Archdiocese's story told at City Hall

One hundred years of archdiocesan history are captured in this exhibit on display at Edmonton City Hall.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

One hundred years of archdiocesan history are captured in this exhibit on display at Edmonton City Hall.

October 29, 2012
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Images that reflect the rich 100-year history of the Edmonton Archdiocese and its parishes are now on display at City Hall.

One of many jubilee events throughout 2012 and 2013, the historical exhibit marks the centennial of the archdiocese. The display, which opened Oct. 22, includes a wealth of historical images seldom seen in public, going back to the archdiocese's early years.

The images provide an overview of past highlights, depicting how the archdiocese was founded and its progression through the 20th century up to the present.

"It's mostly highlights. One hundred years is an incredible amount of history to go through, so it's not comprehensive," said Shamin Malmas, the archivist for the archdiocese, who did most of the work putting the display together.

The Diocese of St. Albert was founded in 1871, but a rapidly growing Alberta population led Rome in 1912 to move the see of St. Albert to the larger centre of Edmonton, raise it to the dignity of an archdiocese and create the Calgary Diocese. Later, in 1948, the St. Paul Diocese was carved out of the archdiocese.

The idea for the exhibit came through the Jubilee 100 Committee. Malmas compiled the photos, while Lorraine Turchansky, the archdiocese's director of communications, prepared the written content.

THE SEARCH BEGINS

"We started looking around at the material we have here in the archives, and what would be suitable to use for a display. A lot of our records here are the official business records of the archdiocese, and not necessarily material that is visually appealing," said Malmas.

She looked through old photographs and found more suitable, eye-catching material. The old photos from the early 1900s are black and white and rather tiny, much smaller than a photo one would see today.

"They are not always the greatest quality either," said Malmas. "Photographic technique has changed a lot over time, but I wanted to use some of those images. Not only do they show the history of the archdiocese, but many were taken by our archbishop (Emile Legal)."

Shamin Malmas

For security purposes, she did not incorporate artifacts into the exhibit. Shoes, rosaries, birettas, paintings and lectionaries of the former bishops are in the archives, but there are potential dangers of visitors touching or, worse yet, stealing those items.

The display is completely accessible to anyone entering City Hall.

TEN PANELS

The 10 panels briefly tell the stories of such highlights in the archdiocese's history as the building of St. Joseph's Cathedral and St. Joseph Seminary, the growth of parishes and Pope John Paul II's 1984 visit to Edmonton.

"The images reflect the theme on each panel. For example, in our Building Community panel, we tried to hit on the schools, hospitals, the contributions of women religious, the contributions of the Knights of Columbus and the CWL," said Malmas.

Malmas became the archivist in September 2011, taking over for Eloi DeGrace. She started working on the Jubilee 100 exhibit early this year. Almost everything she learned was new information for her.

Some revelations were completely unexpected, especially seeing how the dynamics of different parishes have changed over time.

FUNDRAISING

"I didn't understand how much involvement the Knights of Columbus and CWL had in fundraising for individual parishes. There were a lot of really interesting events that they were hosting," said Malmas.

She also read through much of Legal's early correspondence. She learned that he had a huge task in running the Diocese of St. Albert. About two-thirds of the province was under his authority and, therefore, he had a lot of administrative responsibilities. He spent much of his time traveling.

"On the second panel we chose to use the image of Legal standing in front of a tent because he was out and about all the time. He always looked kind of weather-beaten," said Malmas.

Another eye-opener was learning that bishops and priests of the early part of the century received free rail passes. The railroad was their main means of transportation from one town to another in those days.

DISAPPEARING VOICES

Malmas is hopeful that the exhibit is at least an entry point for people to gain a better understanding of the archdiocese's history. She's talked to people who can recall events from the 1960s or 1970s, but as one ventures back in time, fewer people are alive to recall those days.

The display gives but an overview of the archdiocese's history, she said. "If we wanted it to be comprehensive, we should have written a book. That would be a better medium. There are some characters in our history that probably warrant a book unto themselves."

SOCIAL JUSTICE

Important movements, such as social justice and Development and Peace, within the Edmonton Archdiocese also deserve a more wide-ranging history, perhaps in a book written by a historian.

An official opening reception for the exhibit was to be held Oct. 25 in the City Room. It will remain on display until Nov. 16.

Viewing is on weekdays, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays and holidays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.