Friday, 17 December 2010

Thoughts from a Grade 9 Brain

One great part of my job is the Thank You letters I receive from students. As another year wraps up, I thought I would share some of my favourite snippets from a grade 9 class.

In October, we took a grade 9 class to Mountain View Cemetery to learn Lethbridge history and discuss the biographies of some Lethbridge people. The students were each assigned a person and researched that individual both before and after the tour.

“While on the tour I learned that a lot of miners died while working on [sic] the mine. The thing that I liked most about the tour was the worksheets you made us do.” – I see a future in Archives for this student.

“I liked how we got to miss school to go to the graveyard and I liked how we got to learn about our people for our project.” -- It’s not really “missing school” when you come with your teachers.

“Learning how to tell about someone’s life and what they liked by looking for certain things on their headstone & footstone is pretty cool. Thank you so much for putting up with us for the morning and teaching us about the different things you can find in a graveyard.” – I, too, think the history to be found in a graveyard is “pretty cool.” And, spending much of my time working with elementary students, it was fun to work with grade 9 students for a change.

“You didn’t show us the guy I was researching, but the information you gave on everyone else was helpful.” – What can I say? Sorry.

“I didn’t really learn much about Winston Churchill but that’s because he wasn’t in that graveyard.” -- No, but I wish he was. It would make my tours that much more interesting.

“I appreciate that you walked around in the cold so we could learn. It was interesting to learn about all these people that used to live in Lethbridge. It was also helpful.” AND “Many of us learned things about the famous people that we were researching about. But we would have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t so cold out.” -- Outdoor tours would be much more comfortable if they weren’t outdoors.

“I really enjoyed learning about new people and Lethbridge’s history….I honestly didn’t mind doing the worksheet because I learned a lot about our history that I had no idea about and now I know what symbols in a cemetery mean.” -- I’m so glad you see it as ‘our history’. What I find compelling about cemetery history is that it is democratic . Everyone – rich or poor, old or young, worker or owner, man or woman – ends up in the cemetery and it tells the story of the entire community.

“Thank you very much for spending your time with us to show us around the cemetery. We all very enjoyed the experience! You did a very good job at teaching us.” – Thank you.

“We all really appreciate it. I thought that what you taught us was really interesting. I think it is really cool that you research and care so much about people that you have never met before.” – It’s one of the occupational hazards of being a historian – people don’t seem interesting until they’re dead.

“It’s pretty amazing that you know all the facts, let alone remember everything about these people and how they died.” -- Don’t tell anyone, but I just make it all up. Kidding, of course. I’m lucky to have one of those memories where facts and figures stick in my head.

Thank you to all of the students, teachers, and parents who visited the Galt for education programs in 2010 – all 9920 students and 1715 adults!!! See you in 2011.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Aliens, US Air Force, Mormons, and Atomic Bombs!

My family and I are going on a long drive this winter holiday - long as in driving all the way from Southern Alberta to California. I have spent a great deal of time preparing for this holiday by studying websites and books about the different museums and sites we may see along the way and must say that there are a few that I really look forward to:

1. The Hill Air Force Base Museum in Utah - this museum comes recommended by a friend who also has boys. She told me how much they loved it (and the free admission/admission by donation). Since then I have read many reviews and this museum comes highly recommended by everyone. Not only that, when I emailed them an enquiry, the response back was so genuinely kind that I really look forward to meeting the staff and my expectations are for a very memorable visit!

2. In Nevada, my sons have encouraged me for months to go see Area 51. Expecting nothing to really see, I investigated what might be around there (along the Extraterrestrial Highway as it is fondly named) and I found the Alien Research Centre. While not a museum, this place very much intrigues me, in the same way that the Voodoo Museum in the French Quarter in New Orleans intrigued me.....I am expecting to see something created by someone who is very passionate, or wants to make money on the tourists like us. It may not be the best quality but the experience will no doubt be fun and memorable!

