Monday, 14 November 2016

Community Visits: Musée de St. Isidore

A wonderful perk of working for the Alberta Museums Association is the opportunity to travel across the province and experience various communities and their regional museums. The site visits we conduct with member institutions allow us to meet people involved in all aspects of museums as staff, volunteers, or board members. Last year, Lauren Wheeler and I were fortunate enough to also meet the community members whose stories and passions are exhibited within the museum walls. At the Musée de St. Isidore, located very close to Peace River, the truly unique history of the township is shown throughout the museum and can be experienced in the attached community complex. At the time of our visit, the museum had not yet opened its doors to the public, but other tenants in the Centre culturel de St. Isidore could already see their lives and work directly reflected in the museum.

The francophone community of St. Isidore was transplanted from Quebec in 1953. The history of that move and the intervening years is interpreted through the artifacts and text panels in the museum. The fight for French language education in Alberta, which was spear-headed by the residents of this hamlet, is a key exhibition in the museum. Its lasting impact is evident in the school board that shares the building with the museum: the Conseil scolaire du Nord-Ouest. Marie Lindsay, a teacher in the district for many years, is one of the driving forces behind the museum. Our excitement over hearing this story encouraged her to take us across to the Centre cultural to meet the current professionals working to maintain the language and heritage for current students.

It speaks to the overwhelming pride of the residents of St. Isidore, and those operating out of the Centre culturel in particular, that before we had made it across to the building, we were introduced to several other people who were brimming with enthusiasm about the new museum.

Another highlight of the museum tour was the weaving exhibit, an artisanal industry in St. Isidore with a long history. We were thrilled to meet with and have a demonstration of the craft by two members of the Tisserandes de St. Isidore, the local weaving guild, another tenant of the Centre and another way in which history and the present day run parallel at the site. The weaving is done by hand using looms and the artisans are continually passing on their skills. We spoke to one weaver who described herself as ‘new to weaving’ despite being twelve years into her weaving education. There are several other groups who use the Centre culturel and each represents a key aspect of the heritage of St. Isidore. The stories of these groups, if not part of the permanent exhibits within the museum, are identified in a planned series of temporary exhibits which will occupy the entrance of the museum.  

The vibrancy of the museum is due in part to the overall vibrancy of the St. Isidore community, but it would not be possible without Marie Lindsay and others who have worked so hard to develop such an inviting space. I left the Musée de St. Isidore feeling that I had a better understanding of how this rich community came to be, and confident that it would continue to grow and share the stories of its people.

Raina Malcolm
Program Lead
Alberta Museums Association   

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Witness Blanket

The Witness Blanket, by Kwagiulth / Salish Artist Carey Newman, is comprised of hundreds of artifacts, each with its own story, from and relating to Canada’s residential schools. The pieces are mounted on cedar panels and are ‘woven’ together to create a blanket of shared memories.

How did a small, rural museum like the Peace River Museum, Archives, and Mackenzie Centre (PRMA) become a host venue for the nationally-acclaimed exhibit The Witness Blanket? It was all due to the collective resourcing of three partners: Sagitawa Friendship Society, Peace River Correctional Centre, and the PRMA. By building on existing relationships and acknowledging the diversity each partner brought to achieving this goal, we were able to accomplish something that just one could not. We began in January 2015, and over the next 18 months prepared to receive ‘the Ancestors’, the Witness Blanket, on June 28, 2016.

Dave Matilpi, Aboriginal Elder, artist and teacher, mentored us at our meetings and through cultural teachings and a workshop he calls My Broken Journey. We learned of his life experiences, including as a residential school student. Most importantly, he shared the optimism he holds today for the healing and reconciliation that began across Canada.

The artist, Carey Newman, requests of each host venue that admission fees be waived to ensure there are no barriers to anyone wishing to view the Blanket. With this in mind, we thought of the Aboriginal inmates at the Peace River Correctional Centre and asked Carey whether two of the thirteen exhibit panels could be installed at the PRCC. The exhibit was a natural complement to I Am A Kind Man, a program Sagitawa delivers to the inmates. It was an opportunity that could not be missed. The artist agreed.

Museum staff researched and created text panels about residential schools in northern Alberta featuring the two residential schools in our immediate area. As staff, we felt it was important to learn the historical context of the residential school system, so that we could better present our visitors with a full opportunity to think about the missing, forgotten, and edited voices and perspectives of this era.

