Categories: Arts & Culture

Wanted: items to help round out museum’s collection

Items like eyeglasses can help illustrate changes in style and fashion.

Got an old computer in your basement or attic that’s gathering dust?

There’s always electronics recycling, but there’s also a chance that the MusĂ©e HĂ©ritage Museum might be interested.

Technology, particularly from the latter half of the 20th century, is one of the areas where the museum’s extensive collection is not as robust as museum staff would like.

You might not think that an old computer or other gadgets from the 1980s could be a museum piece, but it could be. Museums aren’t just about ancient items.

While the St. Albert’s museum’s storage space is stuffed with a variety of treasures, there are some holes that staff would like to see patched.

“There are areas where we’re a bit lacking,” said Jean-Phillippe Stienne, the collections assistant at the museum. “Most of it’s contemporary collecting, really.”

People often think the museum is only on the hunt for old or ancient objects, but that’s not the only era’s objective.

“We are looking for more contemporary objects, for example, toys. We haven’t got a vast collection of toys,” Stienne said, noting the again the decades that make up the last half of the 20th century as being eras from which the toy collection is lacking.

Many people don’t consider objects or records from the second half of the 20th century as old, noted museum curator Joanne White.

“People don’t think of something from 1970 being old, but it’s coming on 50 years,” White said.

Stienne noted that while museums look back on time, they have to move with the times as well.

“We have to bring things up to date,” he said. “You need to move with the times and move with the memories.”

To that end, the museum is even looking for as current items from St. Albert as materials from recent local festivals, like the International Children’s Festival or Eek! Comic and Pop Culture Festival.

Other areas where the museum would like to have a more robust collection include St. Albert sports paraphernalia.

While they’re looking for items from a variety of different sports, surprisingly in such a hockey town there isn’t a lot of hockey gear in the museum’s collection.

“We’d love to have more,” Stienne said.

The museum is looking to add such items as hockey sticks, hockey sweaters and trophies from St. Albert’s NHL greats or even local teams.

Stienne said the museum does have some items, like hockey gear from the mid-20th century, but the collection is not vast.

Physical sports gear isn’t the only sports-related thing the museum is looking for, either. Vino Vipulanantharajah, the museum’s archivist, would also love to get his hands on some more sports associations’ records for the archives.

Such records might not seem important to most, but you never know what researchers might be looking for or what might give people insights into the past.

Museum staff field more than 200 research requests a year, Vipulanantharajah said.

White agreed they get a lot of research requests.

“We get people coming in, researching the items, the families, sometimes the materials, the way things were constructed,” White said.

Vipulanantharajah said business records are also something he’d like more of for the archives.

“Any sort of operational records, even,” he said.

Business objects would be nice as well. For example, in the current Satisfaction Guaranteed exhibit, the Bruin Inn’s bear and the relatively recently closed Grandin Theatre sign are both featured prominently.

White said there’s a lot of requests about the old St. Albert drive-in movie theatre, and the museum doesn’t actually have much in the collection on that topic.

White noted that business and information on families are often linked, and can help illustrate what life was like here in past years.

They’re also on the hunt for items that can help illustrate life in St. Albert through the years, items that show changes in fashion, style or technology. White said even something like eyeglasses can help illustrate that.

Vipulanantharajah said photos are something the museum is always looking for. Sometimes people don’t want to give away originals, he said, but museum staff are happy to scan them.

The best thing to do is to call the museum and ask. The worst they’ll say is no.

“All we can say is it’s not what we need right now, but it’s always worth checking before it goes to the dumpster,” White said.

The museum has a few areas where the collection is stronger, Stienne said. Tools, cameras and RCMP related material are some of those strong areas.

But just because the museum already has a lot of cameras, for instance, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t want more if the item had a significant connection to St. Albert, like cameras they have from famed local photographer Victor Post.

“It’s difficult to know specifically what to ask for, but you never know what you might get offered,” Stienne said.

And sometimes those offers come in thematic waves. For instance, White recalled the year of the organ, where the museum was offered several organs within just a few months.

The museum will turn down offers of items that staff felt they couldn’t take care of or store. In other cases they might suggest another museum that might appreciate the donation more.

While the vast majority of the museum’s collection is often not currently on display, the staff try and come up with interesting exhibit themes.

In addition to the display space at St. Albert Place, they’ve also started displaying items at other St. Albert heritage sites, like the St. Albert Grain Elevator Park and the Little White School.

And even if the item is in storage now, it doesn’t mean it’s not important for researchers or couldn’t be featured online.

“Just because it’s not out there, doesn’t mean it’s not being used,” Stienne said.

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