Teacher explores Calgary's history through YouTube documentary series

Junior high teacher Kelsy Norman is turning his passion for Calgary's history into a YouTube documentary series.

'My hope with these videos is to educate people about Calgary,' says Kelsy Norman

Kelsy Norman is turning his passion for Calgary's history into a series of short, online documentaries. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Kelsy Norman likes to wake up before the city does.

"I love getting up really early in the morning when I have the whole city to myself, and getting to film and getting to explore," Norman said. 

"I try and bring myself back to those early days to imagine what it felt like back then to be in Calgary in the late 1800s, early 1900s."

Norman teaches humanities and the arts at Dr. Gordon Higgins Junior High School in northeast Calgary, but for the past four months, he's been turning his passion for the city's history into a YouTube documentary series.

The 38-year-old uses modern music under narrated video and slides, which he researches and produces himself — diving into the fourth floor archives at the Central Library to uncover unique stories.

His videos cover subjects from Calgary's oldest houses to an unfinished mansion perched on the banks of the Elbow River.

"I moved out here in 2001 and fell in love with Calgary," said Norman, whose love for history began with his mom showing him old buildings as a child in New Brunswick.

"I didn't get a driver's licence until my mid-30s, so I did a lot of walking through downtown Calgary … I started noticing these houses sandwiched between skyscrapers and big buildings," he said, sparking his first video in the series on the oldest houses left in the city's downtown.

He said he started teaching himself filmmaking with these documentary projects about two and a half years ago, before he started to focus on telling Calgary-centric stories this year.

"As someone who's learning filmmaking, I'm building the plane as I fly it," he said.

He said the projects aren't necessarily for his students — who he describes as being more into Fortnite, Air Jordans and Lil Pump — but said he hopes young people watch them and spark an interest in history and their city.

He's taken something off the page and it has found a new audience.- Harry Sanders, historian

"My hope with these videos is to educate people about Calgary, get people excited about Calgary," he said. 

Historian Harry Sanders says Norman's work presents a fresh look at the past.

"I think for one thing, when it comes to local history, it needs to be interpreted and reinterpreted periodically. Each generation, each decade, each time period needs to look at the past with a fresh set of eyes," he said.

"He's taken something off the page and it has found a new audience."

Norman's creativity has paid off. 

He said he's been approached by a U.S./U.K. production company to host a TV show, but he says he doesn't plan on giving up his teaching job anytime soon.

With files from Terri Trembath