Monday, 26 September 2011

Cody, Wyoming -- Things I Learned on the Road Part 3

To start, two random thoughts (though some of you may think my whole blog is nothing but random thoughts).

First, Buffalo Bill Cody’s dad was Canadian – born in Ontario. One of the many fun facts I learned on my road trip

Second, why on earth aren’t we using more of these ladders here in southern Alberta? As a child I could have saved many of my shirts and clothes from being ripped on the barbed wire if we had these . They're brilliant. They're also part of the reason I love exploring back roads on road trips. I saw these along side of a country road as I was looking for a historic school marked on a sign post on the highway. [ps. I did find the school]

Now back to museum stuff.

I visited the Buffalo Bill Cody Centre in Cody. I did not spend as much time there as I would have liked. I intend to go back some day and spend more time.

I also know exactly who I would like to have with me on my next trip because I know the people with whom I could enjoy a lively discussion and debate in the galleries. There are five museums under one roof. I visited four of them and found them all extraordinary.

I was very impressed with the displays in the centre. When I first walked up to the cabin below I thought it was a wooden wall (which it looks like at certain angles) but quickly realized that I could see through into the cabin. While it was also possible to enter the cabin, this ability to peek through the walls was a fabulous way to connect the visitor with the display. It sparked my imagination and curiosity and I felt compelled to walk around and see how the structure looked from different angles.

A similar design was used to incorporate large scale archival photographs such as that show below which brought the grandeur of the scale of the landscape. Great use of space and design. I greatly enjoyed how the designers made use of the whole space in some areas using banners and photographs such as this.

While I don't have photographic examples (I realized after I got home), I was very impressed with the labels and displays throughout the centre. They invited the visitor to become part of the experience. For example, in the Yellowstone natural history area, the exhibits were designed to be viewed one way and then another. Further, the exhibits were formed around a sloping ramp so that as you went down, the elevation under discussion changed.

Very glad I added an extra day to my trip to go to Cody. But wish I had spent even more time there.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Fort Benton – Some Thing I Learned on the Road part 2

I love Fort Benton. It’s an incredible place. Everyone was friendly and welcoming. You're surrounded by history.

As the “birthplace of Montana” Fort Benton has incredible history in its own right.

Fort Benton also played a pivotal role in the early history of southern Alberta. The Whoop-Up Trail started in Fort Benton. Fort Benton supplied the fur/buffalo/whiskey trade. Many of the early stores in Lethbridge were operated from Fort Benton. The Mounties re-stocked and organized themselves in Fort Benton. Fort Benton is where everyone met and traded.

It would be impossible to put into this blog everything about Fort Benton. But here’s a few that I especially wanted to share.

1. You can spend hours in Fort Benton going through all of the museums and sites. The tour of the newly recreated Fort was well worth attending. The tour guide was informative and humourous.

2. I found information I wasn't expecting but which may help to answer a question in my own research. I'm researching the southern Alberta sugar beet industry. When the industry started in 1903 one of the groups working in the sugar beet fields were Chinese workers. But there’s virtually no information. How were they recruited to southern Alberta? Were they people who had worked in the railroad building and who remained? Were they a different group? Where did they go after their time in southern Alberta? Did any of the families stay in southern Alberta? In Alberta? Was it just young, single men? I have been looking in numerous archives and books trying to find the answer.

Then I found this panel in one of Fort Benton’s museums. There may be no connection and it may just be coincident but at least it gives me another possible source to research.

3. We are linked historically to northern Montana. We are also linked geographically. Our farmers share common concerns and problems. And they also share some of their answers and solutions.

Marquis Wheat was so important to the people of Lethbridge that we named one of our major hotels after it (Marquis Hotel built 1928). This wheat could be farmed in more diverse climates then previous wheat, had high yield and made a good bread.

I do wonder how many people know that strip farming is a southern Alberta invention. First recorded mention is in the Lethbridge Herald in 1915.

4. I stayed over night in the 1880s Grand Union Hotel. The restoration work on the building is wonderful. The ambience is great. The hotel is right on the Missouri River and the walk along the river – with all of the interpretive panels and artwork – is time very well spent.

I did spend the night in one of the rooms that is supposed to be haunted. But I'm sure none of you want to hear about that.

Next time -- Cody, Wyoming, and the question of ladders over barb wire fences.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

3 Dimensions Art Show

Each year for the past four, the Galt Musuem & Archives has presented an exhibit of 3 dimensional art work created by artists in Southern Alberta. The exhibit is a part of the local Art Walk scene and is free to visitors.

