Edmonton's new historian laureate wants your grandmother's shopping list
Marlena Wyman is documenting how the ‘everyday’ person lived, or lives
You don't have to be famous to be a page, or a chapter, in history.
Edmonton's archives have many stories from prominent people of the past, so the city's new historian laureate is looking for things that show how "everyday" people lived.
Marlena Wyman said simple things such as shopping lists can reflect an era, as well as a moment in time.
"What kind of groceries were bought, what was in the pantry — just everyday small things that you wouldn't necessarily think are of interest historically. But they really are."
Volunteer papers, business records and recipes all show a snapshot of life.
"I've had so many stories when I've gone to visit people and they've kept certain things," she said. "And they tell me what they've thrown out and I go, 'Oh no, I wish you hadn't.' "
She said it's not just about the past.
"History is being made at every moment, and if we don't preserve it now it will be gone."
Wyman worked for the provincial archives for 28 years in photos, film and sound history. She's also an artist and is now the city's fifth historian laureate.
The missing stories
She wants to focus on untold stories.
One of the big gaps in the archives, she said, are stories about women, indigenous people and those from other cultures.
In the past, women underestimated the value they brought to the community.
For example, after a man died his wife may have contacted the archives to see if they were interested in having her husband's records.
"I would say, 'Yes, definitely these are important papers of your husband's business.' Then I would say to the woman, 'How about your records?' "
"Women were community builders and still continue to be," she said. "They were the ones who got the churches started and the schools and the social, cultural organizations and charity work."
Wyman's focus on women, indigenous and other cultures has the support of city councillor Scott McKeen.
"You can imagine the work that a couple put into creating a farm, to homestead," McKeen said. "The work would have been shared equally and women deserve to have their stories told."
- Alberta commemorates 100-year anniversary of women's suffrage
- Playwright digs deep into legend of Alberta's pioneering black cowboy
Wyman said Edmontonians cleaning out their grandmother's, mother's or aunt's homes are encouraged to share things such as household lists, annotations in cookbooks and homemade patterns.
McKeen believes Edmonton's documented history is also short on indigenous groups.
"Settlers and homesteaders in the area were actually saved, maybe their lives saved at times, by First Nations people."
- Edmonton arts project promoting reconciliation honoured by Governor General
- Indigenous speaker series aims to tell untold history of Edmonton
- This U of A Indigenous history course is the most popular course in Canada
"If Edmonton has — and I think it does have — this reputation for being a really welcome and friendly place," he said, "maybe that was the underpinnings of it. Maybe the First Nations people deserve the credit for establishing a culture of welcome."
The role of art
Wyman, a painter, sketcher and co-founder of Urban Sketchers Edmonton, plans to arrange exhibits showing Edmonton's heritage buildings and history.
McKeen thinks that will get the community more involved.
McKeen thinks the historian laureate is important in helping the community understand where it comes from.
"One of the struggles that modern Edmonton has had is describing itself in a succinct way," he said. "Maybe one of the reasons is because we don't understand our history well, either."
The historian laureate has a two-year term.
Wyman's predecessors are Ken Tingley, Shirley Lowe, Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, and Chris Chang-Yen Phillips.