Thursday, 25 November 2010

Photo Not Available

One advantage to doing recent history is that there are photographs to help explain and understand locations, events and happenings. Usually. Unfortunately, for many things, even those that happened recently, there are often not photos available.

For obvious reasons, a lot of illegal activities (especially those only suspected and not proved) don't have photographic evidence. It would make a lot of my research much easier if more people would take photographs of themselves doing illegal activities and donating them to museums.

And there is also a bias to photographic evidence. Wealthy, well-known people tend to have more photos of them in the Archives than average, everyday people. There are many more photographs of certain immigrant groups than of others. For example, we have few photographs of Chinese immigrants to early Lethbridge. And we have no photographs of early Black immigration to Lethbridge (though we have written evidence).

It becomes incredibly frustrating when a photo just does not exist. Especially when you want to tell these stories in exhibits. The visuals -- objects from collections and photographs -- are vital to the telling of stories in museums.

Many of the early coal miners and their families lived in "dug-outs." I'm not talking about the kind of dug-outs that hold water (or baseball players, for that batter). These were cave like structures dug into the sides of the coulees, lined with wood and used for homes. They would have some similarities to sod houses or soddies in their dirt construction. But they were built into the hill.

An advantage to these was that the person living in them was essentially squatting so there was no rent to pay. But, I would assume, they did not have the advantages of a house like windows and electricity? In reality, though, I don't know much about these structures. We have one or two written descriptions of them (though not greatly detailed descriptions) but despite our best efforts we can not find a photograph.

This may be because no one took photos of them or no one has ever thought to donate a photo of them to the Archives. Of course, it was also because it was the poor coal-miners who lived in these.

If you know of such a photo, can you please get in touch with us here at the Galt? Even if it's not of a Lethbridge dug-out, I'd love to see a picture. Using the written descriptions, we're going to recreate one for the Lethbridge 1906-1913 exhibit. But a photograph would help ensure that it's as accurate as possible.

I also want to encourage everybody to think of the photographs (and documents and objects) that you have at home. You may be holding a clue that helps answer questions about history or that allows the shared history of the community to be better told. Before getting rid of these items, think carefully about whether or not they should be in a museum or archives (and I'm not just talking about donating them to the Galt -- just be certain to get in touch with SOME museum or archives). When these photos, document, objects are lost -- a piece of all of our identity is lost.

And if I can't find a photograph of a dug-out, maybe I can convince some nice person to build/re-create one some day (it could wait until spring) so we could take photos of what we think they looked like? Just a thought.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Scattered Thoughts

The last week has been one of those weeks where I've had 30 different projects all vying for my attention and I've had to go between teaching and a meeting or project the entire week. So if that's what my life has been like, I decided that's what the blog will be like.

So, you're going to be subjected to the flotsam and jetsam of my mind (scary, huh?).

First, the joy of the last week or so. I've been working with a lot of very young students (aged 3-6) and they never cease to amaze me with their literal thinking. I had one young girl handing something in so I said "thank you kindly." She looked at me with big blue eyes and informed me "my name's not kindly." After I finished laughing, I explained to her what I meant.

I had another class where I was talking about Sir Alexander Galt and everything he had done. And then I said he had a museum named after him and asked the class if anyone knew of a museum named after Sir Alexander Galt. Silence in the classroom. So I tried a different tactic. I asked, "well, where are you right now?" The answer? "In a chair."

I've also been doing considerable in-depth research for my exhibit on Lethbridge 1906 to 1913. I know the big picture but there's a few small, persistent questions I still haven't answered. Such as when precisely did different people acquire the right to vote in municipal elections. For example, when did women get the right to vote? Knowing the kind of week I've been having, I should have known it wouldn't be a straightforward answer.

The 1st woman to vote in Lethbridge was in the 1890s -- a widow who was considered head of household. In the 1913 act of incorporation, men and women could both vote but ONLY if they met particular and detailed requirements about owning property. So now the question becomes how many women met those requirements? I suspect the McLeay sisters, entrepreneurs who owned a business and building downtown could vote. But how many others?

Then in 1918 the Province of Alberta said it was going to change the Charters of all cities in Alberta to give women the right to vote.

And I'm working on reformatting some brochures one of our volunteers translated into Arabic. I'm just working on making certain the brochure fits properly on the page and then we'll have the Short History of Lethbridge brochure available in Arabic and Chinese.

And I had the fun opportunity this past week to go to Nord-Bridge Seniors and do a presentation on Lethbridge history. It was a great crowd and, as always, I loved sharing little known stories about Lethbridge's past. Unfortunately for me, I can't include those stats in my school stats so I'm still hoping to find a way to get 300 or so more students by the end of the year so I can reach my magic 10,000 students in one calendar year mark.

Seriously, anyone want me to come talk to an assembly before the end of the year? If not, I guess I'll just have to be satisfied with 9600 students (projected) for this year.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Pioneer Home Remedies AKA Things Not To Do

Put a little oil on a burn so it doesn’t get crusty? Sulfur mixed with molasses to “clean you out” if you have constipation? Willow bark shampoo to cure dandruff? Wash your hair and head with kerosene to get rid of head lice?

