Thursday, 22 December 2011

Community Ideas Guide the Museum

Earlier in 2011, the Galt Museum & Archives asked the community in and around Lethbridge, “What exhibit could the Galt do that would bring you to the museum?” Seventy five people responded through direct contact with staff and through Web 2.0 options. Posters and tabletop cards with QR codes were distributed to coffee shops around town, staff hosted a booth at the local Farmers’ Market and asked people at many different gatherings to participate, the Galt Website invited people to leave their ideas, and paper forms could be filled out in the museum.

The Galt develops a three year plan of exhibits to be shown in its 1300 sq. ft. Discovery Hall Special Exhibit Gallery and in two smaller Hallway Gallery spaces. The current plan will end in December of 2012. The new exhibit ideas were gathered to guide our choices for the 2013 to 2015 schedule.

A broad range of ideas poured in and over 100 were recorded. In the fall, all the ideas were discussed with the staff and through an in-depth brainstorming session, they were reviewed and organized into possible exhibit themes. Some of the ideas included topics such as Diversity and Immigration in southern Alberta, Awesome Pets, Swimming, Energy use and concerns, local Entrepreneurs and Innovators, the influence of Children’s Literature, Ukrainian Weddings, Women’s Stories from Legacy Ridge, Beauty Products, the history of the Fire and EMS departments, Gardening, and the celebration of the Galt Museum’s 50th Anniversary. These were presented to the Galt Board of Directors for their responses.

Sifting through the distilled themes produced a draft three year schedule of major and smaller exhibits that all the staff will once again review. Travelling exhibits will be booked and In-house exhibits will be developed all based on the community’s ideas.

Children Welcome -- Over 10 000 and Counting

On any given day when you visit the Galt Museum & Archives, you will see children in the museum (well, okay, not at the Beer Tasting).

As of 10:50 am this morning, for the first time ever, the Galt broke the 10,000 student visitors in a calendar year mark! This represents approximately 450 school groups at the Galt in 2011. Or, another way, 1/9 the population of Lethbridge. And there's one more class coming in about an hour.

But we also get a great many children visiting with their families. In order to help families make these visits as fun, educational, relaxing, interesting and useful as possible, the Galt has put together two resources for families.

The first is a booklet titled "Visiting a Museum or Historic Site with Children." The book, which can be downloaded from the Galt Museum on our Visitors page.

The booklet includes ideas to do prior to the visit, activities or suggestions to make your visit more enjoyable, and things to do back at home to extend your museum visit.

For those dropping into the Galt, we have a shortened version of the book in a brochure form which can be picked up during your visit.

Hopefully you'll make use of these resources as you visit the Galt and other museums and historical sites during the upcoming holidays. Remember, the Toys and Games exhibit closes January 8 so the next two weeks make the perfect opportunity to check out the exhibit and the Galt's newest resource. You may also wish to come by for the Family Program Top 11 of 2011 (more information on our web-site) which are family activities each day throughout the next two weeks.

I'd love to get your feedback on the booklet and brochure. Let me know how they work. Do you have ideas that would make them even better? Is your favourite game or activity missing?

See you all in 2012!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Criss Cross Writing

I love reading old documents. It's not only what they say. It's also how they're written. The penmanship, the formality of the language, the cadence of the words -- and when the writing goes in multiple directions!

In an homage to writing from earlier times where writers wrote the text criss-crossed across each other in various directions, I have put today's Blog message in such a letter attached below. For those having difficulty reading it, I have also typed the message below the letter (recognizing that it is sometimes difficult to turn your computer screen to read the message).

In the 19th century paper was expensive. Postage and mailing were also very expensive. In order to save money, when people wrote letters they would often write in several directions across the page. The reader would have to decipher the letter by figuring out which order to read -- across, up and down, or diagonal -- first. Fortunately, most of us can afford paper today.
Today, though, we want to reduce the amount of paper we use because it's better for the environment. We try to use both sides of the paper. We use it as scrap paper.
People of the past also did a lot of other things that often helped the environment.
A lot of people in those days used grey water. This is wastewater from household use that is then re-used. It could be from your laundry or the dishes. You then use it in the garden or some other way. They would also darn or fix their socks. They made quilts out of old clothes.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

When Voting Became a Game!