All the exhibits featured a surprising variety of media, style, colours, size and genre and 2011 will follow that trend. This year artists have submitted wheel thrown and handbuilt clay pieces, carved and turned art made from exotic woods, a copper and wrought iron bird bath, mixed media pieces that incorporate clay and found objects, acrylics and wood, textiles and jewellry, and a cardboard and tape space ship.

The quality and depth of these pieces will engage and challenge visitors as they view 3 Dimensions. Visitors will explore artwork stimulated by diverse subjects such as a child's pet gecko, the health care system in Alberta, and dance.

Artists who create 3 dimensional art will provide demonstrations such as wood turning on a lathe with the Chinook Wood Turners Guild, wheel thrown pottery by members of the Oldman River Potters Association, and handbuilt monsters by Andrew Martin.

3 Dimensions exhibit and demonstrations are a wonderful way to celebrate and enjoy Southern Alberta's art community.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Some Things I Learned on the Road part 1

I was out of the office the past few days as I was lucky enough to attend a Gravestone Preservation Workshop in Montana as well as take a few days for sightseeing/visiting museums. Over the next few blogs I plan to share some parts of this trip.

When I travel I love to stop and read signs -- highway signs, signage in museums, interpretive signs, plaques -- I stop and read them all. Some are confusing. Some are humourous. Some are educational. But only a very few have that perfect mixture of education and humour that make them highly readable and memorable.

This sign stands out as my favourite road sign of all time. It contains an incredible amount of information but also has an irreverent humour that immediately made me know that this was a fun community. It's from Shelby, Montana.

Since I'm not sure how the photo came out here's the text:

"The Oily Boid Gets the Worm

A narrow gauge railroad, nicknamed the "turkey track" used to connect Great Falls, Montana and Lethbridge, Alberta. When the main line of the Great Northern crossed it in 1891, Shelby Junction came into existence. The hills and plains around here were cow country. The Junction became an oasis where parched cow-punchers cauterized their tonsils with forty-rod and grew plumb irresponsible and ebulient.

In 1910 the dry-landers began homesteading. They built fences and plowed under the native grass. The days of open range were gone. Shelby quit her swaggering frontier ways and becmae concrete sidewalks and sewer system conscious.

Dry-land farming didn't turn out to be such a profitable endeavor, but in 1921 geologists discovered that this country had an ace in the hole. Oile was struck between here and the Canadian line and the town boomed again."

While in Cody, Wyoming, I was able to visit the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. With five museums under one roof, it's an incredible organization. Two signs, though, quickly caught my attention. This first sign is outside as you walk up from the parking lot to the entrance. Note the last item that they ask you to leave in your vehicle. I can honestly say in all my years working in the museum, I've never had to request someone not bring a weapon into the Galt.

This next sign was inside the museum. It's an incredibly powerful interpretive sign about why touching of artifacts is not permitted. The top row (behind plexi-glass) shows untouched materials. The bottom row shows the same materials and people are encouraged to touch. The wear and tear on the materials is very evident.

This next sign is a ghost sign on a building in Butte, Montana. It's a little difficult to read but in the white writing you can make out the name Owsley's. I couldn't resist taking this photograph as our Facility Booking Clerk is Lea-Ann Owsley. Maybe there's a family connection?

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Where are they now?

I don't know about you, but I'm a sucker for those "Where are they now?" segments that are regularly run on TV. I love to hear the rest of the story.

But this doesn't just apply to people, it also applies to buildings. One of the fun things while doing history or traveling around southern Alberta is to find buildings that originated somewhere else and learn the story of their movement and transformation.

Here's just a few:

In the late 1930s, houses from Coalhurst and Commerce were moved to Picture Butte.

In the 1930s the Hardieville Hotel was moved to Coaldale where it became a hospital.

In the 1950s houses from the Lethbridge river valley were brought up and put in various locations but several in north Lethbridge.

Several buildings in Del Bonita were brought over from Whiskey Gap.

The railway building that forms the heart of the Galt Historic Railway Museum is the Coutts Station.

Several schools and teacherages were moved to new locations and re-used on various sites.

Both the mainframe (tipple) and water tower at Galt 8 were dismantled and moved in from other southern Alberta mines.

These are just the ones off the top of my head. If you know of others, please pass them along.

I challenge/invite someone to create a document/web-site/article that lists the origin and final resting spot of southern Alberta buildings. I don't have the time (though I'd offer whatever support I could) but I think it would be a fun and fascinating study.