Together, Sagitawa and the PRMA identified key organizations which have influence and opportunity to shift attitudes and understanding about Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations in our regions. Politicians, school personnel, social agencies, Aboriginal Bands and religious leaders were invited to attend an opening reception at Sagitawa Friendship Centre followed by the exhibit viewing at the museum. A sacred Pipe Ceremony, honouring the elements of the Universe, was smoked and shared by all to ensure a strong and successful exhibit. In the ways of local cultural practices, a feast was held with elk and saskatoons on bannock, smoked moose stew, rice pudding with cranberries, and bannock with wild berry jams.

Through the historical memory captured and preserved in the Witness Blanket, artist Carey Newman articulates the need to challenge long held beliefs and perceptions about the residential school system. We have been honoured to engage, along with our visitors, in this national conversation.

Laura Gloor
Peace River Museum, Archives, and Mackenzie Centre 

For more information on the Witness Blanket, please visit

Monday, 12 September 2016

Congratulations to Leadership Awards Recipients: Edmonton Heritage Council, Fort Museum of the North-West Mounted Police, Medicine Hat Clay Industries National Historic District

The Alberta Museums Association (AMA) is pleased to present the Edmonton Heritage Council, the Medicine Hat Clay Industries National Historic District, and the Fort Museum of the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) with Leadership Awards recognizing their exceptional work in creating value, accessibility, and relevance in their communities. The awards will be presented at the 2016 AMA Conference in Calgary as part of the Awards Ceremony on September 16, 2016.

The AMA Leadership Awards recognize excellence, innovation, and creativity in Alberta’s museum community in three categories: Engagement, Education, and Sustainability. Nominations for the Leadership Awards were adjudicated by the Leadership Awards Committee, comprised of individual members of the AMA. 

The Engagement Award will be presented to the Edmonton Heritage Council in recognition of the Edmonton City as Museum Project (ECAMP). ECAMP treats the city of Edmonton as its museum, interpreting through an interactive blog, podcasts, history tours, and pop-up exhibits. ECAMP pushes the boundaries of a traditional museum by taking a collaborative approach to content creation, engaging with citizens to write the historical narrative of Edmonton, and challenging assumptions about the city. 

Edmonton City as Museum Project Pop-Up Exhibit

The Education Award will be presented to the Fort Museum of the NWMP in recognition of the March of the Red Coats Program. For the past nine years March of the Red Coats has offered an interactive and participatory environment for students, incorporating perspectives from the NWMP and the Blackfoot Nation to help students understand the contemporary relevance of Treaty Seven negotiations, the whisky trade, and the arrival of the NWMP in southern Alberta.

March of the Red Coats

The Sustainability Award will be presented to the Medicine Hat Clay Industries National Historic District, which draws inspiration from its industrial and entrepreneurial past to create a dynamic space that is a model of sustainability. The Historic District uses innovative solutions to build and maintain its long-term sustainability, including the expansion of student and artist in residence programs and the purchase of Plainsman Clay Ltd., the primary supplier of ceramic clays and related products in Western Canada. 

Medalta Clay Industries National Historic District

The AMA Annual Conference A Culture of Sharing: Inquiring Minds, Empowering Museums will take place September 15 – 17, 2016 at the Carriage House Inn, Calgary. For more information, please visit

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Hammer - In, Hammer - On!

The volunteers at the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop have invited blacksmiths from around Alberta to join them in a Hammer-In this year during Alberta Open Farm Days August 20 and 21, 2016.

During this special event, spectators can watch blacksmiths showcase their extraordinary talents while they make two benches and help a great cause! One of the benches made during the event will be donated to the community of Fort McMurray and the other will be auctioned during the September Lacombe Culture & Harvest Festival with proceeds going to the Canadian Red Cross.

Volunteers Karl Beller, Jennifer Kirchner, Henrietta Verwey, and summer student Seth Burnard at the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop Museum. Photo credit: Tildy.

 The idea for the Hammer-in came from a blacksmith volunteer, Henrietta Verwey, as a way to bring together the blacksmithing community in Alberta together to help support a great cause.

The Lacombe Blacksmith Shop volunteers are continually working at engaging the local community as well as the blacksmithing community in Alberta through participatory programs and events. In September, they will be hosting an event called Blacksmith Alley which will feature live demos, including horseshoeing, during the Lacombe Culture & Harvest Festival.

For more information on the Hammer-In and the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop Museum please visit or contact the Lacombe & District Historical Society at 403.782.3933 or

What: Hammer - In Event
Where: Lacombe Blacksmith Shop, 5020 49 Street, Lacombe AB
When: August 20 and 21, 2016 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Admission: FREE. Donations to the Museum are welcome!

