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A new chance to get in touch with the city's past

Treasures from the Edmonton Artifacts Centre will be on display in pop-up events for residents to take in some of the city's history.

This summer, the City of Edmonton will use modern techniques to bring more Edmontonians in touch with the past.

Pop-up displays will appear in several locations where residents will get a chance to see historic artifacts from the City Heritage Collection, free of charge.

 The collection of more than 60,000 city artifacts is stored at the Edmonton Artifacts Centre in Old Strathcona, which is not accessible to the public.

While the centre is home to items displayed at Fort Edmonton and the John Walter Museum, the pop-up shows will allow the public to have greater access to items of historical significance to the city, says Alex Hamilton, community engagement lead for the project.

“It’s about showcasing the things people don’t normally get to see,” said Hamilton. “We want to bring them to the community, as opposed to having to go to a facility to see them.”

The first pop-up will appear in early June at the Commonwealth Recreation Centre,11000 Stadium Road, featuring the Edmonton Grads women's basketball team of the 1920s and 30s.

The Grads, who were active from about 1915 to 1940, still hold the record for winning percentages for women’s sports teams. They swept four consecutive Olympic Games between 1924 and 1936, winning all 24 matches. No Olympic medals were handed out, since women’s basketball did not become an official Olympic sport until the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal.

“They’re (the Grads) an incredible part of Edmonton history,” said Hamilton, noting few people are aware of the historical significance of the team, which only lost 20 games over 25 years. “We don’t really recognize them in a way that we might other sports teams.”

The display will include jerseys, a basketball hoop, programs and photos, plus seats from the Edmonton Gardens, the city’s first indoor arena.

The pop-ups are a pilot project scheduled to run until October of 2024, with hopes there will be three to four exhibits by the end of this year.

The mini exhibits are expected to last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months at different city facilities, telling “a snapshot of the city’s history and encouraging people to learn a little bit more,” Hamilton said. "We’re trying to get them in different quadrants of the city, at rec centres and libraries.”

The city’s heritage collection was born in 1958 when the Edmonton Historical Board and the Northern Alberta Pioneers Association created a museum called the Historic Exhibits Building. In 1973, artifacts were moved to the old Cromdale bus barns and then to an old O’Keefe brewery, which remains the official artifacts centre today.

Housed artifacts date back to the mid-1800s, says Benita Hartwell, one of three curators in charge of the collection, care and maintenance of the items. The curators also conduct research on the items, most of them donated, and prepare written background information.

Items in the collection include horse collars, jars, pots and pans, antique furniture, spinning wheels, bottles, old medical equipment and lots of signs, including old City of Champions signs that once greeted visitors to Edmonton. There are also items that were gifts to former city councillors, and even some grotesque statues from a popular old downtown Edmonton restaurant called American Dairy Lunch.

A moratorium has been placed on acquisition of new items to the artifacts centre until Sept. 1, 2024, to allow time for updated policies and plans for the collection and to complete processing of existing items.

In the meantime, Hartwell says she’s excited to see the pop-up project proceed.

“It’s very exciting to be able to share the collection with more people in Edmonton,” she said.