Heimke Haldane

Preserving our local history

Oral history is important because it captures the voices of everyday people, not just those of mayors and successful businessmen of the day.

By KELSEY WIEBE

“We started in here, my wife on one end of the cross cut saw and me on the other and the two boys sitting on a log doing school correspondence,” David Bowen-Colthurst recollected in an oral interview in 1978.

Bowen-Colthurst and his wife were working to clear the land at Lakelse Lake that later became Waterlily Bay Resort.

The insights to be gained from oral histories such as Bowen-Colthurst’s are priceless: future researchers and residents will have a window into how people lived, worked, and interacted in this area.

They might, for example, learn how newcomers to Terrace interacted with Tsimshian people, how the community evolved as it did, and even where teenagers went on dates.

Oral history is important because it captures the voices of everyday people, not just those of the mayors and successful businessmen of the day.

These interviews give us a cross-section of how people lived, and offer a glimpse into the stories they found important enough to relate.

With a grant from the Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Program, Heritage Park Museum is embarking on an oral history project to record the voices of the region.

The project, entitled ‘Preserving the Past for the Present,’ will preserve seniors’ knowledge of and insights into local history, expand our local history collections, and foster intergenerational participation.

Melanie Pollard, who has extensive experience in community development, and most recently coordinated community projects through the Storytellers’ Foundation in Hazelton, has been hired as the project coordinator.

Students from Caledonia Secondary School, ‘Na Aksa Gila Kyew Learning Centre at Kitsumkalum, and Northwest Community College will be interviewing elders and seniors from their communities, using equipment purchased through the New Horizons grant.

Other volunteers from Volunteer Terrace, Skeena Diversity, and the museum’s membership will also be conducting interviews.

Pollard has been consulting with staff and members of Kitsumkalum, Kitselas, Kermode Friendship, Skeena Diversity, and the Happy Gang Centre to identify people with stories about the community.

Some of the questions that will be asked include: have you lived in Terrace during any major floods? If so, what was that like?; did you shop at the Terrace Co-op?; and how have you watched the forest industry change over the years?

The interviews will be transcribed and published in a collection (which is expected to be published early next year), and will eventually be made available online.

Digital and written copies of the interviews will be kept in the museum’s archives, lending a sense of permanence to the stories. Currently, our preserved narratives chronicle the pioneer era of Terrace, and focus almost exclusively on Euro-Canadian stories.

This project will endeavour to interview First Nations elders and people of different cultural backgrounds to more realistically convey the diversity of Terrace’s population. We will give voice to those groups and sectors who have historically gone unvoiced, and preserve their often neglected stories for generations to come.

At the close of each interview, each senior will be asked to share any advice about living in Terrace with present and future residents of the city, leaving a legacy of understanding and wisdom.

Please contact Melanie Pollard at Heritage Park Museum, 250-635-4546, to volunteer for the project (as an interviewer or as a storyteller), or to nominate someone whose story should be included in the community’s history.

Kelsey Wiebe is the curator of the Heritage Park Museum.

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