913 surveys and here are just a few of the responses as to what people want to experience in the exhibit:
  • sight, sound, touch

  • I would like to see a lot of things and not have to read a lot of long text panels. As a 34 year old married woman, what would my life have been like during that time?

  • I hope the exhibit could resemble the real Lethbridge in 1906-1913

  • era music to create a mood

  • go back in time, use of murals & posters to simulate timeframe
  • I would want to feel that I really did step back in time - can you create that kind of atmosphere?

  • I'd love to walk down a street that was from that period...and hear the sounds that one would have heard. Perhaps look through a window into a typical living room or store. I think it would be fascinating for adults and children alike!

The survey has also let me know the top 6 topic choices from our staff, volunteers and the general public. They are (drum roll, please):

  • buildings and development, grand successes from 1906-1913, grand failures from 1906-1913, immigration, odd & unusual information and crime & punishment.
So, now, knowing people want these topics and these experiences it's back to research and development for me...

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Planning a Party - the hardest part

It is my job to plan parties, events, and other such functions for the museum and archives.

Everyone talks about how fun it must be, and for the most part, it is great to be able to use your own creativity and harness the ideas and energy of others, to come up with something new and exciting. From decor to music, from program to give-aways, there is actually a lot of thought that goes into every detail of every event.

People often don't understand how "minor" some of the details may seem, but how much thought I put into them. One of the examples I give people is the Beer Tasting keepsake mugs that the first 250 ticket purchasers get each year - I spend time trying to find the right font for the print on the mugs, a font that matches the theme. Not only the right font, but also the right colour, is important. So probably in 2006, when the theme of Beer Tasting was the 1950's, no one attending realized that not only was the font one that our mug printing company found that was created in the 50's (and that we still use frequently on our website - the font with the little stars in the word "explore" on our home page ), but the colour of the font that I chose matched one of the colours being used by the brewery here in Lethbridge at the time. This required me to meet with our Collections guru, Kevin Maclean, and pour over some bottles and other artifacts from that time period AND to meet with our Archivist, Greg Ellis, to look at photos of marketing done by the brewery in that time period.

So yes, often the most minor details to those attending take a great deal of thought and time, but that is the point of a good party, that it all fits in and creates an image where nothing stands out because if it did, it would likely be because it is out of place.

However, I am currently at the hardest part of planning an event, for a few events in the museum's future - NAMING the event.

This seems so simple - Eggstravaganza was called that before I started here 7 years ago, it's catchy and people recognize it and we will keep it. It is a brand unto itself for Lethbridge-ians (or Lethbridge-ites or whatever we call ourselves). Beer Tasting was, has been and will forever be, Beer Tasting! Taste of Downtown will also continue to have the name it does for as long as the event goes ahead. These names have stuck, people know what to expect and as a result, the tickets sell quickly and sell out!

But coming up with a name for a new event that will give people a true idea of what the event is about, that isn't misleading, that sounds fun and like something people want to be a part of, and that is catchy and easy to remember, is much more challenging than one would think.

So I sit at my computer at home in the evening when I have insomnia....I google phrases that match my event ideas and theme, I say things out loud, I read, I look at other museum websites, I question everyone who may phone me or go online on twitter or Facebook chat....and still, sometimes, like now, I hit a dead end where I cannot come up with anything that I LOVE!

Keep watching the event page on the Galt of these days you may see some small changes - when that happens, THAT is when I am pleased with the new title of a new event that I am working on and I am ready for the world to know and start to identify with it.....until then, google may remain my best friend!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Artifact Bingo

This week was the first of a new series of programs for seniors at the Galt. These interactive programs are intended to bring the stories of southern Alberta to light in different ways - lectures, hands on projects, tours, games and more. The program is weekly on Wednesdays from 2-3pm. We open the program room at 1:30pm so that guests can have tea/coffee and visit with each other.

