File photo

File photo

Letter to the Editor: The Legion and the Archives

Letter to the Editor from Barry Hill.

Concern over the recent plight of the Wetaskiwin Archives compels this letter. Between them, City council and Administration allowed a Camrose based organization to utilize space in the old City Hall (now the Civic Building) formerly occupied by the Archives. Ostensibly, the purpose was benevolent. It was to provide shelter apparently for the needy, Wetaskiwin’s less fortunate, and others. More specifically, the space utilized by the Archivist and others such as the local Genealogical Society was irreparably reduced. The Archivist, a woman with a ten year contribution, and with small children, was relegated to a comparatively small office in the back part of the building. Amidst the COVID health plague, and faced with no control over a potential throng of strangers, she resigned. The Archives has been effectively shuttered, allegedly for a year, while City authorities decide its fate.

The local Genealogical Society, formerly with ready access to Wetaskiwin history, has lost its home. Yet there are many other consequences. Let me reminisce about one which involves our Branch #86 of the Royal Canadian Legion. I served on the Legion Executive for some ten years beginning about 1996. My portfolio was Publicity and Education. In that capacity I wrote dozens of articles about our local service men and women, who served in all the theatres of WW2. These were published in our Branch newsletter, and sometimes in our Provincial magazine. I was able to do this, in part, because I teamed with then local resident and celebrity, Austin Willis. We both had the pleasurable opportunity to meet these people, and learn their history. Our video taped legacy is housed in Branch #86, in the Wetaskiwin Archives, and treasured by families of those veterans who participated.

As a very engaged member of our Branch #86, I fondly remember our Remembrance Day celebrations then. After the formal ceremony, Branch #86 catered to those members of the public who were all welcomed at the Legion. Many attended. As did our pipe band with its stirring music! As did a contingent of RCMP members, who along with others, engaged in visits to senior homes and facilities, to “lift their spirits” (pun intended). It was one of the social occasions of the year, in stark contrast to the contemporary times we suffer through during the COVID plague!

The Wetaskiwin Archives was very much involved in this celebration. Do you know how? I do because my wife then ran our Archives. She and her staff dutifully attended the lobby of Branch #86 every year, and meticulously placed photos of our veterans on display boards, along with their names. Chances are if your loved one served in either World War conflict, or the Korean War, you could find their particulars. It served as a simple reminder of the debt we owe, and of our history and heritage. Family descendants of these service personnel reside within our community today. These memorials served as a great catalyst for the multitude of viewers. It generated conversations, and introductions, as comradeship prevailed! More than once tears were shed!

Not just me, but I am sure many fellow citizens share some of these memories. Like me, I am sure you wonder about what will become of our Wetaskiwin Archives, operating since 1977. The photo collection of service personnel constitute a mere fraction of its collections. There are priceless documents relating to turn of the twentieth century emigration in this area, and family histories of early pioneers, descendants of whom continue to farm here to this day. Fortunately, I can report these documents remain safe. With a sophisticated, humidity controlled, fire proof vault, they are safe. The more pressing issue is that deprived of access to them, how are they beneficial to our citizenry?

— Barry Hill. Wetaskiwin.