Wednesday, 25 April 2012

A Swedish Connection to Retlaw

Retlaw is a small "ghost town" community directly west of Vauxhall. Settled in the early 20th century, Retlaw boomed and was for a while the fastest growing community in Alberta. Settlers flocked to the area to get homesteads. In the late teens and 1920s times became very hard in the Retlaw area. Irrigation bypassed the area for Vauxhall and the droughts of the 1920s had an incredible toll on the people who remained.

One of those early settlers was a young Swedish gentleman in his early 20s. He arrived in Lethbridge in 1906 and homesteaded in Retlaw 2 years later. He appears to have stayed in Retlaw until 1927 at which point he returned to Sweden. Back in Sweden he married and had a family.

But he didn't tell his family much about his time in Canada. The Galt Archives recently received an email from the family of the Swedish settler. They are coming from Sweden to Canada in May to try and find out more about his time here, to visit Retlaw, to see the Retlaw church (their family is friends with the family who donated the church bell), and to visit the homestead.

We knew the answers they would be looking for couldn't be found in a book so, since I'm from that area, I made a few phone calls.

Terry Franz of the Retlaw Historical Society will be connecting with the family to ensure they get their tour and get to visit all the places their Grandfather would have known. They will also be dropping by the Galt to see if they can fill in some of the first two years he was in Canada.

Hopefully we can help make their visit to southern Alberta rewarding and fun. Because you never know how much Sweden and Retlaw (and Lethbridge) can have in common until you start talking family history.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Children's Books set in southern Alberta

Over the past few months a notice I read in an old newspaper has led me to trying to create a list of all books set in southwestern Alberta. When I mentioned what I was working on to a few people, they asked about me about those written for children. One teacher told me that he often has students who attempt to write a story set in some far off place -- some place they have never been. So he asked if I would share the list -- as a way of showing students that good literature can be written set in southern Alberta.

So I drafted this list of children's books/comics/graphic novels. These are the books I've been able to find to date but there may be more out there. Some of the books on this list are out of print but I have managed to find copies of all of the books through various sources. So if you're interested in reading them, I know they're out there somewhere. Some can be purchased through the Galt Store.

It's my hope that this list will encourage people to read/learn more about southwestern Alberta. I also hope to inspire people to write even more books set here.

Prairie Colt (1947), Stephen Holt -- In trying to save his father's business, Leif has to decide which of his orphaned twin colts can win the stockman's race.

Phantom Roan, The (1949), Stephen Holt -- The book tells of a partnership between an outlaw horse and a boy that ends in the rodeo in New York's Madison Square Garden. Story takes place primarily around Fort Macleod and Cardston.

White Calf, The (1965), Cliff Faulknor -- The story of Eagle Child, a Piikani boy, who finds a white buffalo calf said to have been sent by the Above Ones.

Megan (1965), Iris Noble -- Megan is a 16-year-old orphan from Wales who moved to southern Alberta in the early 20th century looking for a better life in a new country.

White Peril (1966), Cliff Faulknor -- Five years have passed since Eagle Child's parting with the white buffalo calf. White men are now coming by hundreds and slaughtering buffalo in alarming numbers. To learn the strengths of the white man, Eagle Child and the scouts of the Blackfeet set out on an extensive reconnaissance.

Smoke Horse, The (1968), Cliff Faulknor -- The story of White Bull who sees and captures the spirited Smoke Horse. White Bull becomes a captive of the Kutenai but manages to escape and makes a risky journey back to his own people.

Sweetgrass (1984), Jan Hudson -- Sweetgrass, a 15-year-old Blackfoot girl, longs to be married like the other girls her age. Her father feels she is too young for marriage, but over a difficult year she proves her courage, intelligence and maturity.

Naomi's Road (1986), Joy Kogawa -- Adaptation of the novel Obasan. Story of a young girl during the Japanese Canadian internment.

