Oral history saved by modern technology in Picture Butte

Picture Butte seniors, including Vern King (pictured with a completed DVD), received finished copies of an oral history project. The project featured interviews, which were recorded and edited by Picture Butte High School students.

On June 7, students from Picture Butte High School (PBHS) presented 40 seniors with completed DVDs of an oral history project, which included interviews recorded and edited by the students. The event was held at Coyote Flats Pioneer Village at the Prairie Tractor and Engine Museum near Picture Butte.

For the past several years, Coyote Flats and PBHS have been involved in an oral history project, for which a Governor General’s History Award plaque was presented to Kimberley Lyall on behalf of Coyote Flats. Lyall was the co-ordinator of the project from the University of Lethbridge’s Centre for Oral History and Tradition (COHT).

Grant money received for this project was used to buy multimedia equipment for PBHS and is used by the students for drama, music, arts and multimedia extracurricular projects. The histories from the project will be stored in the archives at Coyote Flats and at the university. 

Those seniors interviewed received a completed copy of their history. Families of the nine participants who have passed away since the project began received a very meaningful memory with the DVDs.

PBHS Principal Mark Lowe said the project was a perfect opportunity to bring the community together with the school and to help capture community members’ memories.

“It really gave us a great chance to have our students directly interacting with the seniors in their community and to get their stories captured and stored forever,” Lowe said. “It has really helped our school become better connected into the community.”

According to Lyall when the project began, the purpose of the video project was a desire to preserve the knowledge of older residents of Picture Butte and a chance for seniors to share their life stories and memories on video. The project was also a chance for seniors to mentor youth involved with documenting the stories.

“The project was inspired by a PBHS student who worked for us one summer,” Lyall noted, adding the summer student wondered what would happen to all the stories shared with her by one of the volunteer tour guides — most importantly, when the tour guide wasn’t at Coyote Flats to tell them anymore.

From that idea, Lyall added, a grant was received and the high school was approached and asked to help capture local history. “We just wanted to sit down with our seniors and our pioneers and get them to tell their stories on film. It sounds so simple when you put it that way, but when you get young people who are excited and interested out here at this incredible facility, where they start to realize the magic of what history is and what life was and what it is now — things started happening. It was so enthralling to watch these young people get excited, as our seniors were telling their stories and see the connections and the bonds forming, as a result of that,” said Lyall, back when the project was in its infancy.

A PBHS student, at the time the project began, said coming out to the museum with video cameras was more fun than coming out with pens and paper to archive local history.

Lyall also noted prior to the completion of the project, the volunteers became more at ease telling their stories and sharing their memories, as the students conducted the interviews.

“I’m really trying to impart upon them how important it is because what they did over the last 100 years to build this community — it matters. There’s a whole generation that doesn’t know what it was like to live on a farm in the 1940s or 1950s out here and what it’s like to be in a house without electricity or without a phone or without running water,” Lyall said.

Students are creating connections with the interviewees, Lyall said when the project was just getting started, as she told students to think about today’s YouTube videos online.

“They’re all stories of people and their life and their experience. These people had an incredible experience in this community and we just need to share that and honour that and preserve it. Really, that’s the end goal. At the end of the day, not only do we want to create the interest and the respect for what we’re hearing — but we want to make sure those stories get saved, so 100 years in the future, people can look back and say this is what happened. These were real people, real lives — this is how they grew up, this is how they created this community and we’re proud they did it here,” she noted.

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