Marie Péron
Executive Director
Lacombe & District Historical Society

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

AMA Conference 2016 Keynote Interview: Ryan Dodge, Digital Engagement Coordinator at the Royal Ontario Museum

As the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)’s Digital Engagement Coordinator, Ryan is focussed on digital content creation and campaign and community management as well as building digital capacity within the institution. Ryan is active in the global museum community and has volunteered with the Canadian Museums Association's Young Canada Works Project, the New Media Consortium's Horizon Report: Museum Edition and the board of ICOM Canada. Ryan is currently a board member of the Virtual Museum of Canada and the Museum Computer Network's part-time Digital Content and Community Manager.

In anticipation of his upcoming keynote and session at AMA Conference 2016, Lisa Making, Director of Exhibits and Communications at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, met with Ryan to discuss digital engagement in museums.

Lisa Making: ROM has taken a unique approach to managing social media by allowing multiple profiles for one organization. Can you share with us some of the strengths of this approach, as well as some of the challenges?

Ryan Dodge:The decision to open up multiple official twitter accounts was not one taken lightly and was in line with an overall strategic direction taken by the museum to organize our collections around Eight Centres of Discovery back in 2013. Before I came into the role in 2012, our @ROMPalaeo and @ROMBiodiversity teams had already started accounts with lively dialogue and engagement. The decision became whether to ask them to close those accounts or to start new ones for the remaining six Centres of Discovery once they were fully launched in 2014. In the end we chose to expand to give our public the opportunity to engage with the areas of the museum that they are most interested in. Our aim here was to allow people to self-select and engage with the content they want – more on that here:

Some of the challenges include managing multiple accounts, keeping them active and lively but also finding staff who will volunteer to manage the accounts. We hold monthly social media training sessions for staff and volunteers to encourage them to incorporate social media into their day-to-day so it has been less challenging than it seems. If I had to go back I would make the same decision to expand but I would make sure we had proper staff coverage in place. There is an awful lot of capacity building that goes into a successful social media presence and one person cannot do it alone!

LM: Our sharing culture often means people take to social media to post both the good and bad things that happen in their day-to-day lives. This includes happenings during their workday. Should an employer have influence over how staff shares information about the organization on personal social media accounts?

RM: Influence, yes, but employers also need to provide training, support, encouragement. Most importantly they need to trust their staff if they want them to be active on social media!

From the start we have always encouraged our staff and volunteers to use social media to communicate their day-to-day. We never saw social media as a potential problem; rather we looked at it as an opportunity to communicate more effectively with our community. Our Online Content guidelines explain how to produce high impact content for use online, and the Online Engagement Guidelines outline things like dealing with copyright, online harassment, the blurred lines between personal / professional profiles, and your personal brand.

We provide regular training to give our staff and volunteers the knowledge they need to become effective and efficient communicators online. There is also a great deal of trust that enters into this equation. For the most part, staff are paid to handle priceless artifacts or lecture on behalf of the museum. Why don’t we trust them to tweet? 

We now have over 100 staff (more than any other museum in the world) tweeting on a daily basis, sharing everything from behind the scenes shots of collections to answering questions from teachers and classrooms. We’ve even identified specimens via Twitter and Facebook messenger.

LM: For many Alberta museums, the person who manages their social media accounts is the same person who gives tours, develops exhibits, stocks the gift shop shelves, and cleans the bathrooms. What skill (or skills) do you think should be prioritized for these organizations to be successful with social media?

RD: I think the main thing is to realize that social media is an essential part of what it means to run a museum in the 21st century. A good social media presence is as important as turning on the lights. The level of activity will be different for each museum, but being active online makes you relevant. It is essential to connecting with potential visitors and building lifelong advocates for your museum.

I tell my colleagues that I’m not asking them to do more work, I’m asking them to work differently. We live in an age of unprecedented technological change and we have to be aware of it and do our best to be a part of the world we live in. We look at ways that we can fit social media activity into our day-to-day. Everyone has a powerful content creation tool in their pocket these days and eventually, sharing on social media during their day will become second nature; it won’t take away from their regular duties, because it is the responsibility of all staff to help promote what is happening at their museum. So to answer your questions, being a lifelong learner helps, having a willingness to try new things and being flexible is important, and the ability to adapt and learn from your mistakes and successes is imperative.

