Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Galt's 2022 Exhibit?

I have an idea for an exhibit at the Galt but at least I wouldn’t have to worry about this one for a few years. In 2022 I think the Galt should (perhaps in partnership with other museums and organizatiosn from across the Prairie provinces) create an exhibit on the 150th anniversary of the Dominion Land Act (1872). When I mentioned the idea in passing to some people in the City of Lethbridge planning department they already had some ideas for the exhibit and names of groups we should contact.

It may seem a bit strange to celebrate the passing of an act but this one had a profound impact on the prairie provinces, impacts that can still be seen and felt in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Based on the United States Homestead Act, the Dominion Land Act had as one of its main purposes to encourage the settlement of the Canadian prairies. One of the first things that had to be done was a correct surveying of the land. Dominion Land Surveyors were sent out and the Dominion Land Survey would eventually cover about 800,000 square kilometers (309,000 sq miles) of Canada. The pattern was set out so that the land was divided into square townships. Each township was sub-divided into 36 section. And each section then further sub-divided into 4 quarter-sections of 160 acres each. Every piece of land could be accurately identified.

Between certain sections of the township was built in road allowances (though not all road allowances actually have roads on them). Those who have driven much of the prairie are familiar with the grid pattern set out by the surveyors under this system – the familiar 2 mile roads running north and south and 1 mile between roads running east and west.

The important north-south lines are the meridians. East-west the most important lines are the base-lines.
Through this process the land was surveyed. Some land was set aside for the Hudson’s Bay Company (they retained ownership of 1/20th of all the land); some was set aside for support of schools. Land was also set aside for schools/educational purposes and for railroad construction/CPR land.

Once surveyed the land could then be opened up for homesteads. Settlers who met the requirements would receive 160 acres for a small fee of $10. In order to “prove” the homestead (gain ownership), they had to meet some specific duties such as cultivating a certain amount of land, building a permanent residence, etc. Once proved up the farmer would receive a patent and ownership of the land. From the government’s perspective the work done had brought greater value to the land. If the requirements were not met the land was forfeited. Some of the requirements to apply for a homestead was that the person had to be “head of the family” and 21 years of age (was later reduced to 18).

Homesteaders could also apply for right to an adjoining ¼ section in addition to his homestead. This was a difference between the Canadian and American acts and was particularly useful in providing large enough farms for farms to survive in the arid parts of the prairies.

Settlement on the prairies moved slowly in the first 3 decades following the passage of the act. But around 1900 it sped up and thousands moved to the prairies from eastern Canada and from around the world.
The exhibit would explain the land and the dominion land survey – how the surveyors worked and how the process was done. Some of the names of the surveyors are well known. Charles Magrath, 1st mayor of Lethbridge, came west at the age of 18 as a member of a Dominion Land Survey party. The exhibit would certainly tell of these surveyors, the equipment they used and the challenges they faced.

But how did it all work out? A large part of the exhibit would need to focus on the homesteaders themselves. How did they choose the land? What made them decide to get a homestead? Did they make it? We would need stories of people who survived the homestead years. Perhaps some stories of century farms – farms that have been in a single family for the past 100 years or more. We would also have to have stories of people who didn’t make it. Or, as one of my friends wrote me in connection with another project I’m working on, stories of “women who went made on the homesteads” isolated and lonely miles from family and friends.

Sitting here typing this on the 140th anniversary of this act I really hope this is an exhibit that the Galt will do. And I, personally, can’t wait to see how it all comes together.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Get On The Bus

I wonder if on 16 August 2012, Lethbridge Transit will let everyone ride the bus for 5 cents? Because that's how much it would have cost to ride the streetcar when public transportation started in Lethbridge in 1912. And on 16 August 2012, Lethbridge's Transit Department will be officially 100 years old.

On 16 August 1912, Mayor George Hatch opened the first 11 miles (17 km) of track. The official opening coincided with the annual fair being held at the Exhibition Grounds near Henderson Lake Park.  On an early trip, however, with streetcars half way to the fairgrounds, a generator burned out and brought the entire system to a halt. Fortunately, CPR trains were able to take over and transport revelers to and from the fair every half hour.

