Friday, 30 July 2010

A stereotype that needs to fade away...

People may not always be able to say when exactly an event happened or be able to name all of the mayors of Lethbridge, but anyone who thinks their lives are not still affected by history is living in a dream world.

Last night I gave a tour of Mountain View Cemetery. As you visit Mountain View it becomes apparent that some of the headstones seem out of place -- even though the cemetery started in 1901 there are quite a few headstones dating from the 1890s. What are these doing here?

Part of the reason is that when Mountain View Cemetery started several families moved loved ones buried in St. Patrick's to Mountain View (St. Patrick's is 15 years earlier than Mountain View). Of course, there were many reasons for doing this and personal family choice was certainly part of it. Some may have wanted to have all of the family buried in one place, for example.

But part of the reason certainly was that St. Patrick's was on the north side and Mountain View on the south side. There developed in Lethbridge a north/south split. The coal miners and their families were on the north. The business owners and professionals were on the south. This differentiation was quite marked in some areas. For example, to this day 13th Street is wider on the south side than the north side.

But why does this split still continue (in some ways) to this day? Last night as we were discussing the two cemeteries and the movement of remains to the southside cemetery, we started to discuss the relationship between the two sides of town. Many of us couldn't understand why this continues. What keeps this alive? Why, when so much else of our history has changed, does this persist?

At that point three members of the tour said that when they had moved to Lethbridge three years ago and were looking to buy a house, people they had spoken to had told them not to buy on the northside. And so they chose to purposely buy on the southside. Frustrating to think that this is still so persistent. I think, people, this is a stereotype that finally needs to fade into history.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Here comes the Whoop Up Days BBQ!

Yesterday was our final planning meeting for the Whoop Up Days BBQ. This is an annual event put on by the businesses in Scenic Plaza plus a few others, making it a neighborhood bbq that the city is invited to.

We do our bbq every year following the parade, on the Galt patio (or indoors in the weather is poor). We also set up some seating inside for those who prefer air conditioning.

Thanks to the wonderful support of Thom and Pyramid Entertainment, we get to listen some country and western music. Green Acres kitchen staff cook up beef on a bun, beans, and everyone gets pop, for only $3.

Galt volunteers help with face painting and bussing, as well as assisting those who are using walkers or have strollers, with carrying their food to a table.

We are really excited that this year the money raised will allow seniors that live in the Green Acres complexes next to the Galt, access to our exhibits and programs over the next year!
Mark your calendars - Tuesday August 24th from 11:30 am - 1:30 pm at the Galt Museum.....$3/person!

Thank you so much to Servus Credit Union, Servus Insurance Services, CBI (Canadian Back Institute), Tim Hortons, Green Acres, and Pyramid Entertainment for all your work in putting this event on, and for assisting our neighbors to be able to spend time discovering all the treasures that our museum and it's staff hold. We are always thrilled when we can find ways to share with more people who may not be able to normally access our facility!

Oh and we do have passes at the public library and regional libraries ready to sign out, so if you have a library card and live in Southern Alberta, head to your library branch where you can sign out a pass to use for admission to the Galt, at no charge!

Monday, 19 July 2010

Good-bye's are hard

Today is the first day, in almost a year, that I have come into work, knowing that I will not be expecting a youth (or two) from Katimavik to show up to assist me for the next 6 to 7 hours.

Last June a number of volunteer coordinators in this community were called together to attend an information session on Katimavik, to see if we'd be interested in participating. As a former workplace supervisor for Canada World Youth, I jumped on the opportunity to give youth from across our country an opportunity to learn new skills and grow, both personally and professionally, while supporting the work that the Galt does.

In September, our first participants arrived - Sarah and Ben! In October we got to know Nathaniel and Raphael, followed in November by Monica and Guillaume. 2010 allowed us to work with Danielle and Nadia starting in March and finally with Kevin, beginning in May and finishing a few days ago. All told, these volunteers contributed about 30 hours/week for just under a year to the museum - the time they spent here was enormous (1066 hours in total from these main volunteers, but Katimavik groups also helped with almost every event in the last year, adding in another 500 hours of time from those who did not come to the Galt as their main work placement but did volunteer for us once or twice during their rotation) and the work they accomplished was amazing. Even better were their life experiences and enthusiasm that they shared with us - it was always great and inspiring to hear about what these youth had experienced growing up, and what they hoped to get out of this amazing experience that allowed them to live in 3 very different parts of Canada (in the case of our rotation it was Burnaby BC, Lethbridge AB, and Smith Falls ON).

