Friday, 30 April 2010

Spring today Child Labour Yesterday

I can always tell when spring is in the air... This past week several of my classes (different grades, different schools) have been very interested in discovering whether or not our buffalo is a boy. This only seems to happen in the spring. Ah, the life of a teacher.

But now on to something completely different.

For some reason "child labour" has been a discussion point in several of my classes this past week. With the grade 1s who have been coming in for Great Citizens (where we look at people from southern Alberta history who have helped to create our communities) when we discuss coal mining, I often bring up the story of George Rollingson. Rollingson started work in the coal mines when he was 10 years old. His job was a "trapper" or the person who sat in the dark in front of a trap door (to trap the oxygen and keep it where it was needed) and opened and closed the door when the horses came by. I also discussed the same story with the grade 4s who came in for coal mining history. It's hard to imaging that children regularly worked in the coal mines. But if you look at this 1888 picture of the Lethbridge coal mines, you will note several children in the picture.

I also had the chance last week to share the story of Mary Ethel Tharp, a young girl who committed suicide in 1918. At the age of 13 Mary was sent alone to Calgary (from her family's farm near Retlaw, Alberta) to work as a domestic/maid. When Mary came home for Christmas, the doctor discovered she was pregnant. Mary committed suicide one week later.

And certainly working on the farm has been a long time the role of farm children (though I must admitted I thoroughly enjoyed most everything except moving hand moves).

It is amazing to think how different the lives of children today are compared with those throughout history. As tomorrow is May Day it also gives us a chance to think of the kids who presently engage in child labour throughout the world.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Here come the '40s...Historic Lethbridge Festival 2010

Saturday marks the first official day of the Historic Lethbridge Festival 2010. This festival is celebrating it's 7th year this year. In 2003, 3 Galt Museum staff met with members of other local and regional organizations who were interested in bringing history more into the forefront of people's minds through a week of activities, programs and events.

Like any other festival, it has gone through a process of learning and trying to balance so many things - what does the public want, how do we make that happen, how do we involve more organizations, how and where to market the events, etc. We even have questioned when in the year to have it - it typically falls in May but one year we moved it to September, for example.

It has been exciting to see the growth - events like Taste of Downtown (the Festival's fundraiser, which sold out in 6 business hours this year!), the involvement of media and PR students from the college to assist the committee and also get some real hands-on experience with marketing and event planning, the addition of new organizations each year, and the addition of a theme - using a different decade each year.

Last year it was ironic that the theme was the 1930's - with the economy doing so poorly and the crazy weather we were experiencing, some of our life was like a flashback (though minor in comparison) to that decade!

This year we are excited to welcome in the 1940's! What was life like during the War? What did people do? And generally, what types of things were going on in this region during that time??

There are so many activities, programs and events to choose from. As well, two Galt volunteers - Miranda Grol and Danielle Mahon (who is with Katimavik) have curated a case that will be on display showing about a dozen items from every day life in the 40s!

So come dance the night away to the Herb Hicks Quintet for only $15 (and Maxine Strain will be offering swing lessons early in the night).....learn about War Brides....and more! To check out the full schedule see . And unfortunately, Taste of Downtown IS sold out but tickets will next go on sale exactly one month before the 2011 event date (which is always the first Wednesday of May).

Looking forward to seeing you next week at some of the events and activities going on. And feel free to share your feedback because we are an ever-evolving festival (even better, join the Steering Committee - it's a great group of people!)

Friday, 23 April 2010

Museum Education Rocks

Several times and from several people over the last couple of weeks I have been asked why I stay teaching here at the museum (always asked in the nicest way, of course). Some wonder why I don't go back to classroom teaching. Others wonder why I don't take one of those admin jobs that pay more but keep you in the office most of the day.

My response? Let me tell you a little about my past two weeks and hopefully you'll see why I feel privileged to be a museum teacher.

Many of the students I meet bring a great deal of fun and humour into my day. Some of you have already heard this story but I'm still chuckling over it days later. Earlier this week I had a grade 4 class in and I was teaching them about the Great Depression. I was telling several stories and I said "I know a man who... and I know a man who..." when a student in the back of the room piped up and said "you sure know a lot of men."