No, I’m absolutely not suggesting you go out and try any of these. In fact, I strongly recommend that you NEVER try any of these. These are home remedies used in Lethbridge and southern Alberta in days past.

Back in 2001, the Galt Museum & Archives hosted an exhibit called Feeling Better. This exhibit looked at the history of medicine in southern Alberta. As part of the exhibit, we invited people to come in and record some of the home remedies that they remembered from their parents and grandparents. We also went around and collected as many home remedies as we could.

For years we have had this collection of home remedies and haven’t done much with them. I’ve wanted for years to put them together into a book but this just hasn’t happened.

But this year, 2010, we’re celebrating the 100th year of our building – which was once, of course, part of the Galt Hospital. Medicine and home remedies are being discussed again amongst Galt staff. And the home remedies we collected got another lease on life.

They were, along with pictures of the Galt Hospital and other health institutions in southern Alberta, put together into a 2011 calendar. As you flip through the page of the calendar, you’ll get glimpses into medicine of the past – and be incredibly thankful you were born in this day and age! Medicine before antibiotics is not something I really want to think about.

Personally, I still think we should publish the book of old-time remedies. There are way too many to be all used in the calendar and this is something we shouldn’t let languish in a drawer for another 9 years. But Michelle, our store manager, doesn’t think we have enough for a full-size book.

So if you have remedies you want to add to make the book long enough, please send them into the Galt. The more, the merrier. Then maybe I can convince Michelle that there’s enough material to print the book. THANKS to everyone who provided home remedies in the past and to those who are going to send some in now!!!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Fabric of British Home Children

A child separated forever from family and friends and shipped off to another country to serve as child labour? Couldn’t be part of Canadian history, could it?

A small exhibit – a powerful story! The Fabric of British Home Children at the Galt until 30 January 2011.

Poor, alone, unwanted and vulnerable is how many British children must have felt in the crowded cities of Britain during the middle of the 19th century. The cities at the time were places of poverty, pollution, social inequality, slums, and dangerous working conditions for hundreds of thousands of people. With the rising population and increased urbanization, some church groups, orphanages and workhouses felt they could no longer support the growing number of children in their care. The solution? Send them off to the colonies to work on farms or as domestic help.

Between 1869 and 1948, Britain sent approximately 100,000 children to Canada. The move sometimes split up families – some of the children were orphans, many (perhaps as many as 2/3) were taken from their parents; sometimes siblings got to remain together, sometimes they were sent to opposite ends of Canada.

The idea was to have the younger children adopted by the families in Canada while the older children were to be provided with food and shelter in exchange for labour. How did it really work? It depended on the family that took them in. Some children thrived in their new country. The lucky ones were taken in and adopted by loving, caring families. Other children faced abuse, loneliness and poor working conditions, working as free labour without benefit of education or support.

This is a story of many Canadian families. It is estimated that 4,000,000 Canadians today – or more than 10% of our population – can trace part of their family history to the British Home Children. Over 10,000 of the British Home Children fought in the First and Second World Wars. Starting with so very little, these children grew up to be many of the men and women who helped to build Canada.

But many of the home children didn’t tell their families of their experiences. So families often had to research and find out the stories for themselves.

A woman’s wish to know more about her family and to honour the British Home Children lead to this exhibit. The exhibit is focused on two quilts created by Hazel Perrier of Claresholm, Alberta, to commemorate the British Home Children. One quilt is made from squares sent to Hazel from descendants of British Home Children from across Canada. The other quilt tells Hazel’s own family history.

Bobbie Fox, a Galt staff member, researched and wrote panels on the history of British Home Children to provide more context for the quilts during their stay here at the Galt.
It is particularly appropriate that this exhibit is here this year as 2010 has been declared by the House of Commons as the Year of the British Home Child. Member of Parliament Phil McColeman had an uncle who was a Home Child and MP McColeman successfully introduced a private members’ motion that was unanimously passed in the House of Commons last year. In honour of the Year of the British Home Child, Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp. You can learn more about the message in the stamp when visiting the exhibit.

Web-sites and organizations are working with families to help them trace them origin and ancestors. It is impossible to give these children back their childhoods – but hopefully many of the families will be able to find their history and learn the true story of their families.

From what I have seen with families and visitors, the great power of this exhibit is its ability to start conversations and to start people thinking about these issues, these lives and how the individuals and Canada were all affected. I don’t have answers for the questions I pose below but these are some things I’ve asked students to consider: Was life in Canada better than in the slums, as the reformers of the time believed, or worse? Should Canada follow other countries and apologize for this program? Is this still happening (in a slightly different way) in the world today? What can or should be done about it?
If you have answers or just want to discuss the questions above, take some time this fall to stop by the Galt, view the exhibit and think about the British Home Children.