LM: We all get excited when a photo on Instagram receives hundreds of likes, or a Facebook post has multiple shares. It’s wonderful to know we are engaged with our online visitors. But at the end of the day, for a museum to keep its doors open, attendance is critical. Have you been able to see or track a direct correlation between a successful social media campaign and attendance? Can you recommend any helpful tools to help measure success?

RD: I think it is important to note that measuring success by physical attendance only is outdated in the 21st century and the emphasis it receives needs to change. Physical attendance is only one measure of success but we need to stop focussing on it as THE measure. At the heart of your online presence, the reason that it is so important is that it ensures relevance and it builds long-term relationships with potential visitors and more importantly potential advocates for your museum. One tweet may not lead directly to one ticket sale, but it will lead to greater awareness about your museum. Social media isn’t about the short-term. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Engagement builds relationships, outreach builds awareness, and the best place to do these things is online.

LM: Have you noticed any changes in exhibit design or planning which acknowledge the impact social media has on museum visitors?

RD: The biggest impact is the change in photography policies. Every visitor coming through your door is a content creator and we must do what we can to encourage our visitors to share their experience of visiting our museums as much as possible. Simply placing a hashtag on the title wall of an exhibit or on the web page will let people know that there is a conversation happening online. Our Pompeii exhibition last summer is a great example of this. Photography was allowed for the first time in a special exhibition at the museum, and we also incorporated activation stations that encouraged social sharing so our visitors could create a “buzz” around the exhibition.

Our visitors began sharing their experience and sold the exhibition for us. They created their own content around the exhibition that they shared with their networks. That kind of word of mouth is more valuable than any ads you can produce / pay for.

LM: With the influx of different types of social media platforms how does a museum determine which ones to use?

RD: The important thing to remember is that your social media strategy should be integrated as much as possible with your overall strategy. If you stick to this, then choosing which platforms to deliver on your strategy should be an easy decision. That said, you should always be updating and experimenting and examining new platforms as they pop up to see how they can help you delivery on your strategy. For example, Snapchat isn’t for everyone but it is where a certain demographic (13 - 24 year olds) lives online.

LM: What do you feel are the three biggest mistakes an organization can make when embarking on improving social media engagement?

RD: Scheduling too much, being inauthentic, and posting content created for one platform on all platforms are the three things that make me unfollow, unlike, and tune out an organization online. People know when they see an ad and they tune that out, so scheduling too much promotional content is a no-no these days. Inauthenticity is also a major mistake for museums who are in the business of providing accurate information and real context around collections. Make sure your double check everything that goes out before you hit “tweet”! The last thing I would add is that connecting your Twitter and Facebook accounts is a bad idea, as well as your Instagram to Twitter. Try to create content for each platform; you will see the results in your engagement and data!

LM:  Let’s reverse that now, what are some of your favourite engagement strategies (or accidents) you’ve seen on social media?

RD: One of my favourite things to see from museums is the unexpected connections we can make to collections around larger conversations, news stories and major global events. Many in the industry call this newsjacking but it is a tactic we employ regularly with great success. Here’s an example from the Super Bowl this year:

LM: Younger users are getting savvier at avoiding overly commercial platforms. But those are the platforms many museums are most familiar with. What strategies can we use to better engage younger audiences?

RD: Be fun and conversational, it is called SOCIAL media for a reason. People are so media savvy now they know when they are being marketed to and we see less engagement on our “promotional” posts than we do on a nice image of an exhibit or a joke; people love T. Rex jokes! Think about it like this, we’re all at the same party and if all you do is talk about yourself, people are going to tune you out. Be relevant, conversational and have fun! This tweet reached over 3 million accounts and doesn’t promote an exhibition or program:

LM: What growing trend in social media are you most excited about?

RD: Live video and video in general. The potential to connect with your community through live video has greatly increased in 2016 and most platforms have favoured video posts in their algorithms since 2014. If you’re not making video production a focus this year you should figure out a way to make it happen! They don’t have to be Hollywood productions; most of the time my colleagues and I use a phone and a simple mic to produce live video. Here’s an example that was done on a phone that reached 1.3 million people:

Thank you to Ryan Dodge. We are looking forward to hearing more at his upcoming keynote address and session on Saturday, September 17 at AMA Conference 2016.

Lisa Making
Director of Exhibits and Communications
Royal Tyrrell Museum

To register for AMA Conference 2016 A Culture of Sharing: Inquiring Minds, Empowering Museums, visit the AMA Conference Website or

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. This article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of INFOrm.