Sadly, we had a meeting last week to update on how things are going, just before this last group moves onto Ontario, and we were informed that due to cuts from the federal government, Katimavik has lost $10 million of it's funding in the last few years, out of a total budget of $25 million. This is a significant loss to their program so the only way to balance the budget is to cut programs, and sadly Lethbridge and the 2 programs in the Crowsnest Pass that also were part of Katimavik, will not be continuing.

This is a sad day for me as I realize how much I have come to enjoy 9 am, when my participant(s) would arrive for a day at work and we'd talk about their weekend - hearing stories of how they camped in Drumheller and some of the participants hadn't known until that day that dinosaurs had existed in Canada, to learning about the heritage and culture of Canada from seeing the Calgary Stampede. This experience truly did teach them about the culture and heritage of different parts of Canada, thus creating better citizens who have experiences to share back in their homes, while opening our eyes to life in places such as Nunavut, Nova Scotia and Quebec!

Good luck to you all! And to any parent, youth or workplace considering Katimavik, I'd definitely give it a 2 thumbs up. Maybe if enough applicants apply, the government will see the demand by youth to have these experiences, and come to realize that this program betters many many communities through the volunteer work done, as well as bettering people to be great citizens, and some money can be put back into the program! Our fingers are crossed.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Behind-the-Scenes Collections Tour

During my senior's program recently, I went on a collections 101 tour at the museum. We do public tours of the collections several times a year and I have been meaning to blog about this for a while because going behind the scenes is so neat. Today Nicole Hembroff, the collections assistant, agreed to help me out with a virtual recreation of the tour for the blog.
The staff on the collections team care for over 15,000 objects and it's their attention to detail that keeps the objects safe. The museum is climate controlled which means controlling the temperature, humidity, light, and air quality. The collections staff monitors the temperature and humidity using a special machine called a hygrothermograph. Special materials used during storage and display of the objects, such as the ethafoam lining for the shelves, the boxes some objects are stored in, and the acid-free tissue, are all made of safe materials that won't harm the objects. Even the compact storage shelving is designed to protect the artifacts during a flood, fire or earthquake. The staff and volunteers who work in the collections area are highly trained in caring for the objects - this includes both providing the correct storage facility and also handling the objects correctly. Moving an object is one of the riskiest things that can happen to an object so the staff and volunteers work very carefully, wearing cotton gloves, and often working in teams, to make sure that the objects safely make it to their next destination. Even our elevator at the museum is specially designed with objects in mind. The next time you ride on it notice how slow the elevator moves, and how gently it reaches each floor, this keeps the elevator from jarring objects that might be traveling on carts to and from the exhibit space.
When visitors come behind the scenes in the collections they are asked not to touch the objects. It sounds really simple but even as a staff person who knows better I am so often tempted to touch the objects. I'm also suddenly so self conscious of how much I like to talk with my hands flying around, and how often I like to lean on things. Personally, I have to walk around with my hands clasped behind my back or in my pockets to keep from reaching out and pointing at, or touching, some of the things in storage and to remind myself not to lean up against a shelf where I could bump into an object.

The first thing you see when you go into the collections area is the acquisitions room. Every item that comes into the collection gets its own unique number. The items are reviewed by an acquisitions committee which considers a variety of factors before formally accepting a donation into the collection. The museum has a collections policy that outlines the criteria for accessions. This criteria includes, but is not limited to, the story about the objects, and the relevance to the mission of the museum (the human history of southwest Alberta).
The second space you see when you walk into the collections area is the large item storage.
Other large objects are stored like this:
Another area that interests me is the clothing storage. Some items are stored on specially created hangers with padding to keep the shape of the garment. These hangers are made by some of our volunteers. Other clothes are stored "flat," but when you look inside the boxes you'll see that they are stuffed with tissue to maintain the shape of the garment. This prevents stress on the seams that could cause damage over time.
The majority of the objects are kept in compact storage. They are organised by the category of object. The categories generally refer to the use of the objects - for example the photo below is of communications objects such as cameras and radios.
Finally, textiles such as tablecloths are stored on mylar wrapped cardboard tubes. The textile is interlayered with acid free tissue and wrapped around the tube before it is protected by a final layer of muslin fabric. Cool eh?
With all of these storage systems and so many artifacts one can imagine how difficult it would be to find anything without some type of organizational system. Luckily, we have one of those too! the unique identifier assigned to each object is tied to a catalogue record stored in a computer database which contains information on everything from the artifact name, to its history, to where it is stored and much more.

