Posted by Vi Hughes on Sep 03, 2019
This past week we heard from Lucy Hines, the Assistant Curator of Western Canadian History at the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM). Lucy’s major interest is in clothing and textiles.
She began with telling us about the currently running Viking exhibit at the RAM. They have a very good You Tube video that was used to introduce the exhibit when it opened in June. It can be viewed at, #yegvikings, The Vikings are Coming! She told us that the RAM is the largest museum in western Canada, with four hundred nineteen thousand square feet and thirteen curatorial programs. This includes two main galleries, a children’s museum, a bug gallery and a feature gallery, which currently houses the Viking exhibit.
Lucy said that the move to the new location in the heart of downtown from an outlying neighbourhood was an adjustment for the staff at the museum. They embraced this by partnering with the Mustard Seed to sponsor a Greeter program, whereby clients from the Mustard would be hired and trained as Greeters at the Museum. This program has been such a success for the Mustard Seed and the RAM that the greeters are now able to find other jobs and they need to train new staff.
The Museum began in 1967 and was renamed as the Royal Alberta Museum in 2005 when the Queen visited the museum. She said that public announcements regarding the Museum are a surprise to staff as well as the public, as they are not told in advance when something is happening. They found out when we did that a new building was in the works, and even did not know the opening date any sooner than we did. The new building opened in October of 2018 and saw forty-one thousand visitors in the first six days.
Lucy said that each gallery is set up as a collection of stories related to the individual exhibit items. She said that staff work to find out as much information as they can about the items in their care, and often have extensive documentation for each item. They try to keep the written descriptions of the items on display to a minimum so their documentation then has to be distilled down into a story of eighty words or less and labels of thirty words or less for exhibit purposes. The downtown galleries only house a small portion of their holdings, with the remainder stored at a special facility in Acheson.
Some of the galleries that she spoke about were the Natural History gallery with a display of the Edmontosaurus dinosaur skeleton and various large mammal skeletons, from animals that roamed the Alberta landscape many years ago. It also includes several dioramas of the large mammals as they would have looked at the time. Another gallery is the Mineral Gallery with its extensive collection of stones and minerals. The Human History gallery includes carved stones from through out Alberta, some of which are considered sacred to the indigenous people. One of these, the Manitou Stone, is placed in a location that can be visited without paying an entrance fee. This gallery also includes a recreated roasting pit filled with artefacts collected from Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump in southern Alberta. It also incudes displays on the impact of the fur trade on the indigenous people.
The Alberta Farms gallery includes the stories of the Northwest Mounted Police, established in 1873, the first drought in southern Alberta in the 1920’s and many more stories of the early settlers in Alberta, through to the depression years in the 1930’s. It also includes stories of the prisoner of war camps in the 1940’s in southern Alberta. These stories illustrate the courage and ingenuity of these people.
They also have displays on the stories of the Edmonton Grads, a women’s basketball team that continued playing long after they had graduated from high school. Another covers the Polio epidemic of 1953 and the impact it had on the life of a young girl from Morinville who had to learn to breathe again after spending a long time in an iron lung. Another display is about the GWG factory and the clothing made there over the years. They also have the original CFRN totem pole which was rescued after being discarded and was subsequently donated to the museum. They then did restoration work on it and had it repainted in it’s original colors by the grandson of the original sculptor.
It was a very interesting talk and I am sure it took many of us though remembrances from our personal experiences of life in Alberta. We would like to thank Lucy for this short introduction to the Museum and look forward to being able to visit it in the future.