Dawn Rider (1990), Jan Hudson -- Kit Fox, who describes herself as an ordinary middle child, is a 16-year-old Blackfoot girl in 1750 who is drawn to the first wild horse that the men have captured. Together she and Found Arrow, the horse's young guard, plot to keep her unapproved riding a secret.

Crystal Drop, The (1992), Monica Hughes -- Futuristic science fiction. Story starts near Fort Macleod and travels to Lundbreck Falls. Drought has destroyed Megan and Ian's world and now they have to find their uncle. The promise of water drives them on.

McIntyre Liar, The (1993), David Bly -- Kevin Winslow, 16, a Calgary teenager, is sent to spend the summer on the McIntyre Ranch.

Beneath the Faceless Mountain (1995), Roberta Rees -- Beneath the Faceless Mountain traverses time and space around Turtle Mountain, from the turn of the century through Frank Slide, the Hillcrest Mine Disaster and the Bellevue Fire.

Finders Keepers (1995), Andrea Spalding -- Danny Budzynski finds a strange object shaped like an arrowhead. Then Danny meets Joshue Brokenhorn, a boy from the Piikani Reserve, who tells him it's a lance head. With Joshua, Danny uncovers some clues about the lance head and begins to understand the history of the Piikani.

Billy and the Bearman (1996), David A. Poulsen -- A dramatic turn of events unites twelve-year-old Bill Gavin and seventeen-year-old John "Bearman" Redell, two boys from seemingly different backgrounds who discover that they in fact have a great deal in common. They are both runaways.

Breath of a Ghost (1996), Anita Horrocks -- Set in Lethbridge. Darien has to deal with the death of his little brothers.

Shadows of Disaster (2003), Cathy Beveridge -- Jolene and her grandfather step through a time crease and she finds herself in the coalmining town of Frank a century earlier. Can she pass as a boy in 1903? Can she and her grandfather safely return to the present?

Keeley Series (Our Canadian Girl, 2004-2007), Deborah Ellis -- Following Keeley's life from her arrival in Frank in 1901 until after her Father's death.

Terror at Turtle Mountain (2006), Penny Draper -- Thirteen-year-old Nathalie Vaughn lives in Frank in April 1903. Her cousin Helen is expected on the train the next day. When disaster strikes, Nattie has to find the strength and courage to help save her friends' lives.

March on Fort Whoop-Up, The (2007), Peter Brouwer -- Comic book depicting the formation of the North-West Mounted Police, forerunner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Chin Music (2007), Gregory Roberts -- Brook Gunderson is the star pitcher on his high-school baseball team in Lethbridge. He lives for the provincial tournament and the occasional, highly elaborate practical joke. But one last crazy stunt threatens to ruin his sporting ambitions -- permanently.

Danger in Dead Man's Mine (2009), David Glazer -- Mac Davis, his mom and little sister are visiting relatives in Lethbridge in 1912. Mac has to deal with rattlesnakes, a crazy oil sailor and deadly danger underground. Can he handle it all?

I Survived the Frank Slide: The Jessie Leitch Story -- Comic outlining the history of the Frank Slide and what happened to Jessie Leitch that day.

Big Charlie and the Frank Slide -- Comic outlining the history of Charlie, the horse who survived Frank Slide.

Sierra and Blue (2011), Deborah Yawney with Makai'stoo (Leo Fox) -- Travel with Sierra and Blue to the Blood Reserve as they learn about their extended family and the language of their people.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Knock Knock -- Nurses at the Door

Knock Knock
Who's there?
Soda who?
Soda you like history?

Sorry. I went through my book of Knock Knock jokes on the weekend with my niece and nephew and I couldn't resist. But it is a legitimate question. Do you like history?

As someone who was raised with a dad who love to discuss and argue history, I've always been stumped when I meet people who don't care for history. Now I have made it part of my life's work to show them what they're missing.

