History & Leadership: My Stretch Experience with the Edmonton City as Museum Project

Allie stands in front of the McKernan/Belgravia sign on the Edmonton LRT line.

By Allie Quigley

For my Stretch Experience, I worked with the Edmonton City as Museum Project (ECAMP), a branch of the Edmonton Heritage Council. As a history honours student who primarily studies the history of fashion and material culture in colonial America, I was intrigued by the opportunity to study history in a local context. More importantly, I was fascinated by the opportunity to create interactive historical content that the general public could learn from. Most of my academic research has only been read by my professor and me. I was excited to see how history can be used to help educate Edmonontians about our diverse heritage.

In my Stretch Experience, I worked on three major projects. First, I was tasked to read all of the articles on the ECAMP website and map them onto an interactive map so that people can search for stories by location. This project allowed me to really dive into our cities’ heritage and create a useful tool. For example, while walking down Jasper Ave, you could look at the map and read about Edmonton’s Town Crier or on the next block, read about how in 1926, a stampede of fourteen elephants got loose by accident and charged down Jasper Ave. I encourage you to check out the map once it’s published and use it to learn more about your neighbourhood and our city.

ECAMP map of all online articles that I created in the first part of my Stretch Experience.

After spending hours pursuing Edmonton history, I wrote two of my own articles for the ECAMP website. I wrote one article on the Starlite Drive-In Theatre that existed in Jasper Place during the 1950s and 1960s. Exploring a community space like the Drive-In Theatre showed me that community spaces, even places that serve as entertainment hubs, offer the ability to connect with people from all over. These spaces should be recognized by leaders as places to inspire and unite the masses. In my research, I also uncovered the first movie ever to play at the Starlite Theatre: The Time, The Place, and The Girl. It’s a film that features an emerging musical star. The movie also features a musical number with an actor performing in black face, reflecting the prevalent racial attitudes of the 1950s. Exploring stories like this is also a solemn reminder that patterns such as these continue to prevail today. Leaders must explore history to better understand where these attitudes stem from and how we can move away from these harmful patterns. The Jasper Place article will be posted in the next couple of months.

I also wrote on the history of the neighbourhood I grew up in, Forest Heights. I explored three neighbouring locations in Forest Heights: The Patricia Motel, Capilano Ravine, and The Edmonton Jewish Cemetery. These three locations all have vastly different histories. Capilano Ravine was home to a ski jump in the 1930s. The Patricia Motel was once a hub for Edmonton visitors, and the Edmonton Jewish Cemetery has always been a critical cultural space for the Jewish community since 1907.

I find it fascinating that individuals can be living entirely different lives and worlds despite being so close to one another. Understanding the incredible diversity of human experiences and culture literally next door is something that leaders must always remind themselves of. We have talked extensively in our leadership courses about bias, confirmation bias, and the importance of learning and considering other perspectives. It is so easy to believe that everyone lives and thinks the same way. Exploring our history reveals how complicated and diverse the human experience really is, and putting that into perspective allows us to approach decision making in a more humble and educated way.

Finally, I created an LRT Heritage Tour Video series. This project involved selecting three articles located along the LRT line, drafting up scripts, filming, editing, and making interesting GIFs and images out of archival images. The project was a significant learning experience for me. I learned how to write in a more casual and less academic tone that is more appealing to those that do not generally read about history. This was an instrumental skill for me to learn. To convince followers, leaders must be able to share their ideas in a way that is interesting and captivating to people from all different kinds of fields. Learning how to write in a more universal tone is a skill I will take forward in my leadership journey.

I was also stretched out of my comfort zone when filming the videos. I have never talked on camera as I did for this project and often had people stopping to stare. It was scary at first, but it allowed me to learn how to speak clearly and effectively under pressure, another skill that is crucial for leadership practices.

Opening image for the ECAMP LRT tour video that I designed and created.

Finally, I created an LRT Heritage Tour Video series. This project involved selecting three articles located along the LRT line, drafting up scripts, filming, editing, and making interesting GIFs and images out of archival images. The project was a significant learning experience for me. I learned how to write in a more casual and less academic tone that is more appealing to those that do not generally read about history. This was an instrumental skill for me to learn. To convince followers, leaders must be able to share their ideas in a way that is interesting and captivating to people from all different kinds of fields. Learning how to write in a more universal tone is a skill I will take forward in my leadership journey.

I was also stretched out of my comfort zone when filming the videos. I have never talked on camera as I did for this project and often had people stopping to stare. It was scary at first, but it allowed me to learn how to speak clearly and effectively under pressure, another skill that is crucial for leadership practices.

These videos will help educate the public about Edmonton’s history in a fun and condensed way. The videos are about 1-2 minutes long and will allow citizens to get a taste of Edmonton history. The videos also touch on stories that are often forgotten about. For example, in the McKernan/Belgravia area, there used to be a massive lake that was home to the Papaschase Cree. However, the Papaschase Cree were pushed south from the land by Robert and Sara McKernan, and the lake was turned into a recreational space for boating, skating, picnicking, and hiking. Understanding the complicated history of a place like McKernan Lake reminds leaders that our land, history, and lives are affected by so many different factors, peoples, and cultures. Keep an eye out for these videos in the next couple months.

This is an example of one of the edited archival images that I turned into a gif for the videos. Original image: skating on McKernan Lake, November 15, 1913. Image courtesy of the City of Edmonton Archives.

In my Stretch Experience I learned how a professional historical group can use history to encourage cohesion in our city and advocate for histories that are often ignored or forgotten. I can say with full confidence that through the variety of my projects, I have now seen all the incredible and creative ways that history can be used to achieve this goal, whether through short form writing, conferences, videos, or social media.

Throughout the last couple of years, and particularly during 2020, we have refaced lessons, harmful patterns, and atrocities of the past that many of us thought we had moved on from. From racial discrimination to fascism, this past year has shown the world that maybe we have not come as far as we thought we had.

Studying our history is essential because it reveals the mistakes that have already been made and the patterns that continue to create oppressive situations. If leaders learn and explore history, they can appreciate the diversity of perspectives and experiences that individuals have, and how we can avoid future discrimination and failures. It can also help leaders consider theoretical concepts like progress and change. Does progress actually occur? What can we do to stop harmful patterns from continuing? Where do particular attitudes stem from? Discussing these concepts can help leaders better understand social systems and ideological change.

I am incredibly grateful for the connections, guidance, and opportunities that I had working with my mentor Christina Hardie from ECAMP. I encourage you to check out the ECAMP website and explore our city’s incredible history. There is so much to learn, and you’ll probably surprise yourself with all that has happened in our city.

Allie Quigley is a fourth-year history honours student in the Faculty of Arts. 

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