If a picture paints a thousand words, then a photo album captures countless moments. In the past, it was often women who photographed and wrote about these moments: daily events that significantly impacted their lives – both as individuals and as an integral part of Alberta’s social landscape.
By Mary SavageFor the first time, there is a project and facility uniquely designed to preserve the stories of the lives of Alberta women. The initial batch of memoirs is available through the Alberta Women’s Memory Project (AWMP) for students to research, families to enjoy, and for the public to glimpse into the journeys and perspectives of pioneer women.
The memoirs reflect common sentiments of peace, turmoil, joy and discovery – inextricably woven throughout their lives. They speak of a woman’s grief, a daughter’s illness, the loss of family members, the challenges growing up, politics and religion – in Alberta and around the world.
The catalyst, for what is now AWMP, came one afternoon at the University of Alberta campus in 1989 when an older woman stopped in to the then-closing Women’s Resource Centre. Nanci Langford was minding the centre when she arrived and explained that she was moving and had two complete sets of women’s magazines from the ’60s and ’70s that she was either going to donate or dump. Langford urged her to not destroy the publications – an invaluable information source about women’s lives during those turbulent decades. This turn of events caused Langford to single-handedly spearhead the Northern Alberta Women’s Archives Association.
By 2000, Langford had moved her teaching skills to Athabasca University. Cathy Cavanagh, was the department head and together these two women formed a committee of the most knowledgeable instructors in women’s studies, complemented by a selection of capable community members and women’s advocates.
Through the support of Athabasca University, a variety of grants from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, Libraries and Archives Canada, and a host of volunteer hours, a website for women’s history now exists.
The AWMP website is the first of its kind in Canada, if not the world, and the collections represent Alberta women from all walks of life – from influential to seemingly ordinary; all with something important to contribute. Some donate to the archives, while others loan their collections for digitizaton only. Either way, materials such as Fanny Makepeace Johnson’s memoir of life at Byemoor, Alberta in 1895 and the blue and white ceramic hashish pipe collected by Helen S. Petersen Bentley while travelling in Asia in 1990, are preserved and accessible.
The AWMP collects memoirs from women of all ages across the province. To learn more or contribute to their collection, visit the AWMP website: http://awmp.athabascau.ca
On November 15, the AWMP is holding a fundraiser at University of Alberta campus in Edmonton.
To purchase tickets, make a donation or volunteer as a southern Alberta member, visit the AWMP website.