For me, artifact bingo was a particularly fun way to start the program series because I got to go explore the collections and take photos to use on our bingo cards. With the help of our expert volunteer Nicole, we found artifacts from various categories: science and technology, jewellery, clothes, toys, First Nations objects and more. We also picked some objects that will be on display in the new exhibit Treasures and Curiosities.

One of my favorite parts of the game was when people started talking about the objects and sharing their memories. This camera, for example, is just like the first camera I had when I was young:
Other objects in the game were just really interesting to look at like this calf weaner:
Next week, our program takes us behind the scenes of the archives for a guided tour by our archivist Greg Ellis.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Opinions Wanted and why Writer's Block is a Pain

First, do you have an opinion? If you do, I'd love to hear from you (or at least your opinion on one of our upcoming exhibits).

The Galt is working on an exhibit (to open May 2011) on Lethbridge 1906-1913. As I am guest curating this exhibit, I want your ideas for exhibit themes, how you would like the exhibit to look and what you want to know about this time period. Please click below and take the survey. Or go to and follow the link.

Second, I've been experiencing some writer's block this week. I am working on my presentation for the South West Alberta Teachers' Convention. My presentation is on critical thinking skills (title: Just Think!). Don't worry, I plan to make the presentation more interesting than the title might suggest. But I've been hemming and hawing on what activities to use.

I want this to be practical for teachers -- things they can adapt and use in the classroom. I want to show local links to curriculum and highlight what an amazing number of resources there are locally. I want to save busy teachers time and energy. And, as always, I want them to realize that the best way to teach history and critical thinking is to bring students to the Galt Museum & Archives as often as possible (may as well state my bias right out).

I'm about 1/2 done the presentation and have 2 weeks to finish it so hopefully my writer's block vanishes soon. If not, I may just have to wing it. After all, what could go wrong? Critical thinking is when you critique movies, right?

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Immigrant Achievement Awards and great volunteers

As a Volunteer Coordinator, I consider a very important part of my job to be recognizing volunteers for their contributions. These contributions are not always about the Galt, but often about the overall person - their volunteering with not only our organization, but other organizations as well.

January and February tend to be busy months for me as there are quite a few awards handed out in the spring. Each year, for example, we nominate youth volunteers for Leaders of Tomorrow awards. We are very fortunate to have winners of this award from our volunteer core every year!

This year, for the first time ever, Lethbridge Family Services - Immigrant Services is having an event to hand out Immigrant Achievement Awards. They are coordinating this event, which will see ethnic foods, entertainment and of course, awards for deserving individuals and businesses.

The award categories include: Arts/Culture, Youth, Community Service, Distinguished Professional, and more. The Galt staff picked 6 individuals to nominate for this, the first year of the awards, and we were fortunate to have nominees for most of the categories.

The Galt's nominees are:
John Wilson - volunteer in exhibit design and construction; involved in the community on civic committees and boards

Ian McKenna - retired UofL prof; volunteers with special events at the museum; uses his law skills and knowledge to volunteer as an arbitrator, mainly with a focus on human rights legislations

Alex Lawson Sr - a minister who also volunteers with the Galt with special events; started up the Family Life Centre in Saskatchewan and has become quite a well known expert in Transactional Analysis

Georgette Cassis - an all around Galt volunteer who also has volunteered with many other organizations and is very involved in volunteering with her church in many capacities

Jedmarc Evangelista - co-owner of Lethbridge Web Design, Jeddy became a Galt volunteer when he surprised us with a website he created for one of our fundraisers, when he heard we were looking for some web ideas and support. Since then, he and his business have supported the Galt in a variety of ways.

Anine Vonkeman - one of the Galt's staff, Anine came to the Galt in 2004 for the newly created Marketing/Communications Officer position. She has been instrumental in getting our presence on the internet and is frequently asked to speak at conferences and other training sessions on marketing using the web and other current tools

We invite you to join us on March 20th as we celebrate all six of our nominees, as well as the many other deserving individuals from our community. And mark your calendar for 2011 - nominate someone yourself next January because there are probably countless deserving individuals who won't be nominated this first year.