The Galt Museum & Archives developed a fun exhibition called Toys & Games ~ engage, entertain, educate which opened on October 1, 2011 and will run until January 8, 2012. We decided to invite visitors to vote for their favourite toy once they reached the gallery exit. The Galt’s Exhibit Designer and Fabricator created an imaginative voting station and each visitor was given a single marble when they arrived in the museum which they could use to vote.

The voting station included nine ‘ballot boxes’ each with a number that corresponded to one of the display cases in the exhibit. Each ‘box’ was unique and involved holes through which a marble was dropped. Putting the marble into a variety of tubes and steps and even a stainless steel bowl with a hole in the bottom were part of the fun. The marbles were to be counted each week and posted to the Galt’s website so people could follow the voting.

What we quickly discovered was that our visitors were so delighted with the voting methods that the station itself became a toy. This created a whole series of unexpected challenges. Firstly, we found the station was subjected to some pretty rough handling – as toys do – and this required several repairs. Secondly, we discovered that no matter how we secured the catch basins for each station, some were constantly being raided by small hands. The marbles taken from those boxes were used over and over again. Thirdly, we found that visitors were often choosing to put their marble into the ballet box that appealed to them rather than the one reflected the display case which held their favourite toy. And lastly, visitors were also dropping other small objects into the stations like dice, tiddlywinks, dominoes and even pick-up sticks.

So, the voting became secondary to play and with so many people having such fun with the marbles and the clever stations, we have decided to treat it as a toy and abandon the voting. After all, the exhibit is all about toys and games.

PS Visitors will still get a marble when they arrive but will be invited to play rather than vote.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Old-Fashioned Toys and Games to Enjoy

Looking for some ideas for what to do over Christmas break? During classes and tours, I often mention old-fashioned games and toys that kids could make at home or that kids from the past enjoyed. So I thought I would provide instructions and information for families to even better enjoy the upcoming holiday break.

Yarn Dolls
During our Christmas program at this time of year, we make a version of the small yarn dolls (or action figures). But I know many kids would like to try their hand at making the larger, more traditional version. The link below is one of the best ones I've found on the internet for instructions for yarn dolls:

Fox and Geese
Fox and Geese is a fun outside game that makes use of snow. It is an active game of tag where half the fun is making the pathways in the snow. While the link I've provided below shows a nice organized playing area, I don't ever remember playing on anything that neatly set out. Just be certain players know they're not allowed to make their own pathways when the fox gets near.

Kick the Can
Back through Lethbridge and southern Alberta history, Kick the Can was one of the favourite games played. You will need a large area that provides a lot of places to hide.


Thursday, 1 December 2011

History on the Dust Heap

The first Chinese business in Lethbridge started in the 1880s. Considering that the Galts started their first mine in 1882 and the town-site of Lethbridge was surveyed in 1885, this makes the Chinese among the first settlers of the new community -- here even before Lethbridge attained town status.

Many more arrived over the next several decades. In the 1890s railroad buildings was occurring around southern Alberta - the Galt railway to Great Falls and the Crowsnest Railway among them. Several Chinese arrived to work on the railways. In the early 1900s, 75 Chinese were brought to Raymond to work in the sugar beet fields. Some of these men stayed in the area to work in laundries, restaurants, domestic work and market gardening.

The Chinese often faced discrimination and prejudice and had limited job choices. Chinese, Japanese, East Indian and African American immigrants were considered "unsuitable" and faced racism and occasional violence. People calling for tolerance were rare and usually ignored. Despite the challenges, these groups came to southern Alberta, some looking for a better life and hoping to make it rich so they could go home; some choosing to make a home in their new country. Around 1900 approximately 100 Chinese lived in Lethbridge. In a town of only a few thousand people, this was a significant portion of the population.

