Two elders, a couple, stand in front of an archival photo display of buildings in the territory at the NWT Centennial Library.
George Smallgeese points to a photograph of the Hay River Anglican Mission, taken in 1920.
“I don’t listen, and I am small, and they kick me out of there, just like a football!” said Smallgeese, gesturing at a height below his waist to indicate his size at the time.
He was born in 1942 and spent time in the mission as a child. Time has passed, but still he recognizes the building.
His wife, Edith Smallgeese, said she remembered playing around the crumbling mission buildings in Fort Simpson, represented in another photo. She said she expects most have either fallen or been taken down.
“I love these stories,” said head librarian Christine Gyapay. “These are the stories we shouldn’t be losing. The pictures bring back so many memories – both good and bad.”
The display is a part of a series of photographs on Northern architecture, on a month-long loan from the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife. Its temporary home will be the library until the end of the month. This isn’t the first time the facility has served as a gallery and quasi-museum. Gyapay said in the years they have been doing it, the library has enjoyed a steady stream of gawkers filing in to see the photos.
“They recognize people,” she said. “‘That’s my uncle!’ They’ll point people out and tell you about the places in the pictures. It’s wonderful to have these displays in the community.”
Mike Mitchell, curator of education for the Yellowknife heritage centre, said he has lived in Hay River and knows how frustrating it can be for residents who aren’t able to take advantage of the centre’s exhibits at the capital. To that end, he is seeking to step up the museum’s presence in the communities through more interactive displays that may feature a few explanatory panels, as well as an iPad for visitors to flick through online collections.
“Not to say there won’t be archival exhibits,” he told The Hub.
While Gyapay wasn’t sure the more technologically-based exhibits would translate to visitors like the Smallgeeses, she said she thought they would be more interactive and probably attract a different subset of the population – most likely younger generations keen to use the tablet computers. For Mitchell, the goal is to balance the traditional archival photos with the new exhibits in the coming years, while getting installations out to the communities.
“I know how hard it can be for people to benefit from some of what we have readily available in Yellowknife,” he said. “I hope the direction we’re taking will help change some of that.”