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Galt connects visitors to history

Posted on December 11, 2013 by Lethbridge Sun Times

Photo by Lindsay Ducharme

Phyllis Snow works with granddaughters Carli Christmas, age 4, and Maya Contreras, 10, using sheep’s wool to create a felt journal cover during a recent edition of the Galt Museum and Archives’ Saturdays at 1:00 program.

Squeals of delight, kids with messy hands and the sound of balls of wet wool being tossed about may not conjure the traditional image of an afternoon spent at a museum. However, The Galt is definitely not your average museum.

The Galt Museum opened in Lethbridge in 1965 as a small three-room display at the Bowman Arts Centre. In 1976 the Sir Alexander Galt Museum opened at its present location, the old 1910 Galt hospital, on 1 Street Sourh. Throughout the years, moves, expansions and name changes, one thing has remained — the museum’s devotion to connecting people to history.

Leslie Hall, community program co-ordinator at the Galt Museum and Archives, explained that the museum has worked extremely hard to offer programs which strive to create connections to history for the entire Lethbridge population.

“Overall, the public programs, as well as our temporary exhibits which we change three times a year, interpret the history of southwest Alberta. When I say interpret, what I means is we try to make history come alive, by making it educational and fun. We try to be as welcoming as we can, we try to provide as many programs as we can and we try to keep the quality really, really high.”

“The Galt Museum collects and shares the human history of Lethbridge and southwest Alberta through our exhibits and programs. It’s important that we are caring for and preserving the history, but also making them really accessible to the public. I think that is one of the greatest joys for me in programs, connecting people to history, to the stories of our community,” she continued.

Describing the Galt Museum and Archives as welcoming almost seems like an understatement. Between their programming lineup, which features specific programs for seniors, families, adults and post-secondary students, low cost of admission ($6 for adults, $15 for families or $25 and $30 respectively for an annual pass), they also offer library members the opportunity to borrow passes.

“The Chinook Art Regional Library System has family passes in their collection for library pass members to borrow to use to come to the museum. So you can go to any of the 33 member libraries, Lethbridge Public included, and use your card to borrow a museum pass and come in,” Hall explained.

“We do our best to make it really, really accessible. It’s not as well known as it should be. If you are new to the idea of coming to the museum, it’s a totally low-risk way to try it. If you find you like it and you can afford it you can buy your own pass, or you can continue to visit the library and borrow the public pass and keep coming back all year to all the programs.”

While it would be fair to describe the entire lineup of programing successful, one program in particular, the family oriented Saturdays at 1:00, seems to have struck a cord within the community.

“The Saturday at 1:00 program has been really, really exciting. Although I say this about all my programs, it’s my favourite. The idea is that parents and children will come together to this program and they will learn together and have fun together,” Hall said.

“We are welcoming of children of all ages, though some weeks many target a certain age group more than others. We take a whole bunch of different topics and run from September until May during the school year we are every Saturday at 1:00 and in the summer we switch to weekdays and we call it Summer Fun at 1:00.”

Families participating in the program have the opportunity to learn together while creating a craft usually linked to either the current museum exhibit, or something specific to the time of year. Past programs have focused on everything from advent calendars to sock monkeys, felt journals to perogies.

Hall said while the children and adults are having fun creating an item, Galt employees, interns and volunteers are explaining the historical significance of the craft. For example, when the program focused on handmade journals, participants learned how to make a piece of felt out of sheep’s wool to use to create a journal cover, while also learning about of the history of journals and how they serve in capturing and recording history.

“In our archives if someone donates a journal, it’s a wonderful resource about local history. Some journals include things like prices from shopping, or they might include stories about the weather or local news stories. Journals are just a wonderful way of recoding and preserving our history. The children will learn about how historians use journals, but they are also making one and hopefully use it to record their own stories. So we are trying to link the past, present and future.”

Hall explained that while the program has been running for many years, a recent partnership with Green Acres Kiwanis Club two years ago has allowed the program to thrive. “They came on board shortly after we expanded our program and had been stretching really hard to try to accommodate all the families coming to the program. Now we have been able to expand further thanks to their sponsorship and offer even more programs to the families.”

Saturdays at 1:00 will be hosting a special winter break session running from Dec. 27-Jan. 5 that will feature nine of the program’s favourite crafts throughout the year.

Families are not the only ones who are given the opportunity to learn about history in unique ways. The museum also offers twice-monthly seniors programming, an archival program, hands-on workshops and Café Galt for adults, in addition to museum field trips, day-long bus tours and the wildly popular cemetery tours.

“I really hope that the variety of programs we have means that everyone in the community can connect with something at the Galt. We have the wonderful tours that Belinda Crowson does, we have the children’s programs, we have lectures, we have hands-on things, so I am hoping that all the topics that we do and presenting learning in different ways, hopefully that connects with everyone,” Hall said.   

“We are a community museum and it matters to me that the whole community feels welcome. I know there are always more programs that I can do, I don’t think that I will every run out of ideas because we have such a diverse and changing community, and we have such a great rich history, there’s no shortage of ideas,” Hall added.

With boundless programming ideas, Hall said she finds inspiration throughout the entire community. “I look at topics from our history, so I might look at something we have in our archives or collections or exhibits for something I can build a program around. Sometimes I see something that is utterly fabulous and I wait for an opportunity to slot it in.

“A new dumpling restaurant opened in downtown Lethbridge in August and I love it, it’s delicious; the family is new to our community from North China, and I thought it was amazing because food culture is a part of our culture. We have a really broad view of human history at this museum so we look at social history, political history, military history, all different kinds, economic, labour — we offer focus on the human element. When I found out we had an exhibit on the arts of China, I thought, you know what dumplings are, a delicious art! We are going to have an adult workshop on Feb. 23 on how to make the dumplings.”

“If you have been to one of our programs, you know that we are going to talk about history but we are going to make it fun and interesting for you,” she promised.

Participation in programs offered at the Galt Museum and Archives is included in the price of admission. For more information on the museum including program schedules, upcoming exhibits and volunteer opportunities, visit the website at http://www.galtmuseum.com/.

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