Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Bringing it Home: How the Experience of Digging into Past Records Helps Build Community

Hello viewers! This is the post where we, the bloggers,
introduce ourselves and our present experiences of the process
of putting together this archive.

It begins with two of us; that is, two, relatively new to Assiniboia Housing Co-op members seeking to find out and document some part of the rich history that is our new community and home. It also begins with many boxes of documents from decades passed that have been… somewhat organized. The label ‘miscellaneous’ has found its way onto many of the boxes collected in the basement of one of our houses, the Golden Lentils Lodge. Although absolutely an exciting project, this initial pile of papers and file folders (many of them empty, oddly enough) is also a tad daunting, to say the least.

Ilara: At the Board Meeting in which this project was approved last month, Faun and I discovered that we were both living in Assiniboia; we had been in high school together here in Edmonton nearly a decade ago, so right off the bat were made aware of the “small world” atmosphere that living in community often tends to foster in deep, meaningful, and often mysterious ways. I mention this because I feel it’s relevant; in creating this archive, we (and whoever decides to join in on the project in the future) are not only documenting our history, but sharing time together to connect and laugh and experience community in a very real way.

Having spent a few solid hours looking through the “miscellaneous” boxes, organizing and attempting to deem what was appropriate to set aside to upload at a later date, we encountered many interesting historical records, countless paperwork on bylaws and co-op procedure, and other various snapshots into the lives of those that came before us. I have to say, however, that I had two highlights of the evening’s event: first, discovering two handwritten cards that had been correspondences between the houses and members that had recently left (there were two from around the same time, and the names matched up between them! Realize that they weren’t neatly filed together…they were found boxes apart, so the second one felt like a diamond in a coalmine; nestled unceremoniously between bylaws and grocery lists.); and second, finding a single paragraph in an old newsletter that was a thank you note to a previous member for the use of his truck, which hit a personal chord for the simple reason that the member being thanked thirty years or so ago is a friend of mine who I know from an entirely different circle of people. I really feel it’s the little things that make life sweet.

Faun: I decided that a community archive project would be great fun after hearing a story about members of a motorcycle chapter that used to live in Golden Lentils (presumably before it was given that name). A long ago co-op member told me about finding a series of letters in the house’s archives – a conversation between the bike chapter and the City about an illegal chicken coop in the back yard. The messages end with the chapter angrily telling the government that they had gotten rid of the chickens, but that the city should be aware that it had forced them to eat their friends.

Sadly, I have not yet found these letters. Perhaps they are lost in the bottom of one of our creatively organized boxes. More likely, they were discarded years ago by someone who (understandably) valued breathing room more than dusty papers. While this particular story has not been forthcoming, we have found countless other pieces of years past. We hope to continue to record both the stories that have been hinted at on paper and those that come from the memories of former members. As a part of this project we ask that those who have tales to share from the cooperative at any point in time think about sending us their experiences. We would love to hear about some of the moments this community has accumulated over time. Our new commitment to recording and sharing these moments is, I suspect, just our excuse to spend time listening to stories.

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