Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Native Prairie Plants – Prairie Crocus

Plants – nature’s goods and services – have had a huge influence on the course of human history, corn for food, cotton for clothing, sod for homes, spices to trade, and quinine to treat malaria. The Galt Museum & Archives Garden of Native Prairie Plants provides a small snapshot of time: plants once sought after for many different reasons, such as the Pulsatilla patens, or prairie crocus, now in bloom.

Widespread and common across prairie grasslands and in the Rockies, the soft purple flower is among the first to appear in spring. The inside of the blossoms may be purple or white. Similar in looks to the true crocus (it blooms around the same time), the prairie crocus is not a bulb; it is a long-lived perennial with a thick woody taproot. The flowers appear before the finely divided leaves develop.

The whole plant is thickly covered with silky hairs. A First Nations legend tells that the Great Spirit gave the crocus its fur coat to keep it warm during cold spring nights. Those fine hairs prevent the wind from hitting the surface of the plant; the temperature at the leaf surface can be 10° warmer than the surrounding air. As further protection, the flowering stalk is short. The flower is heliotropic, turning to face the sun through the day; the shape of the blossom concentrates the sun’s rays at the centre of the flower, further increasing the temperature. 

The Blackfoot name, Napi, or old man, refers to the gray, silky, ripe seed-heads that look like grey haired heads. These fluffy seed-heads linger into early summer. As the seeds develop the stalks grow taller, allowing the seeds to be dispersed by the wind. All parts of the plant are poisonous and some people find them irritating to the skin. The Blackfoot understood the characteristics of this plant, and made a tea from the roots to speed childbirth or to cause abortion.

Prairie crocus seeds are available at the Galt Museum Store, or young plants can be purchased from native plant nurseries. They need a sunny spot, and not too much water. Because of their taproot, they will not survive if taken from the wild. More information about the Garden and its various plants is available at www.galtmuseum.com.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

I Want to Run

In the summer of 2012 the Galt Museum & Archives presented “Champions & Challenges in Sports”, an exhibition exploring the challenges and successes of local sports personalities including athletes, coaches and managers, officials, sponsors, game announcers, casual athletes, and fans. This month we present athlete Willy Kimosop, a long-distance runner.

Born in Kenya, Willy Kimosop was offered a scholarship to attend Lethbridge College to study and join the Kodiaks running team. He followed several other male and female Kenyan runners recruited by Cross Country Head Coach Bertil Johansson.  As a young man, Willy was inspired to run by other Kenyans who won international races. After four years of working, training and studying full time, he graduated in April 2012 and was Assistant Coach at the College for a year.

When he first arrived in Lethbridge, Willy experienced challenges with winter weather, cultural differences and the fast pace set by his academic teachers. During his first winter, Willy felt as though he was “dying” when he tried to run outdoors. He trained indoors, though this didn’t give him the challenge of the hills and rough terrain he prefers. Willy won many college competitions and continues to run in and win long distance races across Canada.

Willy values his ability to work and the sponsorships he receives here in Canada – things not readily available in Kenya. Many people depend on him, which adds a great deal of pressure that few Canadian athletes experience. He sends money earned from his job and his winnings to his extended family in Kenya, allowing several of his brothers and sisters to attend high school and college. Young people look up to him and Willy feels they “need to see someone who can give them courage, someone who can be their role model.”  This helps him focus on his dream.

In October 2015, the Galt will present the exhibition “Changing Places: Immigration & Diversity”, the stories of why people post-Second World War to very recently decided to leave their home-country, and how Lethbridge and southwestern Alberta has changed because of the contributions they make to the community. For details, visit www.galtmuseum.com.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Rediscovering the Oxley Ranch

In the fall of 2012, the exhibit “Uncovering Secrets: Archaeology in Southern Alberta” highlighted 15 sites and features, telling human stories found under the soils and across the landscape of the area, including the sprawling 200,000 acre Oxley Ranch, established in 1882. 

Ranching began in southern Alberta in the 1880s after the loss of the buffalo herds, and when the Conservative government offered large inexpensive leases for land suitable for grazing.  Most early ranches were owned by European and Eastern Canadian investors who brought large herds of cattle into the area.  The primary local market was the federal government who supplied beef to Treaty No. 7 tribes and the North West Mounted Police. Once the railway reached Calgary in 1883, live animals were shipped to eastern and European markets. 