Friday, 5 August 2016

AMA Conference 2016 Keynote Interview: Ry Moran, Director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

In 2008, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was established as part of a settlement agreement between the Government of Canada and survivors of the Indian Residential School System. Through the work of the TRC, many Canadians have now been able to learn more about this dark period of Canada’s history and the lasting impacts it has on our country and its people today.

Also part of the settlement, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) was created as a depository for the information and records gathered through the work of the Commission. The NCTR, housed at the University of Manitoba, carries on the work of the TRC by continuing to share the history of residential schools and create a foundation for reconciliation through truth.

Ry Moran is Director of the NCTR. Through his work with the TRC, Ry was responsible for gathering the history of the residential school system from more than twenty government departments and nearly 100 church archives - millions of records in all. As a prelude to his upcoming keynote address and session at the AMA Conference, Miranda Jimmy, Program Manager at the Edmonton Heritage Council and Co-Founder of RISE – Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton, met with Ry to learn more about the NCTR and the place for museums in the reconciliation process.

Miranda Jimmy: How did you become involved with the work of the TRC?

Ry Moran: I started talking to the first Commission after attending a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2008. When that Commission ended, I picked up the conversation with the second Commission. Initially, I bid on the TRC’s Request for Proposals for statement gathering through the business I was running. They contacted me later through their recruiting firm, Higgins International, and the next thing I knew I was being interviewed in Winnipeg. That was early January 2010, and by late January I was working for the Commission. I fully relocated to Winnipeg in March of 2010, but all of my stuff showed up right in the middle of the first national event.

MJ: While working through the mandate of the TRC, what were your biggest challenges?

RM: It was emotional work – on a regular basis, you heard terrible stories of abuse. In that, you had to provide support, kindness, and empathy to everyone involved – even when my own tank was running on empty.  You had to dig deep. The work was complicated, and it involved many uncertainties and roadblocks. Document collection was extremely complicated, and we were in court on a number of occasions. We were quite a small team, but we had a tremendous amount of responsibility. There was a lot of work and the hours were intense – at a national event, it wasn’t uncommon to work sixteen to twenty hours in a day.

MJ: How do you describe the work of the NCTR?

RM: It is an amazing entity that is emerging on the national landscape. We have a lot of responsibility as well – not just to preserve the records collected by the TRC, but also to honour the reasons they were collected, to fuel new approaches to education and understanding, to share this history with Canada, to ensure ongoing research can occur, and, most importantly, to ensure survivors, Indigenous peoples, and communities are central in the work of the NCTR.

MJ: What are some lessons you have learned through this process of sharing the dark truth of residential schools?

RM: The strength of survivors is amazing. Survivors are leaders in terms of showing us all how to stand up against injustice. They have led the country down a path of understanding and healing that we should all be thankful for. This is the path of reconciliation. I have also learned how deep the scars from residential schools run, and how much ground we still need to cover in terms of helping Canadians understand this past.

MJ: What is the NCTR doing to model and share its work with other memory institutions in Canada?

RM: Working in partnership is critical for reconciliation. All is one – and this is what reconciliation is about – a collective coming together to understand the past so we can move forward along a new path of healing, unity, and togetherness. This means sharing truth with many partners, but it also means working in direct collaboration with partners, organizations, individuals, and governments. Reconciliation is a collective journey, and we are trying to model togetherness and collaboration in all of our processes at the NCTR.

MJ: How can museums use the documents and records from the NCTR in their own communities?

RM: Understanding the local history and impacts of residential schools is critical, and so is sharing information.  A friend of the NCTR recently shared a teaching with us at the closing of the Pathways Conference. He said that reconciliation can be thought of as a bow and arrow. The arrow needs to travel backwards before it can be released forwards and find its target. This is very similar to our collective journey. We need to understand the past; we need to go back to the teachings of the knowledge keepers and elders in order to move forward in a good way. Museums are critical in this journey.

MJ: What is some advice you can offer to smaller museums in working to tell this history?

RM: Engage local communities and Indigenous peoples. Do what you can. Re-examine 
your collections to see if you can make improvements to how you are presenting history. Is it balanced? Are Indigenous peoples represented? Are Indigenous peoples represented in a way that is reflective of how Indigenous peoples want to be represented?
Partner with other institutions. Reach out to the NCTR to look into leveraging some of the digital options available. Most importantly, pay close attention to how history is bring presented, who and what is included, and who and what is excluded. Reconciliation is largely about giving Indigenous peoples a voice.

