The future of the City of Wetaskiwin’s tourism efforts could very well rest in one department that specializes in the past.
The City of Wetaskiwin Archives, housed in the former city hall that’s now referred to as the Civic Building, has been the subject of discussion lately as the structure has been put up for sale by the city.
Archivist Rachel Knudsen said the archives have been housed in the Civic Building since 2007, when the new city hall opened.
Lucien Cloutier, city clerk, interviewed at the archives June 1, said while the city has placed the Civic Building up for sale, the future of the archives is secure. He said, ideally, a new owner of the Civic Building would simply welcome the archives to remain as a reliable tenant.
However, Cloutier stated that if for some reason that’s not possible, the city will find a suitable facility for the archives to call home.
He noted that genealogy, DNA profiling and ancestry are becoming more and more popular, and only about 40 communities in Alberta have a comparable archives and not many of those have the City of Wetaskiwin’s fascinating and lengthy history. “We do know there’s interest growing,” said Cloutier.
The city sees a lot of tourism potential in the archives, as Wetaskiwin and area already has a pretty strong historical reputation with places like the Reynolds Alberta Museum and the Heritage Museum. He said the city would love to see more local people use the archives, as well as out-of-town tourists looking at Wetaskiwin as a historical destination.
The city archives department budget is roughly $80,000 a year, small compared to departments like Recreation and Transportation. But Cloutier said it’s difficult to compare departments that are so different. “It’s all relative,” he said. “It’s like apples and oranges.”
The city archives enjoy regular visitation throughout the year. Cloutier stated the archives, in 2017, received about 300 visitors, just under one a day. Plus, the archives get all kinds of requests, including from city staff. Last year city staff requested information 40 times from the archives, while the public made about 250 requests.
The archives accept donations of documents from the community, including photographs, maps and other items. Cloutier said the best thing to do is make an appointment with Knudsen, where she can examine the items in question. Cloutier said the intent is that if it’s possible for the archives the accept the donation, it will.
The number of items actually contained in the archives is immense, noted Cloutier. “Millions,” he said. “It’s a large number of items.” Cloutier noted there are about 100,000 documented photographs alone, plus about 200,000 more undocumented ones. And that’s just the photographs.
Knudsen said, when asked what she thought was the most interesting item in the archives, she answered, “The photographs,” because they tell such amazing stories.
Anyone interested in visiting the archives can call 780-361-4423, drop by at 4904 – 51 Street or find the City of Wetaskiwin Archives on Facebook.