Built Heritage: Editorial Comments for Spring 2016 Issue of Folklore

The following are my editorial comments for the Spring 2016 Issue of Folklore Magazine. To subscribe to the magazine and to become a member of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society, go here and complete this form. Also follow SHFS on Facebook. Cover Photos: Two photos of M.R. Murray using card catalogues in the library, CA 1940. University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections. Photographs A-3427, A-3426. Lower right: Destruction from the Regina Cyclone, 1912. Carnegie Library at far right. Adrian Paton Collection. Background: Books. Image courtesy of Kristin Enns-Kavanagh.

Buildings often serve as the focal points of our communities. They are where we live, gather, and work. Unlike other more ephemeral aspects of our culture, many buildings are a constant throughout generations, acting as physical monuments to the past, present, and future. When old buildings are torn down, like the Farnum Block in Saskatoon last spring, we lose a part of us, a part of our collective history.
The architecture of a community often plays a large role in the development of that community’s character. As Howard Wight Marshall notes in Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music, and Art, Volume 1, buildings “are expressions of cultural heritage.” Architecture, particularly ‘folk’ architecture, “has patterns and decorations that have evolved over generations of execution and variation.”
In this issue of Folklore – from the cover featuring Regina buildings (including the Library destroyed by the 1912 cyclone) to Richard Wood’s discussion of the importance of schools in rural regions – the importance of buildings to this province’s heritage is explored. The “stories” of buildings, and the often personal connections we have with them, help us to understand why these structures mean so much more to communities than simply “bricks and mortar.”
The knowledge of how to build and arrange farm architecture like that pictured in J. Alvin Speers’ family photographs is considered to be ‘occupational folklore’ of farming. The size of Saskatchewan farm houses, the designs of the barns, and the positioning of the farm buildings to one another are all concrete representatives of specific manifestations of cultural ideals that developed in the ancestral homelands of Saskatchewan’s residents and continued to evolve to the conditions of the Canadian West.
Keith Foster and Shirley Lomheim both look at a vital fixture of many communities: the public library. Lomheim’s memories of the Moose Jaw library are simultaneously deeply personal and universal. Lomheim’s treasured recollections are reminiscent of my own fond memories of my local library. A trip to the library meant that a plethora of new adventures awaited me, both in reality and in my imagination. Even in this digital age, the library remains a focal gathering point in many communities. A place where people can come together and also find escape.Foster’s article demonstrates the way in which many buildings are built as status symbols. The Carnegie Library in Regina represented progress, that the city had ‘made it.’
Jill Doepker highlights the significant role that churches and other religious institutions play in communities. The foundation of the church’s involvement in the Riversdale neighbourhood of Saskatoon revolves around the building and its location, which has served as a meeting point for decades from which a strong spirit of communal activism has emerged.
It is important to note that these buildings – churches, schools, stores, etc. – are material representation of a historically Western understanding of property, progress, and civilization. European settlers sought to recreate the kinds of communities and land-holding patterns that they left behind. Not all buildings, however, have positive associations for everyone. For example, many Indigenous communities today struggle over what to do with buildings that are symbols of a colonial past. Should buildings such as former residential schools or Indian Agent residences be kept as reminders of the sorrows of the past, or should they be torn down? The answers to these questions are not easy.
Communal representations of culture are diverse throughout Saskatchewan. What buildings or intangible cultural institutions define your community and its historic continuity? Please send us your photos and stories for future issues of Folklore!

Spring 2016 COver

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