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.

2 comments:

  1. There used to be an old man who lived in a 'cave' on the side of the coulee below The View. Police made him move into a 'home' - don't know if his 'cave' is still there...

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  2. Thanks for the information. As soon as the weather is better I'll go and check it out.

    I also found a few pictures on-line (not local, but useful) of dug-outs and even one or two interior shots.

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