I also had a job shadow student this week, a delightful grade 11 student who knows she wants to work in the history field but doesn't know exactly where or what. Virtually every person here at the museum THINKS they have the past job (but only I truly do). So it was great that she was able to go along with a class through the Archives, see the Collections area and watch several of our school programs. Quite often I get students who tell me they want my job or to work in museums when they grow up. It is wonderful to think how many historians Lethbridge may have in the not too distant future.

I have had two private cemetery tours in the last two weeks. One was for education students at the university. The other was for a group from the YWCA.

The ed. students had to write about the experience and I was able to read their work. Many wrote how interesting our local history is and how sad they were that they were only learning about it at the end of their time at the university. By working with young students, hopefully they will just always know that history is cool.

Also, the ed. students were asked to be creative in how they wrote of the experience. One student wrote a poem and another wrote a song about the tour. How can you not love a job where songs are written about your work?

That's just a few of the fun stories from the past 2 weeks and the 25 classes we've had through. Every day at lunch or coffee I have another story to share with the staff and volunteers here. Who knows what will happen next week?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Storm, power outage, snow, rain,'s been that kind of week

Last Wednesday was our annual National Volunteer Week party.....and for the first time ever, I had to move an event due to the weather. Not only that, but it was an INDOOR event.

How does this happen? Well if you live in Lethbridge you know - we had a snowstorm that came in the night before and due to the winds, heavy snow and Southern Alberta crazy weather, most of us were without power for at least 8 hours!

Picture from CBC -

We have a wonderful room with a beautiful view and so on Wednesday, even though most of the snow melted and the sun was shining after noon, we still could not go forward with our party because the caterer could not cook the food.

Thanks to technology I was able to get ahold of most volunteers and cancel. Using my internet stick I signed into my work email/address book on my laptop that had about 25% of the battery left and I quickly wrote down the 100-ish phone numbers that I needed. Then using my husband and I's cell phones until the last bit of battery was left, I called and called and called people to give them a head's up. And I learned one thing - the new cable phones don't work when there is no cable! I was worried because I was unable to reach some people who have switched their landline to their cable service and to this day, I still do not know if anyone showed up that night - if they did, they haven't mentioned it.

So we rescheduled for Monday - a few nights later but short enough notice that more than a dozen people now could not attend, and yet some people who couldn't attend the original night suddenly became available!

In the end, it all worked out, it seemed everyone had a great time, and here we are, 1 week after the storm, and it is +25C and some of my friends are sunburnt! This week truly has been like the weather in Alberta - all over the map!

On a totally unrelated note, I just want to share this with the world so will start husband recently heard about this on CBC radio so went online to find it and it is a great thing for those of us who do a lot of printing that is meant for our files, and not the world's eyes - it's a font that saves on your toner and ink use and when you print in 12 pt or less, I find, you can't really even tell the difference - check it out:

That is my little contribution to Earth Day tomorrow, for all of you - download it and help make the world a cleaner place!

Finally, for Earth Day, I challenge you all (as I have challenged the Galt volunteers) to take 20 minutes this week and pick up garbage as part of the 20 minute makeover phenomenon. Imagine how clean the world we be if we all took a part of our coffee or lunch breaks this week and enjoyed the outdoors and picked up garbage?!

Join us on May 9th from 1-3 pm as we have our annual Coulee Clean Up. I organize this on Mother's Day each year, as my friend came up with the slogan - Clean Up Mother Earth for Mother's Day. This is a drop in event open to the public -come into the Galt and you'll see me there with garbage bags and cool beverages. Bring your gloves, your friends, your family, your sturdy walking shoes and probably don't come in your Mother's Day brunch clothes! A lot of people bring cameras, too. Help pick up garbage on the coulees around the Galt as we help take care of a small part of Mother Earth.

Think green - not only tomorrow but today and every day!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Earth Day

I am, as it turns out, not only a part of one of the first generations to really embrace disposable culture, but actually so enmeshed in it that I rarely even question my practices. You might think that this personal predilection for consumption and disposal of everyday objects would be at odds with my career as a historian/archivist/museum professional where my job for the past ten years has been to research, collect, preserve, and make accessible our documentary and material culture. Instead, I seem to simultaneously live two separate philosophies.

