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Historic St. Albert photo collection provides window into past

John Beedle Fonds show St. Albert’s past
TINY PICTURES — Musée Héritage Museum volunteer Brenna Wallace demonstrates how she loads slides taken by city parks planner John Beedle into a rack for scanning. Beedle's slides went online in March 2023 as part of the John Beedle Fonds. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

Historians will be able to peer into St. Albert’s past this month by logging in to a collection of photos taken by the architect of St. Albert’s forests.

The Musée Héritage Museum will open the John Beedle Fonds to the public in early March. This online archive will feature about 700 slide photographs of St. Albert taken by renowned horticulturalist and long-time City of St. Albert parks planner John Beedle, who died in 2019.

Beedle supervised the rollout of St. Albert’s boulevard tree program, which as of 2021 had added roughly 65,000 trees to the city’s streets. John Beedle Park, the John Beedle Volunteer Centre, and the Beedle Pear tree are named in his honour. He was also a prolific photographer and could often be seen taking snapshots of flowers, trees, crowds, and other subjects in and around St. Albert.

“John Beedle was always noted for (a) having a camera and (b) climbing up to get an excellent view,” said his close friend and former St. Albert mayor Richard Plain.

Beedle was meticulous and would always note the time, place, and details of his shots on the backs of photos and photo albums, Plain said. Even in his 90s, Beedle was known to climb onto rooftops to make sure everyone got in frame for his shots.

Photo trove

While working for the City of St. Albert, Beedle took hundreds of slide photographs which were added to the city's archives, said Musée Héritage Museum archivist Vino Vipulanantharajah. For many years, the only way to view them was with a light source and a magnifying glass, as the museum did not have a working slide projector.

To make the slides more accessible, museum volunteers Sarah Mann and Brenna Wallace worked from 2018 to 2020 and from 2022 until now to scan and compile these pictures into an online database. This took about 10 minutes per slide, Vipulanantharajah noted — the slides were so small they had to be slowly scanned at ultra-high resolution to capture their fine details.

Vipulanantharajah said the slides depict St. Albert as it was between 1974 and 1991 and help fill a gap in the museum’s photo collection. The slides include unique aerial perspectives of city landmarks and images of major civic events, such as floods, parades, and the opening of St. Albert Place.

“A lot of the photos are of grasses and trees and plants,” Vipulanantharajah said, but there are also images of now-demolished buildings such as the old city hall, the Ducky Dome, and the Bruin Inn.

Wallace said it was cool to see pictures of long-gone Zellers and Woolco stores in the slides, as well as a sign from the 1980s advertising gas for just 35 cents a litre.

Vipulanantharajah said this photo collection showed the extent of Beedle’s involvement with St. Albert.

“He truly cared for the botanical improvement of our city.”

The John Beedle Fonds are scheduled to go online at sometime in early March. They can also be viewed in person at the museum.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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