Category Archives: Antiques & Old Stuff

Objects, clothing and things that are part of our cultural history

Pioneer Acres: A Great Farm History Event

Friday, August 8 to Sunday, August 10, 2014, 9 am – 5 pm daily, I will be at Pioneer Acres Annual Reunion and Show just north of Irricana, AB. During the event known as the “The Old Time Show Where There’s Always Something New,” you can enjoy a parade, field demonstrations including horse-drawn plowing, cultivating, and binder work. As well, check out steam-driven plowing and threshing, pioneer exhibits and races.

Threshing with Family Sm Fx 2

Compliments: Shirlee Smith Matheson. Check out Shirlees’ upcoming events on http://www.ssmatheson.ca

The first time I was at the Pioneer Acres event was a number of years ago and being there was such a pleasure. Like most women. I am not really a heavy machinery buff, but I have to say, watching all the events was fascinating. There were steam engines, threshing displays and a sincere commitment to saving our history among all the organizers and participants.

I was raised on a farm in Alberta, and my dad was interested in the history of the area. He had started farming with the threshing crew on our farm, and because harvest ended so late that year, it was too late (at least in someone’s mind) for him to go back to school. So, that harvest likely changed his life.

To purchase this book check out my website at http://www.wordsandhistory.ca

To purchase this book check out my website at http://www.wordsandhistory.ca

Somehow his respect for our past and the history of families in our area rubbed off on me. As a result, I wrote two “farm” books, one Threshing: The Early Years of Harvesting, and the other Monarchs of the Fields: the History of the Combine Harvester. My dad past away before the books were published, but when I am at Pioneer Acres, he will be on my mind when I meet so many people like him, people who truly care about preserving our past. And perhaps, I will meet you there, too.

If you are one of the many who help organize such community events, volunteer or share your knowledge of our shared past in other ways, I am offering a two for the price of one for Awed, Amused and Alarmed. Check out my website; purchase one copy, and I’ll mail you an extra for the same price. Order a specific number, and I’ll add your free copies to the package (eg. order 2, I’ll send 4, but you pay for 2). But this applies only to Awed, Amused & Alarmed. Order through my website and pay with Paypal or email me with your order before October 1!

For more information, see http://www.pioneeracres.ab.ca

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Amazing Negatives

I was definitely busy this year with photo research for the expansion of my book, Settling In: First Homes of the Prairies. The new book includes early homes from BC to Manitoba, and it spans a time-frame that begins with early forts and concludes with wartime housing in Western Canada. So, given the expanded time-frame and content, I needed new photos.

During the process, my most exciting photo finds were two glass negatives. They belonged to my mother’s friend, Kathleen Kossowan, and they were from her family’s photo collection. Although I had long known about glass negatives, I had never actually seen them. So, I found it fascinating to view the black and grey images printed on the glass “plates,” which are about 5 by 7 inches in size. Similar plates are part of many museum collections, but to be personally entrusted with two of them was thrilling and helped me feel connected to our photographic past.

Collodion wet plate negatives were used from about the 1850s to 1880s, and since the ones I was offered were from the early 1900s, they had to be silver gelatine dry plate negatives. With the process invented in 1873, the negatives were widely used from about 1880 to 1920. In Alberta, museums and archives such as Glenbow in Calgary recognize the importance of photos to understanding and appreciating our history, and they have been supportive and helpful to me regarding my projects. Although glass negatives are part of their collections, having the negatives developed or scanned would be a big ticket item for their budgets, and cost concerned me, too.

As an individual writer with limited resources, although I wanted to use one or both images, I wasn’t sure if I could locate a local photographer or photography business able to develop them. Years ago, I had found an individual to develop black and white film negatives, but having the work done had been costly. This time, despite the availability of better technology, I assumed having the glass negatives developed might prove impossible or very costly.  So, as an experiment, I tired scanning the negative on my printer. The result was dismal, and the images were far too dark to see.

Next, I went to my favourite camera and photography store, Vistek, in Calgary.  The professionals there would have more knowledge and better access to whatever equipment might be needed. The individual with whom I had worked previously regarding special orders said, “Yes. We should be able to do the job.” Unfortunately, there was a problem with paper being stuck to one of the negatives, but that is another story. I had the two images scanned, and one will be on the cover of Settling In: Early Homes of Western Canada. The book should be in my hands in a week or two, and needless to say, “I can hardly wait!”

In the meantime, my sincere appreciation goes to Kathleen Kossowan and her family, the photo wizards at Vistek, and my editor at Detselig Enterprises, James Dangerous, who chose the image for the book cover. On behalf of myself and other photo buffs, many thanks!

Just Thinking: Words and Pictures

Last week I posed a number of questions. Have you considered your preferred learning style? What is it? What impact might that have on you, your knowledge or your work? Eventually, I will have a guest write about learning styles because the subject is interesting, and our learning style may affect what we choose to do or not do in writing and in life. Most certainly, learning style affects how we respond to school, courses or workshops.

For now, the question from last week remains, “How do you respond to photos accompanied by text, whether as captions or in running text?”and “How do you respond to photos without accompanying text?”