For example, not only do I replace my cell phone on average every 14 months, but I knowingly purchase phones that I personally lack the ability to repair beyond rebooting and recharging. I also purchase phones knowing that the cost of repairing the item (effort + time + cash) is much greater than the cost of replacement, and that I will always choose replacement when I grow irritated with it, or when it breaks. In addition to disposing of phones on a regular basis, I also don't bother to migrate the born-digital material such as movies, photos, and other ephemera to my new phone because I consider the data fundamentally transitory.

This habit of non-thoughtful consumption is certainly not the way my parents and grandparents were raised. In their generations, people regularly repurposed items that I consider disposable. In the 1920s rag collectors paid people cash for their cast-off rags which were then turned into long-lasting paper. I, in contrast, pay a company to cope with recycling my cast-off everyday objects. My parents will probably argue that they didn’t raise me to buy (and break or grow bored with) phones and other objects on a near-annual basis, yet I still somehow manage to live with disposable objects at home, and work in my professional life to ensure continued access and interpretation of collected heritage for the general public.

This reflection is why I chose to do museum programs at the Galt Museum & Archives on Earth Day this year. Galt staffer Bobbie Fox has researched the history of waste and put together a display featuring historical recycled artifacts along with information on the changing way our culture has defined waste. Our UpCycling show and sale brings local artists together who repurpose cast-off items into beautiful or functional objects. The artists work with items such as thrifted fabric and leather to make bags and pillows, broken appliances to make sculptures and wall art, and salvaged wood from corrals and fences to make furniture. The evening CafĂ© Galt presentation brings professors from Lethbridge College together to host a conversation linking past, present, and future on xeriscaping, irrigation/water conservation, and the “living home.” I am, of course, looking forward to a day where I get to simultaneously learn about the history of waste and how our environmental practices have changed over time…while I shop.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Of Homestead Maps and Conversations

A few weeks I found a 1918 homestead map
for the area around my parent’s farm. I gave a copy to my Dad and the conversations and discussions that have come about because of this map have been incredible. Dad has taken it over to the neighbours (who also want copies) and has brought it out whenever family comes over.

A few things:

It is interesting to note how many families in the area have changed the spelling of their last name at some point in the past 100 years. Usually it’s a simple change – a dropping of a letter or a change of a letter. But even simple changes such as this would make it difficult to track down some of these families in the records. Some familes have changed their name to make it easier to spell -- Hembrough to Hembroff. Others have changed theirs because people kept mispronouncing it. And others changed their names to they would seem more "English."

It is also interesting that a lot of the places in the area are still known by the name of the family who homesteaded it. Our family still calls one of our quarters the “Mikalson” quarter and I’ve heard many other families in the area use similar names and terms. Families who in some cases have been gone from the area for years are still remembered as being connected to the land.

Because of the map I learned a few things about our area that I didn’t know (such as what happened to the church that used to be beside the cemetery 2 miles north of my parent’s farm – the church was torn down and the wood used in the construction of another church in town).

It has also lead to discussions that some areas that were heavily populated in 1918 are sparsely populated today. Often the effect of the Great Depression and consolidation of land. Other areas that were still lease land in 1918 are some of the most populated areas today. Towns, that today only echo as ghost towns, stand proudly on the 1918 maps.

And the map has lead several time to the local community history book being pulled out to see how so and so is related to a name on the map. Few things in a local community are as useful for ending and argument (or for starting new ones some times) as the local history book.

The map itself is an incredibly simple thing – a page of squares with names on it. But it’s the ability of the map to connect to memory that gives it so much power. Now I have to see if I can find some other years of homestead maps on-line. If you've come across some on the internet, let me know.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Building Blocks

I had been looking forward to this week's Saturday at 1 family program since reading the craft idea on some craft blogs last year. I thought that this program would link nicely to our Treasures and Curiosities exhibit since we feature several home-made artifacts like the deer-leg table and some toys like old-fashioned dolls and a crokinole game. The children at the program talked about how toys used to have to be made by hand and their own home-made toys - like cloth dolls and other wooden block sets.

Here is how we made the project:
Before the program began volunteers pre-cut 2x2 boards into blocks and sanded the edges. Another volunteer sewed draw-string cloth bags for the children to use to store the completed blocks. Other volunteers pre-painted some of the blocks and cut out letters, magazine pictures, and other pieces of coloured paper:
The next step is decorating the blocks. We used markers, paint, paper, and glue, although you could use anything really.
If you want to "age" the blocks you can sand the edges a bit:
Once you like the look of your blocks add a coat of glue to seal them, and you're done!