When a dam and reservoir were planned in the late 1990s for the confluence of Willow and Pine Creeks west of Stavely, an archaeological survey was made on the remains of the New Oxley Ranch on Willow Creek. Archaeologist John Brandon conducted a surface search with a metal detector, photographed remaining buildings and excavated several areas of the ranch headquarters.  Brandon also read historical accounts and interviewed the last owner of the ranch. 

The late Jim Gordon II identified buildings and shared stories of the life he and his family had on the Oxley.  John Brandon felt “the presence of an archaeological crew at the site prompted him to share these memories which perhaps would not have happened otherwise.”  He tied these resources together with descriptions from Evelyn Springett (Elliott Galt’s sister), who authored a book about her life on the ranch in the 1890s.

The archaeological excavations focused on the house, the bunkhouse, several smaller outbuildings as well as two garbage middens and an outhouse pit.  The bulk of the recovered artifacts came from the two middens. Detailed photographs of the interior and exteriors of the buildings were taken.  The luxury of a 1922 aerial photo provided valuable comparative information for the archaeological study.

On March 18, University of Lethbridge archaeology student Tara Collett presents her excavation experience at another site: Fort Vermillion I. More information about this Wednesdays at the Galt talk and “Uncovering Secrets”, including images, is available at www.galtmuseum.com.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Honouring Women of Lethbridge 3

Legacy Ridge in north Lethbridge is one of few Canadian communities featuring only names of women on streets and parks. Many in the city – led by the Centennial Committee for Recognition of Women – championed the idea. Priority was given to those who were ‘first’ in an achievement and had not been recognized previously. The exhibit Honouring Women of Lethbridge recently shown at the Galt Museum & Archives highlighted fifteen women, including Lettice Perry and Pearl Borgal who both led busy lives.

Though not much information has been found on Lettice Perry, we know she was born in 1849 in England and moved to Coalbanks in 1885 with her coalminer husband and four small children. Their first home, until local miners built them a wood frame home, was in a dugout carved into the base of a coulee.  Many more children were born to the Perry’s in the following years. The life of a coal miner was difficult; the work dangerous and intermittent.  Miners’ wives struggled to buy food, clothing and pay rent on the salaries their husbands received. Coal mines were often closed during summer months and miners then looked for other work which sometimes took them away from their families. 

More details are available for Pearl Borgal, who said, “Nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it” and was a shining example. Borgal set the standard for women in local sports throughout her life. She started the Lethbridge Figure Skating Club in 1948, and became the first woman sports broadcaster in Canada while working for CKXL radio in Calgary. Borgal was, among other things, president of the Officers’ Wives Club at Lethbridge during World War II, President of the Canadian Girls Rodeo Association, and President of the Ladies Organization for Civic Improvement. She established the Keep-In-Touch Society to connect elderly people through a telephone network; and helped bring the Calgary Wranglers (which evolved into the Lethbridge Hurricanes) to Lethbridge. Oh, and Borgal actively participated in the saddle club, speed skating, swimming, hockey, basketball and golf.

A new exhibit now on at the Galt focuses on members of the Kainai Chieftainship, including Joyce Fairbairn and Adrienne Clarkson. For details visit www.galtmuseum.com.

Comparing Adventures

Over the past five years I have been following and finding information about Miss Edith Fanny Kirk, the art teacher and artist who explored the prairies, foothills and mountains in southern Alberta and B.C. from 1905 until she passed away in December 1953. Her journey through life involved many adventures as she was an intrepid traveller. I discovered that Miss Kirk and I shared many interests in life and this was part of my need to learn more about her.

She saved several items left to her by her mother which included things like an amethyst necklace, a calling card case and a beautifully engraved spoon from the Victorian ere. I have also cherished things given to me by my mother which includes an aquamarine necklace and many souvenirs spoons she collected.  Miss Kirk was an artist from an early age and received training from some very prestigious schools of art in the UK and France.  My training came through community classes, a college diploma in Interior Design and a Fine Arts Degree from University.

