Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lessons in Event Planning

On Sunday, September 26 McDougall United Church celebrated the 100th anniversary of their current building (the congregation is 139 years old). I was one of three people involved in planning for the centenary, and I must say, it is a relief to have it over. It was the first such event I have been involved in, and I learned a number of lessons, which I thought I would share.

1. Start early

It might seem like common sense, but the earlier you start the more you can do. We decided to have a bake sale at the church in April to raise money for our event. We had a high turnout and were able to raise almost $700. We also reprinted cookbooks as an anniversary-related fundraiser (which I have already talked about). The cookbooks took much longer than anticipated to get scanned and printed, so again, I’m glad we started early. Starting early also gave me the opportunity to develop an exhibit in the church’s “Heritage Corner” on anniversary celebrations at the church, using documents and artifacts from the church’s archives. The amount of work that needs to be done is usually more than you’ll anticipate, so start early.

2. Open the lines of communication

Although the Anniversary Committee was small, it was important to communicate our ideas and progress to the church staff and council. Not only were they indispensible when it came to the actual event, but they had their own ideas on what we could incorporate.

3. If you don’t ask, then you don’t get

In other words, think big. We created a list of all the organizations in the city that have been involved, or we hope to be involved, with McDougall and sent them invitations. We also invited local politicians. Partly because of these invitations, we had nearly 200 people come out to celebrate with us, including the Mayor of Edmonton and Premier of Alberta.

4. Do your homework

I was asked to say a few words on the history of the church near the beginning of service, so rather than regurgitate the information that everyone seems to know, I went to the archives and did some research. Good thing I did. Turns out that I was the last of several people to speak that morning, after the Chair of Council, the former Moderator of the Alberta and Northwest Conference, two MLA’s, the Mayor and the Premier. And of course, everyone addressed some aspect of the church’s history. Because I went the extra mile and spent a few hours in the archives, I not only spoke of aspects that no one else covered, I told stories that most people in the building were completely unfamiliar with.

5. Call the media

Like the speakers, it served us well to think to think big and contact the media. As a result, there was an article written in Saturday’s Edmonton Journal about the upcoming event, two articles (Journal and CTV) on Monday morning about the event, and even a short piece on CTV News on Sunday night.

6. Ask for help

When the big day comes, you may need help getting everything done, so don’t be afraid to ask for some help. We relied on volunteers to usher guest inside, a few outside in the parking lot to help our dignitaries find a spot and then find the chapel where they could wait for service to begin, and a small army in the kitchen to prepare the food and drink for after service. We found willing volunteers and worked to their strengths, with great results.

The above were all painless lessons to learn, as it went great. However, like every event, there were a few hiccups (although I may be the only one who noticed them).

7. Inclusivity without tokenism

About a week before the event, someone suggested we have an Aboriginal blessing to begin our service. This would be a nod to the church’s past involvement with Aboriginals in Alberta as well as our current involvement with inner city ministries. I contacted the Aboriginal Relations Office at the City of Edmonton and asked how I might proceed. An Aboriginal Relations Officer made some enquiries, and while a local elder said he would do it, the Aboriginal Relations Officer decided that there was not enough time to go through the proper protocol and squashed the idea. I’m glad he did. McDougall United Church currently does not have a strong relationship with the First Nations, M├ętis or Inuit community in Edmonton. To ask someone from that community to come and speak, and then when they are done shuffle them aside and keep going would be tokenism, and would trivialize their contribution to our history. Yes, we want to be inclusive, but true inclusivity starts with building bridges in the community.

8. Involve yourself in everything

This is particularly important for public historians, who know bad history when they see it, and who have an obligation to correct it. As odd as it might have seemed, I should have asked to see the minister’s sermon and prayer before the service to check for historical inaccuracies. While it was fine for the most part, I did have a cringe when in the opening prayer he discussed how happy the First Nations peoples were to see settlers on their land. The helpful Indian is a common stereotype that allows us to acknowledge their presence without acknowledging the guilt and injustices of our past. Had I asked to see it before hand, I could have helped him rewrite it. The worst part is that I was one of the few people who likely even noticed. I great opportunity to challenge people’s notions of their past was missed.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

McDougall's Heritage Cookbook, or "Now You're Cooking with History!"

Edmonton’s McDougall United Church dates to 1871, and is among the oldest protestant congregations in Alberta. The current building, located in the city’s urban centre, is 100 years old as of September 1, 2010. Being a century old, the current church has its share of problems, including a roof in drastic need of repair. The Anniversary Committee has reprinted a cookbook originally published in 1953 by McDougall’s Evening Women’s Association. 3000 copies were printed and sold, raising over $2000 for the Organ Fund, which had been established a year earlier. The organ was showing its age, and needed extensive refurbishment, including a thorough cleaning, repair and replacement of parts both inside and out, a new console with unbleached tusk ivory and birch and rosewood pedals, new electro-pneumatic actions fitted to all manual and pedal stops, and the rep[air and restoration of the pipework. Undertaken by Norman Beard and William Hill and Son, both based in England, the job cost nearly $3000. The work was completed in September of 1955, around the same time the choir loft was renovated to its current configuration by local architectural firm Rule Wynn Rule. The refurbished organ, made possible by the hard work of the Evening Women’s Association and the sale of cookbooks, lasted until 1976, when the current organ was purchased and installed.
The book is 128 pages, and includes recipes for breads, pastries, cakes, cookies, pickles and relishes, jams and marmalades, meats, salads, candies, puddings, sauces, soups, sandwiches and beverages. There is a section on frozen foods, reflecting the larger societal trend towards home-freezers rather than community storage lockers. Interestingly, there is a short section dedicated to home economics, providing instructions on making your own silver polish and hand lotion, among other household tips. What I also really love about this book is that it is full of the advertisements of the original sponsors. Many of these companies have become household names in Edmonton, like the Garneau Theatre, and in Canada, like Woolworths.

By reprinting this cook book we are promoting the history of McDougall (and Edmonton), preserving the intangible heritage found in period cuisine, and raising money for the roof by selling the books for $15 each.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Banff Park Museum

I was recently lucky enough to spend a weekend in Banff, and while I was there I visited the Banff Park Museum, a national historic site operated by Parks Canada. Its reason for designation, according to its Statement of Significance, is because it reflects an early approach to interpretation of natural history in museums, as well as its architecture.

The front facade of the Banff Park Museum.

The rear facade of the Banff Park Museum. This photo was taken from an adjacent park, which from 1904-1937 housed a small zoo. The closure of the zoo was a reflection of a change in parks management approach from the presentation of captive animals to their preservation in the wild.

An illustration of the former zoo.

This detail of a post is an example of the ornate Douglas Fir interior that contributes to the building’s historical significance.

Built without electricity, the lantern style design of the building maximized the light levels inside. The fenestration remains, but there are now UV filters on the windows to protect the collections on display.

This exhibit is in the centre of the building, and has not been altered since the early 20th century.

A veiw of the museum from the second floor.

I found the Banff Park Museum really interesting. For less than four dollars visitors can wander through a museum of a museum, which for me is a really neat idea. Unfortunately, after eavesdropping on many of the visitors there with me, few people bothered to read the interpretation, and therefore the museological significance of the site is lost on most people.