Friday, 9 April 2010

How messy can the classroom get? Coulees & Culture

Only now do I finally have a chance to do today's blog. Today has been hectic (but fun, innovating hectic) as 20 kids aged 6 to 10 were here from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. Every year I look forward to this day -- one of our 3 Coulees & Culture days throughout the year.

Started in the 1990s originally as a ½ day summer program, today the program has expanded to full days. But the purpose is still the same – to share our fascinating cultural, natural and historical treasures. And to have fun doing it (the kids will also learn but you don’t have to mention that to them). Kids go to a different venue (Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Helen Schuler Nature Centre, Galt Museum & Archives and more) each day and experience so much of what makes Lethbridge special.

A few pictures from our activities last year. Last year we had a photo shoot in front of the old hospital wall as kids got to wear all kinds of costumes from our education collection. And, using sidewalk chalk, we decorated part of our patio. By the time the kids were done, it looked like stained glass. I think you can see why it's one of my favourite days of the year. History's fun! Who knew?

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Dusting my hands off, putting my feet up....

Well Eggstravaganza is behind us.....and with 1100 people attending the 4 hour long event, it was a fun, busy day!

Then, on holiday Monday, we did our annual Taste of Downtown event ticket sales exactly one month before the event. We were only open 1-4:30 because of it being a holiday but in that 3.5 hours, we sold 120 of the 200 tickets. By Tuesday at 3 pm, we were sold out!! 26 hours and our event was sold out - a new record for me and a new record for the Galt!

So, now I put my feet up and dust my hands off (well dust might be the wrong word, as with all the glue and sparkles and such from Eggstravaganza it is more like "scrub my hands clean") and I take a rest.........

for a quick day!

I met yesterday with a new Beer Tasting committee member who is doing her Masters in Management and specializing in the non-profit world (in strategic planning with non-profits, to be specific). We talked for quite some time about how challenging it is to report to someone on how an event plan is going because certainly I have timelines and budgets, but planning an event is like a linear and circular process all at the same time and so there is no clear pathway that I can point to and say "Here I am".

I have 5 events on the horizon still.....our National Volunteer Week party (next week); a private event for certain professionals in our community (next week); Taste of Downtown (May 5th); a 1940's Dance Hall (May 8th); and a secret event in June (secret only because we aren't 100% certain if it is a go yet, but as soon as we confirm it is, I'll be sure to announce it here and on our website).

So for today, I'll rest my feet and clean my hands and tomorrow I'll jump into the many many things on the To Do lists for the upcoming 5 events, all of which should be a great time and I'm really excited about.

Thanks for supporting us, for those of you who have attended or bought tickets to past events, it means a lot to show you believe in me, the volunteers, and the Galt! We love having a packed house and the excitement that comes along with so many people or a quick sell out.

And for those of you who like a little digging for answers, and have some time on your hands, Belinda has been trying to find the answer to the following question for 5 days and hasn't found the answer yet: How far did the bull train travel in one day? Feel free to post your answer here or send it to - sources would be especially great!

See you at an upcoming Galt event!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

April Fools' Day

In honour of April Fools' Day, I have chosen to present a random assortment of headlines and stories from Lethbridge and southern Alberta's past. Decide for yourself if they're true or not.

  • Woodpecker to become a town
  • City council sits for record six hours
  • girls and boys must be with a guardian at public dances; it is the law
  • Lady dentist opens office in city; first woman in that profession in history of city (Dr. M.Barber)
  • marriage licenses to be dealt with at court house; jewellers no longer allowed to issue them
  • students go on strike at Hardieville; parents support children and complain of filthy conditions of school


  • "talked to death" given as cause of man's death


  • daily trains to Medicine Hat now to run only tri-weekly


  • traces of gold found in Livingstone Range


  • new door at city hall will be wide enough so that skirts and coats won't be caught and torn


  • film "In Which We Serve" banned because of cuss words -- "bloody" and "bastard" used by sailors while being dive bombed at sea


  • snowmobile used to take mail south of city


  • traffic lights will operate until midnight every day of the week


  • new classroom system tested; desks are arranged in groups, not in rows

Have fun!