Lethbridge's Christmas Day Riot of 1907 provides considerable information about ethnic relations in Lethbridge. But the details are clouded by 3 distinct written versions and many rumours and legends that don't agree on any of the details. Also, no written version telling the story from the Chinese community perspective has been found.

The Lethbridge Herald reported that Jim Lee and John Lee committed assault and bodily harm to Harry Smith during a disagreement in a restaurant. Jim Lee hit Smith on the head with a hammer while trying to remove him from the building. A rumour started that Harry Smith was dead and 500 people went to Round Street (5th Street South today) looking for the waiter. They damaged the restaurant and were beginning to damage other Chinese businesses when Mayor Galbraith showed up with the RNWMP and City Police, read the riot act and sent everyone home.

An anonymous written report by an "Old Timer" said that Smoky Lee and Irish made a nuisance of themselves in Mah Wong's Restaurant. The two men were drunk and shooting at tomato cans lining the walls of the restaurant. The waiter used a cleaver to get the 2 men to leave. Later friends looking for Smoky Lee were told "oh, they're dead." Hearing the news and being intoxicated themselves, the men started a riot and were destroying the cafe and other businesses when Mayor Galbraith, the city Police and Mounties showed up, arrested people, and ended the destruction.

According to the Herald, Jim Lee and John Lee were both charged and found guilty. According to the anonymous account, apologies were made to Wah Wong, reparatations made and Lethbridge settled down to the normal tenor of its ways.

What is true? I'm not sure. Maybe neither. Maybe both have some points of truth.

What is known is that anti-Chinese feelings led to the City of Lethbridge passing By-Law 83 in 1910. The By-Law had an innocuous title - A By-Law Respecting the Erection and Removal of Buildings, Fire Limits and Prevention of Fires..... - but the by-law is best remembered for ordering that all laundries had to be within a specific geographic area of Lethbridge. The true nature of the by-law became apparent when all laundries, except the one owned by white residents, was forced to move into the area.

The By-Law was repealed in 1916 but by this time Chinese busineses and residents had moved to the area that became known as Chinatown. Chinatown developed a strong sense of community which it retained for decades.

Around the same time, many people complained that immigrants were taking jobs from Canadians. Discriminatory hiring practices were used. In January 1909 Lethbridge City Council ordered its engineers to employ English-speaking workers in preference to "foreigners." Some businesses, often hotels, restaurants and cafes, promoted that they only hired white help. One restaurant, White Man's Cafe, even expressed its hiring policy in its name.

The Chinese community learned very early on that they had to rely on each other in order to survive. Organizations - such as the Chinese National League and Chinese Freemasons - supported members of the Chinese community. They established roomed for their members to meet and socialize, libraries where they could read Chinese newspapers and classes for children to learn calligraphy and Cantonese. These organizations sponsored many celebrations including the Chinese New Years. Through the Great Depression no member of the Chinese community in Lethbridge went on relief as the support came from within the community and not government.

I have researched the Chinese community in Lethbridge for exhibits and books. There is very little documented history on the Chinese community in Lethbridge. There are few photographs and records. Even individual Chinese residents who operated businesses for 40 years in Lethbridge may only show up in the Lethbridge Herald 1 or 2 times. This is not a story of Lethbridge's past that is easy to tell or easy to find.

Sadly, earlier this week we lost a very tangible part of our Lethbridge history. The Chinese National League Building was built between 1909 and 1920. Not surprisingly this corresponds to the time By-Law 83 was being promoted. The building was originally a restaurant. Likely the owner found it prudent at that time to move to where the other Chinese businesses were being located because, of course, there is safety and support in numbers.

Many people have said there was nothing remarkable about that building. The story of that building was not in its bricks and mortar. It was in what it represented about Lethbridge history and about the Chinese story in Lethbridge history. This building told us about our community 100 years ago and over the past century -- who we were then, who we are now and who we would like to become. Now, sadly, the story of that building has been relegated to the dust heap.