As a Lethbridge city alderman, George Hatch worked for years to construct Lethbridge's streetcar system. 
Over $250,000.00 was invested in the new system of public transportation. The city first purchased five double track streetcars (Nos. 1– 5), followed by five smaller single truck cars (Nos. 6—10). The cars were amber and cream in colour and displayed the sign “Lethbridge Municipal Railway.”

The initial system included five lines serving north Lethbridge, Henderson Lake Park, the southside residential district and a small downtown area.

However, Lethbridge's small population could not support the large streetcar system. The economic bust of 1913 certainly didn't help matters either. And, with the large expenditures in advance of the 1912 International Dry Farming Congress, the City of Lethbridge entered a 14 year financial crisis, finally paying off its debts in the late 1920s.
 The line serving downtown was discontinued soon after it was built, and one of the southside residential lines was abandoned in 1917.  Other cutbacks included staff reductions in 1914 followed only a few months later by dismissal of the streetcar staff, and their re-hiring at lower wages. From 1912 to 1917 each car had been operated by two men; this was reduced to a one-man operation in 1917.

Though reduced in size, the streetcar system operated in Lethbridge until 1947 when it was replaced by bus service. But for 35 years, Lethbridge residents heard the family "clang-clang" of the street car.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

International Museum Day 2012

Since 1977, May 18 has been recognized as International Museum Day, a day to recognize the importance of museums and to raise awareness of the work museums do in our communities and across our nations.

This year I decided to focus on some of the people (paid and unpaid staff) who work so diligently at the Galt and at other southern Alberta museums. Below, in their own words, are some reasons why they choose to work at a museum and what they love about the museum.

"I became involved in volunteering at the Galt Museum after I attended three Story Catchers workshops and events that were part of the Historic Lethbridge Festival in 2009. One was an evening of film, screening the Story Catcher's projects, documenting the lives of everyday people in Lethbridge, and the other two were workshop on methods of collecting oral history and the art of doing biography. Since the museum regularly offers opportunities to do oral histories to the applied studies students, I was offered an opportunity too, through various people, when the museum had its exhibit on the Galt Hospital. I am very enthusiastic about this type of work, since it fits in well with my education in anthropology." ~ Judy P.

"I was interested in Lethbridge's history when we moved from Edson to Lethbridge five years ago and the museum was an excellent place to do that." ~ Nancy P.

"History has always been my interest and I first got involved with museums at Fort William Historical Park learning historical interpretation. My main experience with museums and understanding of them was with you [Belinda Crowson] as your research assistant. Helping people appreciate history is important to me and I think museums are an important tool in doing that." ~ Victoria H.

"I became interested in working at the Galt because I was born there and was very proud that it is now a museum. The programs offered are fantastic, the staff and volunteers wonderful and when I volunteer I feel I give back to our great community, have fun and I am always learning something new and interesting." ~ Carol R.

"I don't exactly remember why I started volunteering at a Museum. My guess is that I love volunteering, doing things in the community, and helping others out and learn new things. Not to mention meeting new people, and inspiring or helping shed light on some topics of interest.
I have been in museums across the country with displays from art, nature, industry, and displays of daily life. It gave me and others a chance to learn just a bit more about our world now and in the past. We are very lucky to live in a country where we can see displays and interactive tools from local, provincial, national and international locations, with input from local people to internationally renowned experts." ~ Felicia D.

"Having been a volunteer in the education and health and wellness sectors for many years, I was looking for a different volunteer opportunity. When a friend and member of the Friends Society of the Sir Alexander Galt Museum & Archives newly organized Board of Directors asked if I would be interested in helping, I was glad to get involved. Now after 12 years of involvement in raising money to assist with educational initiatives, I continued to find the work interesting and fulfilling. Because we are able to raise the needed money through dinners, speaking series, raffles and casinos, school classes are transported by bus to and from the museum. The eagerness of the students to learn about all facets of local history is my reward for helping. It has been fun!!" ~ Mary O.

"For a volunteer to donate at the Galt Museum is both educational and rewarding. Regardless if a volunteer has a one hour or hundreds to donate to a museum, each minute collectively fills in the sands of time to help capture for future patrons how story's are always unfolding.
I enjoy that as a volunteer, there is always something that can be learned or knowledge shared with other volunteers. That is the environment that makes volunteering so fun!" ~ Glenn M.