If you are interested in going on a tour of the collections area watch the programming listings on our website, or look for our printed calendar of events. We'll offer tours featuring hand made objects during the member's sale at the end of November and the senior's program will also have a collections tour in the fall. If you have an object that you are interested in donating please call Kevin McLean at 403-320-4064.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

So you basically just walk through and look at things?

I know there exist people who don’t like museums but I don’t meet them very often. Most of my friends have similar tastes to me and people where I volunteer also have similar backgrounds. And people who come to the museum choose to come to visit here. So I sometimes forget that there is a portion of the public who do not understand what museums do and have no idea how to use museums to get the most out of them.

This was brought home to me forcibly this past Monday. I was just returning after a 4-day weekend and was not yet completely in a work frame of mind when my phone rang. It was a youngish voice and she asked if we did tours. I asked her for what age (child, youth, adults, etc.) and what kind of tours (as we have several types). She didn’t seem to understand what I was asking so I asked her what she was wanting to do. She then asked if it was possible to come through on your own. And I said, yes, of course it was. But it was her next question that completely floored me. She asked when our rock climbing wall was available. At this point I was starting to wonder if the call was a practical joke but I said, we don’t have a rock climbing wall, we’re a history museum, but there is a wall at the university. (I did get her the phone number for the university.)

She thanked me for the number but expressed surprise that we didn’t have a rock climbing wall. She said that she had only ever visited one museum before in her life and they had a rock climbing wall. I explained that there are many types of museums but that our focus was the history of southern Alberta and rock climbing did not fit into that. She then asked what people did when they visited. I said it depended if they came for a program (and highlighted a few of our different programs and tours for her) but said that you could also come when there was no program. At which point you could go through the galleries, talk with staff and volunteers and experience the exhibits. There was then a sharp and prolonged pause at which point she blurted out – “so you basically just walk through and look at things?”

How to respond to that? Part of me got defensive – what’s wrong with walking through and looking at things? What do you think window shopping is? I could also hear my mother’s voice in the back of my head – “only boring people ever get bored” and thought to myself that looking at things can be incredibly interesting if you know how to do it well. I also wanted to go to the defense of our objects – we have some one-of-a-kind, fascinating objects that you will never see anywhere else but here at the Galt.

Part of me was a little angry (sorry to admit it). How dare she not appreciate museums?

And part of me was very sad. Sad that no one had taken the time to take her to more museums and show her how to visit them. Sad that she was missing out on the wonder of objects that museums bring. Sad that she was not able to appreciate the need for, and the beauty of, slowing down and just studying objects and material. And sad that I wasn’t able during our conversation to make her see that a museum did not need to have a rock climbing wall.

I'm still wishing I could have done more to make her a museum person. But I'm choosing to focus on the positive instead. I just got back from a fun museum and downtown tour with a group of teenagers (1/2 from Lethbridge and 1/2 from our twin city of St. Laurent, Quebec). At least I know when they become adults they know there is more (and better) stuff at museums than rock climbing walls.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Ask...and ye shall receive

Most of our volunteers are avid readers! About two years ago I received a donation of some books to use as give-aways to our volunteer core. I wasn't sure how to disburse them so we started doing a draw where a volunteer's name goes in for each shift that he/she does in a month, upping their chances the more they volunteer. In fact, reading is so loved here that about 3 or 4 years ago, a number of us staff and volunteers started up a book club, that still meets throughout the year for a fun evening.

This proved to be a hit! The volunteers were excited for their new books and it was a fun surprise to give them.

I have had the joy of giving away hilarious books along the lines of Doreen Orion's "Queen of the Road" and informative books such as Sheryl Kayne's books like "Volunteer Vacations Across America: Immersion Travel USA".

Recently, I was almost out of books and so got on the internet to see what I could find from Canadian authors that might be of interest to our volunteers. I also asked our Katimavik volunteer, Kevin, to do the same. The two of us spent a bit of time online and were excited with some of the choices available - Canadian authors write some amazing stuff!

Kevin was able to get us donated some fiction books from authors such as Cory Doctorow and Kelley Armstrong. These look like great reads and will be well received by the volunteers that choose them, no doubt! As well, we got some copies of the Lethbridge cemetery book written by colleague, and Lethbridge Historical Society president, Belinda Crowson.

I was excited to find the website for Calgary Authors, a friendly giving group, I was soon to find out. I sent them an email explaining my request and within a week, literally, I had a Calgary author (Jeane Watier) in Lethbridge dropping off the books at the museum for me! Donations came from people such as Penny Cote, Sharon Montgomery, Jeane, Susanne Alexander-Heaton, Brenda S. Mason, Fred Allin Elford, Helena Kalivoda, and Coral Sterling! Book after book going onto my shelf with the choices for the volunteers to pick from! It was awesome and amazing.