MJ: Reconciliation is a journey and a life-long commitment. What advice can you offer someone who is just starting the journey and beginning to learn this truth?

RM: Learn. That is the most important part. Keep an open mind. Realize that some of the things you will learn will challenge your current understandings, some things may be unsettling, some may be disturbing, and some may be shocking. However, that is critical to changing the status quo.

Remember that the TRC says the shameful history of residential schools forces us to realize that many different elements of how we have built Canadian society need to change. Reconciliation is not about assimilation under nicer terms. It is about change and about building something we have not seen yet in this country.

Incorporating Indigenous ways of knowing and being is a deeply rewarding journey. Embrace that, but remember that while this journey is happening, Indigenous peoples themselves still need to heal and build trust with Canada and with Canadians. This trust will only come through consistent, respectful relationships, and Canadians have a real responsibility to create these.  Be open to change. Look in the mirror to try to understand what barriers to change might exist within you or your organization.

MJ: What is next for the NCTR?

RM: This is an exciting time for the NCTR. We are continuing to build, strengthen our relationships with our partners, and share and promote understanding of the past, present, and future. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are deeply grateful to all of the partners and friends we have made across the country. We look forward to playing our role in reconciliation, and to continue to help repair the damage done in whatever way we can.
Thank you to Ry Moran for sharing his insight and knowledge. We are looking forward to hearing more at his upcoming keynote address and session on Friday, September 16 at AMA Conference 2016.

Miranda Jimmy
Program Manager, Edmonton Heritage Council
Co-Founder, RISE – Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton

To register for AMA Conference 2016 A Culture of Sharing: Inquiring Minds, Empowering Museums, visit the AMA Conference Website or

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. This article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of INFOrm.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Does Pikachu count as a visitor? Museums and engagement in the whirlwind of mobile gaming

We need to talk about Pokémon Go. In case you haven’t looked at the news lately, Pokémon Go has taken over everything. Here at the Alberta Museums Association office, we are not immune from the excitement, and as a staff we have discussed it in many ways. Some of us fell hard for the nostalgia of a favourite childhood game adapted for today. Others madly googled “what is Pokémon Go?”. We discussed the obvious safety concerns, as news stories erupted about the chaos ensuing from people wandering around staring at their phones and not looking where they are going. And of course, we watched with interest as museums around the world started buzzing about Pokémon in and around their buildings.

Technically, I am a Millennial, but I was a little too old to be drawn into Pokémon when it arrived in North America in the 1990s. My limited knowledge was picked up second hand from my younger brother’s obsession – when he got a dog for his tenth birthday, he named her Eevee (after a Pokémon). However, the rapid spread of the app, even in Canada where it is not officially available yet [edit: as of today, it is available Canada-wide!], is fascinating. The augmented reality aspect of the app has brought a game out of the basement and into public spaces. As a public historian, I am especially interested in the implications and possibilities for museums when people start visiting museums and other heritage sites in search of elusive Pokémon. 

Two camps have already emerged in the museum world in relation to Pokémon Go; those encouraging people to visit by showing off which Pokémon can be found at their museum, and those politely asking people to refrain from catching Pokémon at their museum.
The first camp is typified by groups and museums already heavily engaged with social media and technology. Museum Hack has jumped on Pokémon Go as a tool to get people into museums with the tagline “Gotta visit ‘em all” (a play on the Pokémon tagline of “Gotta catch ‘em all”), that works for the target demographic the app will bring into museums: the elusive Millennial. Pokémon Go has the potential to bring in swarms of Millennials looking for Pokémon to catch, and as a result, a good number of museums are using their own social media accounts to draw attention to the Pokémon that can be found in and around their institutions.

Whether or not museums are encouraging these users, they are getting them. Pokémon fanatics are showing up at museums, just as they are at parks, churches, malls, cemeteries, and other public places. This causes problems for museums that fall in the second camp and do not want visitors catching Pokémon in the galleries for a variety of reasons. One of the first museums to come out discouraging the use of the app within a site was, logically, the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. This museum has politely asked visitors to refrain from taking selfies in the past and is now asking visitors to refrain from catching Pokémon during their visit – a  request rooted in the reflective and somber nature of the subject matter on display at the museum. It is similar to calls from the Arlington Cemetery for visitors to stop catching Pokémon out of respect for the people buried there. These responses to Pokémon Go raise an important question for museums to consider when deciding to engage with this app:
  • Does the activity encouraged by the app complement and respect the subject matter of our institution?
Regardless of whether or not a museum decides to participate in the Pokémon Go craze, the type of visit the app encourages presents deeper questions for museums to consider about repeat visitors, audience development, and engagement.