"I live to volunteer at the museum because the people who visit the museum have such interesting stories and historical knowledge to share." ~ Marilyn L.

"One of the biggest perks I treasure in my job as Curator is the opportunity to meet many people who are really special to this community. Just recently, I met and works with members of local labour unions, people who make a significant contribution to the sports in our community, and students who explored women's history at the university. It is so exciting to meet and work with such interesting and dedicated people." ~ Wendy A.

"As a kid on a farm, my greatest pleasures were fort building and finding something I identified as 'old'. Holding something in my hands that pre-dated my time (7-12 ys/o) -- maybe even my parents' time -- was magical. Back then, it was the unanswered questions that I was most thrilled by, my imagination filling in the gaps. Today, I find greatest fulfillment in my job when I think that my documentation work may provide valuable future insights to Galt staff, visitors, donor families and/or wider Museum professionals. I feel like I am making a small difference." ~ Kevin M.

"To list all of the reasons I work at a museum and all of the great parts of my job would take up too much space. Only here can I help a woman learn the name of her father when all the information she has is a nickname and that he was a German Prisoner of War on a particular farm near Rolling Hills in the 1940s. Or witness a student's smile as she plays with a yarn doll that she just learned how to make. Observe a student visiting with parents and family quoting the tour I gave to his class days early and with him now acting as a tour guide for his family. Or celebrate with a past Applied Studies student when we learn she's been accepted into the Public History Masters Program -- great for her and great for us knowing that there would soon be another professional out there with passion and knowledge to bring history alive to the public. Or... As I said, too many to list but it's invigorating to think that in museums across Alberta and Canada and around the world similar stories are told by museum staff and volunteers everywhere. All of these stories and all of this work together changes the world every single day." ~ Belinda C.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

2012 Heritage Fair in Pictures

Heritage Fair has come and gone for another year. Thank you to the teachers, parents, judges and students. Here's a few pictures to highlight the incredible work of this year's students:

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Happy 100th Henderson Lake

Prior to 1912, what is now Henderson Lake was known as Slaughterhouse Slough -- a natural slough located next to a slaughterhouse. A rather descriptive -- if disturbing -- name. However, for the 1912 Dry Farming Congress, Lethbridge wished to have a grand lake and park to showcase Lethbridge to the world. The slough was dammed at one end and dug deeper; water was added and the lake enlarged. Over the next months and years a beach, change rooms and dock were built. The men shown here were part of the crew who helped to build the lake and park.

The lake was much larger in the early days than today. What is now the rose garden, Nikka Yuko and the golf course were all once under water and later reclaimed from the lake.The lake and park were named for William Henderson, mayor of Lethbridge in 1908 and 1909. William Henderson, the only Lethbridge mayor to die while in office, was working on the project at the time of his death and it was named to honour him.

Trees were planted at Henderson Lake over the next several years. Some of the trees, such as those at Battery Point, were planted to honour Lethbridge residents lost in the First and Second World Wars. Arbour Day and tree planting days were common -- days when the entire community met at Henderson Lake to work together to beautify the area. In 1916 alone 150 people met at the lake to plant 2000 seedlings.
Beside Henderson Lake was built at the same time the Exhibition Grounds and Buildings. These buildings, shown here, were unfortunately lost to a fire.
The golf course got its start there around 1917. The first hole-in-one in Lethbridge (one of the first in Canada) was made at the golf course in 1919.

Henderson Lake has served many purposes over the years. It was a bird sanctuary for a number of years. It hosted the Dry Farming Congress in 1912, numerous school track and field meets, community days and Canada Day Celebrations, dances, swim meets and much more. Countless children have swam there (and now in the pool beside) and fished there. People have walked and biked around the lake. Families for over 100 years have picniced and played there.

I hope you will take the opportunity to visit Henderson Lake. 
View the captured German guns -- from the First World War -- where they sit at the far east end of the lake. In the last few years they have been joined by a Canadian light armoured vehicle.

Take the time to read all of the memorials placed over the past 100 years around Henderson Lake -- honouring irrigation, Communities in Bloom, Nikka Yuko and so much more.

Enjoy the rose garden and sundial -- a beautiful place to take a picture.

Happy 100th Henderson Lake -- here's to 100 (and more) great years ahead.