The books from the Calgary Authors tend to be more non-fiction and look very interesting - from "The ABC Field Guide to Faeries" to a poetry book called "Sometimes I Fly". From a book for all ages called "Your Invisible Bodies" to "Redefining Relgion For Our Modern World" - I definitely now have something for everyone!

If you love reading, I would definitely recommend checking out and seeing the diversity of the books listed there. The blogs, email addresses, etc for all of the authors are given. I'll post some reviews later this year as the donated books get chosen by our winning volunteers!


Sunday, 4 July 2010

Blackfoot Shirts Exhibit Opening

On June 5th we celebrated the opening of the new exhibit: Kaahsinnooniksi Ao'toksisawooyawa Our ancestors have come to visit: Blackfoot Shirts. The Blackfoot Shirts on display are really unique - they date back to the 1840s and normally reside at the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford University in England. In an unprecedented move, the shirts were brought to Canada where they were used in hands-on workshops at the Glenbow in Calgary, and here at the Galt Museum & Archives, before being put on display for everyone to enjoy. The shirts will be on display until the end of the summer so there is still lots of time to see the exhibit. Here are some photos from the opening celebration.

First, we had greetings from several dignitaries,
including Miss Blackfoot Canada, Simone Smith.
Then we had the ribbon cutting:
We also welcomed several dancers including two young boys - one a drummer, and one a hoop dancer - as well as Andrea True Joy Fox and Simone Smith:
There were also programs for kids including these two projects:
This Blackfoot shirt craft was developed by Anna Bullshoe and is posted on the Blackfoot Shirts website at the Pitt Rivers museum. I like the way the project helps kids to appreciate the idea that the images on the shirts were a way of capturing history. The shirt above was created by one of our volunteers and tells the story of her life in Lethbridge since moving here last year. The game with the popsicle stick and leather diamond shape is a version of a traditional Blackfoot game that teaches hand-eye coordination.

We also welcomed Mari King, from Blackfeet Community College in Montana, who presented a workshop on making dog travois. This workshop was so interesting and I was really sad that I was busy organising other parts of the day and couldn't participate myself. I think we'll run this program again sometime soon so that I can give it a try myself. My boss, and one of our volunteers Monique, participated though and made their own travois to take home.
Overall, I think it was a nice day, and that there were some wonderful performances and some interesting hands-on activities. We have a few more hands-on programs coming up related to the exhibit including puppet making this coming Saturday where we'll make puppets and then perform puppet shows of three Napi stories. We also will have two related bus tours, and a Metis jigging demo/lesson. I hope that people have a chance to come view the shirts before they go back to England - they really are spectacular!

Friday, 2 July 2010

Who do you want to be?

Don't think I have forgot about my Lethbridge 1906-1913 exhibit that is coming up next April. I just had to put it on hold for the last little while as the school year kept us so busy.

But I have had some progress with the exhibit of late. As some of you may know, I have decided to call the exhibit "The Greatest Years You Never Knew" and the "blurb" I'm using related to marketing will read:

Lethbridge changed forever between 1906 and 1913. These were years of incredible population growth and many new businesses and industries made Lethbridge home. It was a time of wild optimism as fortunes were made. In many ways, these were the greatest years in Lethbridge history and were vital in shaping the Lethbridge we know today.
But not everyone shared in the good times. For many people these greatest years never happened. Experience the boom and bust, joy and despair of the lives of Lethbridge residents in The Greatest Years You Never Knew.

At present what I'm thinking (and who knows how far this will go) is that when you come to the exhibit you will be given an identity card and you will have to find out whether, for your person, they were great years or whether or not that person experienced the bust part of the years. At present we're researching who some of the identities will be but I'm certainly hoping to represent many of the different people you might have met in Lethbridge in that time period. And then you'll have an opportunity to see life from their perspective.

I'm also think that it might be interesting to have two different entrances to the exhibit and depending on who you have will determine what entrance you get to use. One of the difficulties I'm facing, of course, is that we don't have a lot of in-depth experience on certain ethnic groups from that time period. Can I find enough information to make this idea work? Can these identities be an amalgamation of several individuals?

I also want to use as many of the different senses as I can during this exhibit and want to include some music. I have found what songs were sung in 1906 at the opening of Westminster School. I have been able to find lyrics for two of the songs but have had no luck with the song titled "Red, White and Blue." Needless to say, every time I search for the song, I find the American versions (not the Canadian/British). If anyone has any idea where to find lyrics for this song, I would greatly appreciate it.