Museums are experiencing an increase in visitors due to Pokémon Go; what remains to be seen is if these visitors will return without the promise of a virtual Pokémon to take home. The ability of museums to use the app as a means to create repeat visitors or a tool for audience development is unclear at this early stage. The longevity of interest in the app is also unknown at this point. Pokémon Go could develop a loyal following of users if it is maintained and updated regularly. However, it could also be a flash in the pan, a viral hit that gets high user numbers for a short time and then disappears from popular culture (anyone remember Pogs?). If the app develops a strong, long-term following, akin to social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, then it could be worth it for museums to integrate it into programming and exhibitions. It could, under these circumstances, become a tool for audience development and a way to encourage repeat visitors. However, we can’t predict if this app will maintain its current popularity for years to come. With this in mind I would like to pose this question for comment:
  • Given the variable lifespan of apps and other digital tools, is it worth the investment of time and resources for museums to develop ways of merging this game into exhibitions and programs?
The other issue is around the nature of Pokémon Go driven visits. Museums strive to demonstrate their relevance and use by their communities, and often rely on qualitative data from the number of visitors through the doors, as well as social media interactions, for these key performance indicators. However, the other area in which relevance can be measured is less quantitative – through community engagement and addressing social needs. This aspect of relevance is difficult to measure, especially because it can take a significant amount of time to see the full return on engagement and social responsibility work.

Pokémon Go can be harnessed to increase the hard numbers of visitors to a museum. The drawback to the boost in qualitative data is that it does not necessarily reflect an engaged visitor experience. Yes, there are people who will come to the museum to catch a Pokémon, see something of interest and engage with what the museum has to offer, but there are others that will visit and only engage with the app. It is in this tension between increasing numbers and creating a site that engages the community leads to my next questions:
  • Should museums embrace a technology that can produce a marked increase in visitorship even if those visits are not sustainable?
  • Is it more important to get more people through the door, or to carefully engage with the community to create strong connections and repeat visits?
There are many other questions that arise when thinking about Pokémon Go in museums and we will not have answers to those questions until we know what the longevity of the app is. For now we can have engaging conversations about the potential of this and other technologies in museums. Who knows, maybe I’ll even give in and try to catch a few of these virtual critters myself.'

Lauren Wheeler
Program Lead
Alberta Museums Association

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Vending machines in schools -- yay or nay? A heated debate at the the Kneehill Historical Museum Mock Legislature

On Friday, May 13, the Kneehill Historical Museum, the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, Three Hills School, and local community members joined together to host a mini-mock legislature. I took a road trip to the town of Three Hills for a front row seat to the proceedings.

A class of grade six students from the nearby Three Hills School acted as elected representatives, with local MLA Nathan Cooper playing the double role of premier and instructor. Presiding over the event was Richard Marz, previously the Deputy Speaker, who played the role in his own authentic robe and hat. Students were arranged into the ‘Sagebrush’ party, who acted as the government, and the ‘Oiler’ party, who acted as the official opposition, along with two independents. The stage was set for a riveting debate. 
The topic: should vending machines be banned in schools?

The program was an enlightening breakdown of provincial parliamentary process, which can be difficult to understand, even for adults. ‘Speaker’ Marz outlined the procedural rules for the students, before MLA Nathan Cooper lead the students through the process of passing a Bill: first reading, committee, second and third readings, amendments, and finally, passage. Between each segment, Cooper took a moment to discuss the process and take questions from the students.

The students came prepared with talking points for or against the bill, and engaged in a lively debate. They were, at first, reluctant to step too far away from their speaking notes, but as the debate carried on they grew more impassioned. “Vending machines are an important source of revenue for our schools!” a member of the opposition would say, amid the hearty thumping of applause of his fellow mock MLA’s. “The health of our children is more important than money!” retorted a member of the government, who received an approving cheer from Cooper himself.

In the end, with amendments defeated and debate exhausted, the students took a final vote to pass the bill, before breaking for cookies and lemonade. Cooper then gave a history of the Legislative buildings, adding that it has a connection to the town of Three Hills and the Kneehill Historical Museum, and answered questions from the students on a variety of topics.

Through innovative programs such as this, the Kneehill Historical Museum has built their institution as a true community space. Thanks to the combined efforts of the museum, the Legislative Assembly, and a range of local community members, this innovative program provided all those involved with education, entertainment, and a renewed appreciation for the process of Canadian parliament. 

