Twelve years ago, two Athabasca University professors, Nanci Langford and Cathy Cavanaugh, saw that women’s contributions to Alberta were being under-recorded and, as a result, their history was vanishing. “If you don’t get these stories recorded while you can, they disappear into thin air,” says Jean Crozier, who in 2000 heeded their call to collect and organize local women’s manuscripts – be they memoirs, field notes, photographs, diaries, land titles or cookbooks – and distribute them to the appropriate archives.
The more than 10 women who make up the Women’s Memory Project committee not only act as history conduits, but archivists too, as they seek permission from each donor – which can be an organization or an individual – to digitize the material for an ambitious Internet archive (awmp.athabascau.ca) that took an additional eight years to build.
“We’ve been very quietly getting this thing established, on grants and volunteers,” says Crozier, who helped arrange the project, which is hosted and funded by Athabasca University.
Looking at the available provincial, municipal and academic archives, Crozier says, “What we found is women’s history hasn’t been well recorded, and particularly not well recorded in the archives. We wanted to assemble a catalogue of what collections do exist and put it on the website.” She could personally relate to the importance of the Women’s Memory Project’s mission. A retired business owner, she says the consulting company she successfully ran throughout the 1980s and ’90s was ignored by network organizations on the basis of her gender. Even with all the progress women made until that point, she says, they still weren’t accepted as significant and their contributions were ignored.
According to Langford, their efforts to gain permission to publish collected materials online have been met with some resistance because seniors are more protective of their identity than their Facebook-loving granddaughters. So, currently, it’s a small collection, but growing to include newly written memoirs, thanks in part to community outreach.
They’re particularly interested in reaching out to First Nations women. Their stories are lacking within the project since First Nations use oral history over written. But the committee is determined to change that by chronicling their stories. “This is not a totally Anglo-Saxon province, and we don’t want the website to appear that way,” says Crozier. “We have developed into a culturally rich province.”