Ryan Taylor Discoveries in Prairie newspapers


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By Ryan Taylor

The problem with searching for something in an old newspaper is the distractions. There are so many fascinating items to read.

I spent a day recently at the Provincial Archives of Alberta examining old papers in connection with a course I will be teaching in the fall on using Canadian newspapers for genealogical research. I simply wanted to look for some representative Alberta publications.

I was fortunate that Pat Pettitt of Edmonton was volunteering in the reading room that day.

Pat has been representing the Alberta Genealogical Society in the archives reading room since 1989. The archivist is too busy to interact much with visitors, so the volunteers help explain how things are done, help with working the microfilm machines and assist in interpreting documents. The difficult Homestead Papers, which are of great interest to anyone whose family lived on the prairies, are a cinch with one of these volunteers at your elbow.

As well as assisting in the reading room, the AGS has an indexing committee which has produced volumes of vital records and proof of age document indexes (both published by the Documentary Heritage Society of Alberta). They are also indexing the 1901 census for the region. Having finished the three districts which include modern-day Alberta, they are now working on the District of Saskatchewan.

Pat says the Homestead Records are the next project, an every-name index being planned. It is a huge project, but Pat and her friends seem to like the challenge. "We hope the AGS branches outside Edmonton will feel able to get involved in this one," she says.

Things are generally hopping at the archives, which plans to move to larger quarters in 2003. They are now under construction in south Edmonton, quite a distance from the current offices in the provincial musem building. A staff member told me it would be the most up-to-date archival facility in the country.

Meantime, we can enjoy the old newspapers. The Manyberries community news column in the Medicine Hat News for 21 September 1935 described a Women’s Institute meeting in some detail. Do you think a WI meeting a staid business? Not so in Manyberries, where, once the speaker had finished, "The members then stood and sang 'Ole Olsen' and enacted the jumping in this song for exercises." I wish I'd been there.

An ad for Castoria in the same edition showed a misbehaving child being eyed by an elderly lady. "If he were my youngster, I’d use the hairbrush," she thinks. The ad suggests that corporal punishment is not the answer-all the tot needs is a laxative!

The Alberta Star (Cardston) for 6 August 1909 includes a letter to the editor from a wrestler challenging an opponent to a public match. On 13 August he is accepted, the prize being $500, with each contestant laying down $50 earnest money beforehand. These were large sums in 1909.

On 11 October 1935, the Medicine Hat Eaton's was offering 'attractive celanese crepe' dresses, bias cut with puffed or cape sleeves and novelty belts, for only $1.95. It is interesting that they are sold in sizes 14-20 only.

The following day’s Medicine Hat News offered some news from Waterloo, Ontario. Here is the story in full: "A district farmer received a carload of cattle from the West, but before he got the beasts to his farm, had to call on a one-time cowboy. Efforts of the farmer and assistants working 'afoot' to drive the cattle were fruitless, so the farmer called his brother who herded the animals while riding a horse.

"The cattle went readily but the equestrian had not been astride a horse for several years. Now he eats his meals off the mantel."

Column copyright © 2002 Ryan Taylor

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