3. The Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum in Nephi has me curious. It sounds like a smaller, probably mostly volunteer run museum, about a religion that plays such a crucial role in that area's culture, as well as the culture in Southern Alberta. I don't know a lot about the Mormon religion so figure that I will start here, with a museum dedicatd to the pioneers of the religion.

4. Finally, having a very strong interest in war and pacifism, I am excited, but admittedly saddened and nervous, to go to The Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas. I don't know if I want to know more about this terrible weapon but part of me wants to know the capabilities and past history that doesn't make the news every day.

Museums and sites on travels can be the big, well known ones that are in every guide and travel website, but they can also be the lesser known ones that you hear about through word of mouth or really digging through materials. I tend to go with the latter and am excited to learn more about the US Air Force, Aliens, Mormons, and Atomic Testing. I am sure I'll come back with plenty of memories and experience from these that will allow me to look at my job differently (don't think I don't pick up every volunteer application and brochure I see!! Or every event calendar...!) but also allow me to look at the world with fresh eyes - this is, after all, what museums are for, is it not?

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Where's Kipp?

I wanted to confirm the precise date when the first two Lethbridge City Charters came into effect (May 9, 1906, and March 25, 1913, respectively). The on-line form from Alberta Municipal Affairs that had this information had a link to a map so I decided to click on it. The map showed all of the cities, towns, and hamlets in and around Lethbridge (from Fort Macleod to Taber and from Carmangay to Magrath). Some of it surprised me.

How many of you have been to the Hamlet of Fairview? It is, of course, the community between 43rd Street and the Research Centre.

Did you know that Moon River Estates is considered a hamlet?

Or that Johnson’s Addition (the western edge of Taber) is a hamlet and not part of Taber?

Most of the map held no surprises. But as I studied it, I realized Kipp wasn’t on the map. So now I wanted to know – was Kipp still a hamlet or has it become something else?

I did a search of Kipp on-line and a non-official web-site described it as a “populated locality.” I love that phrase but it didn’t answer the question.

So I went to the County of Lethbridge site. The County has a series of maps available including a hamlet map.

On the County map, Kipp is still included as a hamlet.

So, is it or isn’t it? Was it just forgotten from the provincial map? Or has there been a recent change? Is Kipp still a hamlet?

If the “title” of Kipp has changed, it wouldn’t be the first time. Kipp started as Fort Kipp, a trading post. The present day Kipp kept the name but is in a different location.

Personally, I hope Kipp is still a hamlet.

{the pictures above show an abandoned reststop in Kipp in the 1960s [Galt Archives P19752207254] and the Thompson Store and British American dealer/Service Station in Kipp in 1957 [Galt Archives P19754090074]}

Thursday, 2 December 2010

I'm a Hypocrite

I'm a hypocrite.
I realized it the other day as a group of us were discussing current events and politics. I want to live in a time of relative calm and abundance. What's the Chinese curse -- may you live in interesting times? I don't want to live in interesting times. I would like nice, rational understandable and even ever so slightly boring times.

BUT I am incredibly happy that people in the past lived in interesting times with economic volatility, strikes, protests, controversial elections, arguments that played out in the newspaper, uncertainty, and so much more. Because these sort of times make for fascinating study and reading. And there are great anecdotes, statistics, photographs, etc. to use in presenting these stories.

But as a historian what I can't lose sight of is that these were real people who lived through these events -- while I may look at it from the distance of time and the objectivity of research, there are also times when I have to think of it from the perspective of the human context. What was it like to have your farm foreclosed on? To get a telegram informing you a son/brother/husband had died? What was it like to be in the midst of one of the political tempests that regularly were written up in the newspapers of old? To have been standing between the police and the mine as temporary workers were escorted to work in the coal mine? To have been a worker protesting unemployment?

Did those people wish, as I do, that they didn't live in interesting times? Probably. And for their sake I wish they had had more quiet lives. For my sake, though, I'm glad they didn't.