Local historical groups strive to stay relevant in digital age

In light of some historical organizations closing down, the Civic Museum of Regina and Heritage Regina are growing a younger audience.

Heritage Regina, Civic Museum changing their approach

The Civic Museum of Regina's largest artifact, a locomotive, is placed in front of Casino Regina, where two million people pass through each year. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC)

When Heritage Regina put on its first lecture series about sod houses this past summer, they realized young people are hungry for history.

The interactive event, hosted at the Artesian, brought nearly 200 people back to the past with visuals, sounds of mosquitos buzzing and jars of sod.

Along with the lecture, there were actors dressed in costume who were planted in the audience.

The Addison Sod House near Kindersley, Sask.

"That was our first inkling that people were really interested in this," said Heritage Regina president Jackie Schmidt.

That was our first inkling that people were really interested in this.- Jackie Schmidt, Heritage Regina

Over the summer, the Heritage Regina's cemetery tour attracted 300 people.

"These people are young. These are not like old people; [they're] college age and younger. People were so excited," Schmidt said.

With the recent ending of the publication Saskatchewan History (after 69 years), the closure of Civic Museum of Regina (after more than 30 years) and the ending of Louis Riel play (50 years), the Civic Museum and Heritage Regina are not only surviving, but thriving.

Reinventing and making history relevant

"Simply put nobody was reading the Saskatchewan History magazine anymore. You need to reinvent yourself. For us, reinvention was how do we open up the museum and talk about culture and talk about cultural places? How do we interpret them in the city that we live in based on what's happening currently?" said Rob Deglau, who works with the Civic Museum.

Deglau said there is an appetite for history.

This locomotive, part of the Civic Museum's collection, is displayed in front of Casino Regina. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC)

"We just have to expand the menu so people can pick based on their own needs. One of things we want to talk about is City of Regina says 'I love Regina.' That's their motto. We always say, 'We'll tell you why.'"

You need to reinvent yourself. For us, reinvention was how do we open up the museum and talk about culture and talk about cultural places?- Rob Deglau, Civic Museum

The success didn't happen overnight; in fact, both organizations had to rethink their strategy and re-evaluate their mission, values and goals.

Schmidt said people don't want to be members of clubs or societies. Rather, they want to be actively involved.

She points to Heritage Regina's engagement on social media as part of the reason why it is attracting younger people to events.

Moving museum

The Civic Museum is now re-inventing itself, too, said Deglau. The museum was formerly the Regina Plains Museum.

Now, it's an "eco-museum," or a "museum without walls," said Deglau.

The museum is thinking about how to literally bring history to people.

"Our programming is not about people coming to a location, but how do I get into your location? How do I tell history in different ways?" he said.

One of the partners the museum has worked with is Casino Regina, where its largest artifact, a locomotive, is displayed in front of the building.

"Now two million people go through the Casino in a year and everybody gets a glimpse into the work we're doing," Deglau said.

The museum also set up a display at the Revera Seniors Centre and interpreted the Leader and the Donahue buildings.

"We've interpreted all the different floors with what was happening in the Leader Post in the early 1900s," Deglau said.

The Frontenac apartment building recently revamped its amenities room with historical elements. (Natascia Lypny/CBC)

The museum also recently finished staging the Frontenac apartment building.

"The owners there decided to really embrace the heritage of the building and really start decorating and putting a feel to what it was like in the 1930s and 1940s. So when you're walking into the Frontenac, it looks like you are actually going into a museum," Deglau said.

Upcoming events

In January, Heritage Regina's second season of lectures starts up. The feedback from social media was used to decide this year's lecture topics. One notable lecture features the College Avenue campus restoration.

Meanwhile, the Civic Museum is preparing for this summer's Doors Open event, where businesses showcase their historic buildings.