I had some fun with that this week. So far this week I've had two classes of nursing students from the University of Lethbridge through on tours. We have a 3rd class tomorrow morning. The idea of the tours is to take them through the building and talk about the history of medicine but also the history of the building and community and what's a hospital tour without a few ghost stories thrown in? Most come because they're expected but they end of having more fun on the tours and learning more about their own profession than they thought they would.

We talk about Mildred Dobbs -- the nurse of the Isolation Hospital who worked 39 years without a day off while the hospital was open. We mention that it was once normal for women to spend 10 days in bed after childbirth -- usually on the stomach. We mention that the old operating room had windows because they couldn't always rely on the electricity. And that we know of at least two people who fell down the elevators -- one who survived (a nursing student) and one who didn't (a patient).

We have stories of how in the old Galt hospital the morgue was a little building behind and nurses had to wait there with a body until a doctor came to pronounce -- even if he was out on house calls and it could take hours.

And then there's the stories of the curfew that student nurses had to follow and the various times the fire escape was used -- even though they never had the fire. Or the matron who figured it out and cut off the lower rung of the fire escape ladder.

One of the reasons I particularly love sharing these stories with U of L nursing students is they are directly linked to the Galt School of Nursing. When the Galt Hospital closed the school moved to the municipal and then to the college and is now shared between the college and the university. These are stories that show how the nursing profession is one long family line and that there are things to learn from those who went before in the profession.

And I know that the stories of what happens to the blue scrubs (the students who were here the other day know what I'm referring to) will be part of the legends that will continue to be passed on about nursing students in Lethbridge.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Is teaching history "unnatural"?

This past week I finished Sam Wineburg's Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts which looks at how history is taught as well as the preconceptions that students and teachers bring to the classroom.

I appreciated the discussion on the different frameworks each teachers bring to the classroom. The assumptions we make about what history is and how to teach it. How some teachers might make it all about the facts and others think that facts (knowing exact dates, for example) aren't important. How we sometimes underestimate what students can handle and assume that we have to purposely keep the complexity out of it so we won't confuse students. But when we simplify history too much we do so at the risk of making history seem like one fixed narrative and don't show students that history is more complicated than this. We don't always let students work as historians -- reading and working with primary sources. I think as teachers it is always important to think about what assumptions we are making both with regards to the ability and background of students but also to what is important to teach.

As interesting as that chapter was, I had more fun with the discussion on how students see history -- the preconceptions that they bring with them from past classes, from television and movies, from how they have created the narrative in their head (what they heard as opposed to what they were taught). According to Wineburg, the wrong answers that students give provides us with as much information about how they think about history as the correct answers.

So that got me thinking about the wrong answers that are regularly given. I've been thinking quite abit about them lately because I'm hoping that understanding how students have come to believe in these answers will show me what they're thinking.

Many students believe that the 1st coal miner was William Lethbridge. I think this is simply that they know coal was important in Lethbridge and that William Lethbridge was important and make the assumption that the two go together. The job of an investor and president of a company are not something they understand but coal mining is concrete.

In grade 3 we have a class on bridges where we study the history and science of the high level bridge and then work to construct bridges. When I ask students if the high level bridge was built for trains 100+ years ago OR was built as some other type of bridge and then changed into a train bridge, many students think it was some other type of bridge and then changed into a train bridge. This seems to be partly because at their age they think the bridge is older than trains AND because as some students told me it was probably used for coal cars back then. They have a sense that the bridge had something to do with coal and make this logical jump.

We have several photographs of Lethbridge in the 1880s that show the settlement developing on the prairies. Many students over the years have been worried that because there are no trees the people could not survive. To them, only trees give oxygen and without trees, it would have been difficult to breathe. I think this may come partly from commercials that promote planting trees to give the world more oxygen. Many students come to understand that as trees are the ONLY thing that provide oxygen.

And, not surprisingly, I get lots of questions about the various presidents of Canada. Sigh!