We both found painting outdoors with watercolours to be our best form of visual expression. She travelled across the UK and France attending artist colonies, for 11 summers. This meant she was staying in small hotels or hostels and tramping through the nearby country in search of places that intrigued her artistic senses. In 1905, Miss Kirk emigrated to Canada and continued her travels into isolated and sometimes very rustic places in British Columbia.  I have discovered many of her paintings that demonstrate very clearly her intimate connection to the landscapes she visited.  My travels have taken me to the American desert region, Nepal, Ghana, England and many places across Canada.  My sketch book and paints travelled with me and many paintings hang in my home or in the home of friends based on the spectacular places I visited.

Something that came as quite a surprise to me was the fact that we shared similar experiences hiking in the backcountry of the western National Parks.  For more than 20 years, I hiked and camped with the Skyline Hikers of the Canadian Rockies, an organization that provides week long trips into scenic areas of the mountains.  In 1919, at the age of 60 years, Miss Kirk joined the Alpine Club of Canada and this took her into Banff, Yoho, Glacier and Jasper Parks.  She didn't climb with the club but was a welcome member in camp and along the trail where she spent her time painting.

Her modes of travel included horse and buggies, steam trains and ships, sternwheeler lake boats, stage coaches, early cars, and city tram cars.  My travel has involved horse and buggy, diesel trains, smaller motorized boats and canoes, rugged four wheel drive trucks, small fixed wing planes, ultralights, hot air balloons, large commercial jets, private cars and motor homes.

Miss Kirk and I have seen many of the same places, approximately 100 years apart.  During my research, I visited places like Atlin, BC and York, England.  I found the spots she sat to paint in those places.  On my last day in Atlin, I hoped to paint the same lake and mountain scene Miss Kirk had but the rain and hordes of mosquitoes discouraged me.  I wondered if she would have persevered or waited for another day.

In York, I realized how much Miss Kirk was willing to adjust objects she was seeing to create a more dramatic composition on the paper in front of her.  She moved buildings and chose not to include things like multiple chimneys of the roofs of buildings, she used an impressionistic style when painting trees, dirt roads, and clouds to produce a pleasing piece of watercolour art.  I also use artistic license when I paint by simplifying the scene I wish to capture, playing with colour, and sometimes adding things to my painting that might be from a totally different location.

My journey of discovery with regard to Miss Kirk has been a wonderful adventure which has encouraged me to appreciate her courage and allowed me to understand her very adventuresome soul.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Lethbridge Music Festival

Signs of spring include flowers blooming, trees budding, and robins returning. It also signals the time for the sound of music filling the air: this year, the 85th Lethbridge & District Kiwanis Music & Speech Arts Festival takes place March 16 to 28.

The first music festival in the province was held in Cardston in 1905, with musicians and singers from both Lethbridge and Cardston participating. One of the adjudicators was James George Harper, director of the Lethbridge Conservatory of Music. Edmonton held a music festival open to musicians from all over Alberta in the spring of 1908. Eight years later in 1916, it was held in Lethbridge.

The Alberta Festival was held over a three-day period, May 23-25, at the Wesley Church on 4th Avenue South. In 1918, Calgary joined the cities of Lethbridge and Edmonton and the Provincial Festival was born. The Festival was presented alternatively in each city every third year. By 1930, the three major Alberta cities held their own festivals, replacing the province-wide one.

The Kiwanis Club of Lethbridge took over the management of the Lethbridge Festival in 1952, and continued to improve it by adding and organizing components for a smoothly-run 14 day schedule. Participant numbers rose and more disciplines were added, including bands, orchestras, creative music, strings, guitar, woodwinds, brass, percussion, hand bells, pipe organ, piano, speech, voice and choir.
A syllabus (book of festival entries) is printed every year with information on the disciplines, adjudicators chosen, and venues – from one in 1930 to five or more today. The Grand Concert, or Concert of the Stars (today known as the Festival of the Stars), highlights the winners and displays their accomplishments: to achieve a higher standard for music and musical appreciation in Alberta and nationally.

Stars of another kind – artists behind Canadian stamps and currency – are highlighted in the exhibit “Voices from the Engraver” at the Galt until May 18. A guided exhibit tour takes place at 2:00 pm on Wednesday March 4. For details, visit www.galtmuseum.com.