The Edmonton Historical Board: Then and Now

The City of Edmonton Archives share office space with the Edmonton Historical Board (EHB) and they’ve been working on all sorts of interesting things lately so I decided it was a good time for a post on them. The Archives, the EHB and the City’s Artifacts Centre share a common history, starting with an Archives Committee created by City Council in 1938.

Although originally formed “to have charge of the Archives of the City” the Committee quickly went beyond this mandate and started to gather as much historical material as they could. Over the years, the activities of the Committee (renamed the Archives and Landmarks Committee in 1947) ranged from running exhibits in places like the Civic Block to placing commemorative plaques around the City. Images of the Committees’ exhibit spaces are evidence of the enthusiasm of their collection activities (as is the richness of the Archives’ collections).

EA-10-2413 “Historical Exhibit Opening – Civic Block” August 12, 1958 Mayor Hawrelak (seated on the right) and members of the Archives and Landmarks Committee
EA-10-2413 “Historical Exhibit Opening – Civic Block” August 12, 1958 Mayor Hawrelak (seated on the right) and members of the Archives and Landmarks Committee

The artifacts gathered by the Committee were the nucleus of the collections now held by the Artifacts Centre and many are used in Fort Edmonton Park and the John Walter Museum. Other items are in storage as they are outside of the mandate of these museums. There is an initiative underway to form a city museum, and these artifacts could be used there.

EA-10-2296 “Commer Truck 1910” 1957 James Falconer (far left) and John Easton (seated) ceremonially receiving the keys. The Committee planned to use this truck to generate interest in an outdoor museum.
EA-10-2296 “Commer Truck 1910” 1957 James Falconer (far left) and John Easton (seated) ceremonially receiving the keys. The Committee planned to use this truck to generate interest in an outdoor museum.

The records of the Committee are really interesting to a student of archives like me. One of the first things they did was write to other municipalities, provinces and the Public Archives of Canada, asking what they were doing with their archives. The replies range from a terse, “this City does not have a Committee on Archives” to wonderfully detailed advice on how to set up and run an archives (most of these replies contradict each other). It’s an interesting snapshot of the history of archives in Canada and some of the people involved would be familiar to most archivists.

I believe the Committee overstretched themselves and, while they accomplished a great deal, it was unsustainable. By the 1960s they’d reached the end of what their volunteer base could do. For example they were having trouble getting enough volunteers to keep their exhibits open. The Archives and Landmarks Bylaw was amended and the Committee became the Edmonton Historical Board. I found some correspondence between the City Commissioners, James Falconer (chairman of the EHB) and John Janzen (Superintendant of Parks and Recreation) working out a new structure for the Board. This new structure placed administration of the Board and its “properties” within the Parks and Recreation department. The EHB, as well as the Archives and the Artifacts Centre, remain within this department’s successor body – Community Services.

The present Board continues to commemorate Edmonton’s history through the annual Historical Plaques and Recognition Awards. They also raise awareness of Edmonton’s history through initiatives like Edmonton’s Architectural Heritage website and the Historian Laureate program (run in conjunction with the Edmonton Heritage Council). Could you see yourself as a member of the EHB? Or even as Edmonton’s Historian Laureate? It’s something to think about and nominations are open!

EA-20-7199 “Mayor Purves Unveiling Plaque” 1981 The plaque is for the Alex Taylor School located at Jasper Ave and 93 Street.
EA-20-7199 “Mayor Purves Unveiling Plaque” 1981 The plaque is for the Alex Taylor School located at Jasper Ave and 93 Street.