Andrew Dool
Alberta Museums Association

For more information on hosting a Mock Legislature, visit

Friday, 6 May 2016

Alberta Museums Opening Doors for Fort McMurray Evacuees

The Alberta Museums Association is following the events in Fort McMurray closely. Our hearts and minds are with the community of Fort McMurray and those affected. 

A number of Alberta museums are offering free admission to residents of Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo displaced by the fires. The following sites are free with proof of Fort McMurray residency (government issued ID preferred).

Provincial Historic Sites, Interpretative Centres, and Museums

Free admission at all provincially owned historic sites and museums between May 5 and September 5 with proof of residency.  Sites and museums included in this are:

8km southeast of Brooks, off Trans-Canada Highway 1

On Mission Hill, St. Vital Avenue, St. Albert

13km southeast of Elk Point on Highway 646

1.5km off Highway#3 in the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass
18 KM (15 minutes) north and west of Fort Macleod on secondary Highway #785

26km south of Fairview on Highway 2, at the north end of the Dunvegan Bridge

Located off Highway #3 in the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass

707 – 13th Avenue SW, Calgary

623 Main Street, Cardston

6426 – 40 Ave, Wetaskiwin

1500 North Dinosaur Trail, Drumheller

11153 Saskatchewan Drive, Edmonton

7km north of Markerville on Township Road 371 west of Range Road 22

60km south of Calgary in the Town of Turner Valley

50km east of Edmonton on Highway 16 (3km east of Elk Island National Park)

10km south of Smoky Lake on secondary highway 855 and 6km east on the historic Victoria Trail

Edmonton and Region

11410 Kingsway Ave, Ed,
Free admission and self-guided tours with proof of residency

2 Sir Winston Churchill Square, Edmonton
Free admission and Tours Tots in May with proof of residency

51227 AB-60, Parkland County
Free Admission with proof of residency

13315 Buena Vista Road, Edmonton
Free Admission with proof of residency

Fort Heritage Precinct

10006, 100 Avenue, Fort Saskatchewan
Free Admission with proof of residency

700 – 143 Street (Whitemud Drive & Fox Drive), Edmonton
Free Admission with proof of residency

223 - 55 Street, Edson
Free Admission with proof of residency

Loyal Edmonton Regiment Military Museum

Prince of Wales Armoury Heritage Centre, 10440 108 Avenue, Edmonton
Free Admission Monday - Friday.  Large groups accommodated with advanced notice.

5411 – 51 Street, Stony Plain
Free Admission with proof of residency

10010 – 101 Street, Morinville
Free admission for evacuees

9626 96A Street, Edmonton
Free Admission with proof of residency

913 Ash Street, Sherwood Park
Free Admission with proof of residency

11211 142 Street, Edmonton
Free admission to Science Centre (public programs included) and Sherlock Holmes Exhibit with proof of residency until May 11th

Calgary and South

4629 McCall Way NE, Calgary
Free admission with proof of residency

130 – 9th Avenue SE, Calgary
Free admission with proof of residency throughout the crisis and recovery period

Heritage Park Historical Village

1900 Heritage Drive SW, Calgary
Free admission to Village and Gasoline Alley Museum from opening on May 21, 2016 until September 5, 2016 with proof of residency

901 North Dinosaur Trail, Drumheller
Free Admission for evacuees for the entire 2016 season with proof of residency

Military Museums

4520 Crowchild Trail SW, Calgary
Free admission with proof of residency
Includes admission to Naval Museum of Alberta, Army Museum of Alberta, Air Force Museum of Alberta, Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) Museum, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Museum & Archives, the King's Own Calgary Regiment (RCAC) Museum, Canadian Highlanders Regimental Museum & Archives, Founders Gallery.

220 St. Georges Drive NE, Calgary
Free admission with proof of residency

5111 - 47th Street NE (LC594), Calgary
Free admission Fridays & Saturdays

Central Alberta

Alberta Sports Hall of Fame & Museum

102, 4200 Queen Elizabeth II Highway, Red Deer 
Free Admission for the month of May with proof of residency
Plus: All funds from admissions on Monday May 23rd donated to the Red Cross to assist those affected by the wildfires.

4525 – 74a Avenue, Red Deer
Free entry to art-making programs in May for evacuees, free admission for everyone

For more information about Alberta’s museums, visit

We send our thanks to the first responders and all those who assisted with evacuation efforts.