Canada officially entered the Second World War on Sept. 10, 1939. This was the first war in which women were actively recruited – not for battle – but for communication and phonograph positions. Norva Hutton, a woman from Bentley, was one of the 17 thousand women who served with Canada in the Royal Canadian Airforce Women’s Division.
Hutton’s experience is one of the stories that is featured in the Lacombe and District Historical Society’s At Home and Abroad, Stories of Lacombe virtual exhibit.
“Initially we had hoped to do this as an in-person exhibit, but obviously with COVID we’ve pretty much transitioned everything into virtual,” said Melissa Blunden, the executive director for the Lacombe and District Historical Society. “Our programming, our tours – we even have virtual tours at the museums now¬ – we’re just trying to do our best to help the community out.”
The exhibit, which started on Sept. 3, is on their website, but not in its entirety. The museum has been using Facebook to unveil new videos, which are then uploaded to the website.
“We have a Facebook event, Exhibit Unveiling at Home and Abroad, and so every couple of days, about three days a week we’re doing a trivia question and kind of new information on there,” said Blunden. “It’s just a way to keep people engaged.”
The Facebook event runs for two weeks, ending this Wednesday. Norva Hutton was interviewed by the museum and that video went on Facebook Sept. 11.
“It’s kind of like a first come first serve for all the little tidbits – there’s a few paper articles from the Lacombe Globe and photographs from our archival records¬ – that aren’t getting shared anywhere else – so, it’s just like a VIP section, if you will,” Blunden explained.
This exhibit is also unique in the fact that it was inspired by other museums.
“I haven’t really seen an exhibit that’s been done with interviewing other museums. Usually, museums focus on their own mandate and that’s about it,” she said. “We’re really trying to reach outside the walls of our two buildings and really like hit the county and the districts and bring them into our folds.”
Blunden said that the exhibit explicitly states when they have used information from other museums and altogether everyone was excited to work together and work it was.
Over 350 hours’ worth of work went into the project and they are still dedicating over 20 hours a week for the virtual event to edit videos and get them online. There was a bit of a technical learning curve for Blunden, not only with editing but also with the filming itself.
“With our shoestring budget of trying to buy like a 15-dollar microphone and hoping that it is good audio quality standing very still because we don’t have a gimble or a tripod,” she said. “It’s been a challenge but we’re getting there.”
Blunden said the museum has seven virtual exhibits in the works. Some of these exhibits are new and some of them are updated versions of old exhibits.
Three brand new exhibits are coming up in the next year and one of those will be on Roland Michener, a former governor general of Canada who was born in Lacombe. The museum has applied for a federal grant for this exhibit.
“It will be, if you go to the war museum websites and look at their virtual exhibits, they’re heavily computer programmed exhibits. They’re more of an experience versus a text-heavy one,” Blunden said.
They will find out if they received the grant money later this fall.
“It will be really exciting if that one does come through, if not we’ll still do how we’ve done this one, which I think is very useful. It’s full of lots of information that people don’t know, but obviously, if we can get like a 20 thousand grant to computer program something brand new that’s never been seen before, that’s also super exciting,” she said.
Blunden thinks that virtual exhibits are getting more popular and she is trying to get the Lacombe and District Historical Society listed on the Virtual Museum of Canada’s website.
Despite the growing popularity and the current necessity for virtual exhibits, Blunden still prefers an in-person experience.
“I still see a huge value in in-person exhibits. I don’t think that will be ever fully replaced. I hope it won’t ever be fully replaced, but this is a really good way for us to continue when we don’t have an exhibit space.”