Acknowledging that some photos are truly art and not focused on sharing information, I posted photos without text. The implied question was “How important are visual literacy skills —as opposed to print literacy skills—for you?” Of course, it was all in fun, and of course, if we are fortunate, we are all able to learn from both visuals and print.

Having published photo histories and included many photos in my books and workshops, the questions and concepts are undoubtedly more important to me than to most people. Admittedly, some images do not need captions to be meaningful. Sometimes, captions clarify what may be important information within images. A caption may use the image as a beginning point to expand upon an idea. On still other occasions, the tension between the printed caption and the image can be meaningful.

So, what about the images that I posted? None were intended as art photos, which stand on their own artistic merits. I shot all of them at Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village in early summer, 2011. My camera was a Cannon PowerShot SD 500 Digital Elph, which would now be considered old. I am not the photographer in the family and know next to nothing about cameras. However, here are my additional comments, some of which reflect my writing process.

This photo benefits from explanation. Because it is coloured, clearly, it is not from the old days. Here a costumed interpreter stands in the enclosed porch of a small pioneer home. Items surrounding her suggest the lifestyle of many western Canadian settlers. Most interesting is the ladder leading to the attic hidden from view. Root vegetables and supplies that might be subject to freezing were often stored there. The concept was fuel efficient since heat from the cook stove, which also provided home heating, kept the attic warm. Also, if the family was older or too large, the attic could be used for sleeping.

A research image for me, the photo reveals a very effective method of  using sod for the roof. Notches were cut in the mud wall for each layer of sod. The method created partially overlapping layers, which would make the roof more stable and weatherproof.

The photo captures what the eye sees fairly well. From the small domes, the church appears to be an Eastern Orthodox Church but the photo reveals little information about the religion or community. However, the information that is readily available and might be added.

Again, this visual does a reasonable job of capturing the image of a prairie elevator with two railcars beside it. A Home Grain elevator, the structure is in good shape compared to the few left standing elsewhere around the country. Little additional information is apparent from the photo. However extensive related history is widely available. There seems to be too much foreground in the image, but for many rural prairie people (except the young), elevators are symbolic and emotional subjects.

This is another research photo. On the roof of the early shelter, a stove pipe is visible. The front mudded wall suggests a wood frame, but natural shadows create uncertainty.  Question: Since the tiny home is in a treed area, why would the settler not simply build a small log cabin? Did the individual or family arrive too late in the year, and winter was setting in? (In fact, going inside of the shelter, tells more of the story.)

So, these words and pictures reveal something of my own learning style and writing process with regard to nonfiction and public histories. Still, I’ve said nothing about how a poem might surface for me or how I respond to photography as art. Yet, sometimes just contemplating process is fun—at least for me.

Doors to the Past: Ukrainian Village

About 35 km east of Edmonton on Highway 16, Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village is not just for people of Ukrainian descent. Exploring the historical park provides an opportunity for all to see what life was like for many western Canadian immigrants around the turn of the 19th Century. Specific exhibits are certainly more representative of Eastern European settlers than of those from Western Europe or America.

However, interpreters—some young and others who might have spent their childhoods in such homes, on similar farms or in small villages—are available as guides for visitors. Whether walking with tourists, waiting in houses to relate family stories, driving wagons or acting as store clerks, they tell of days-gone-by. Many adopt a Ukrainian accent, and they stay in character whatever questions or ideas you might suggest. Through them, we experience life as it was for newcomers who arrived with few assets, big dreams and work ethics.

I admit that I like to ramble around by myself, taking whatever time I want for each exhibit. So, except during my visit to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, I didn’t join a guided group. Interested in seeing the sod house, I had difficulty finding it, but when I discovered it in a sheltered and shaded location, I wasn’t disappointed. Although large soddies might be called home for a number of years, I wasn’t surprised when I found a very small dwelling.

Small sod house in Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village near Edmonton, Alberta

Usually only temporary shelter for the immigrants’ first summer or first year in an area, sod homes were abandoned or transformed into root cellars, chicken coops or other useful “buildings” as soon as families could build log homes.

Farther south on the dry and treeless prairie beyond the reach of railways, out of necessity, many soddies provided families with shelter for longer periods, and some had large with interiors well-adapted for long term use.

However, Ukrainian settlers tended to be very selective in choosing homesteads, and the presence of wood as construction material and fuel was a high priority. So, parkland areas such as Edmonton and east central Alberta or similar areas in Saskatchewan and Manitoba became prime locations for their homes and farms.

Just as I expected, the small dwelling at Ukrainian Village had grass growing from the roof. The floor was slightly below ground level, which may have made it warmer but undoubtedly increased stability during heavy rains or snowfalls.

The basics of survival were present, but I could not envision more that one person dwelling there. Did couples and families live in such tinyl homes? History tells me that they did. Certainly, the stories about building sod homes and about what might crawl out the walls or drop from the roof are fascinating. But spending daytime outdoors would have been welcome relief from the tight, dark quarters—well, at least from spring to fall. After my short time in the soddie, I too welcomed the light and open spaces of the park. Yet, my respect for those who faced hardships to fulfill their dreams is ever greater each time each time I visit a heritage park.