Thursday, June 27, 2013

Documenting and celebrating the voices of seniors

The Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador administers the province’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Strategy, working to safeguard traditional culture. The ICH Strategy provides opportunities for community members to come together to share their ideas, experiences and traditional knowledge. Through sharing knowledge, it hopes to open up intergenerational and intercultural conversations about shared values and experiences.

The provincial ICH strategy recognizes, as a guiding principle, that the inclusion of multiple voices, including those of seniors, is important in all work relating to Intangible Cultural Heritage. ICH is kept alive and is relevant to a culture when it is regularly practised, and learned within communities and between generations. In many instances, elders in our communities are the bearers of much of our traditions and customs.

The ICH office has been working closely with Memorial University’s Digital Archives Initiative to store and showcase a number of oral history collections, many of which feature the voices of seniors. Collections are organized thematically or by community. Over the past year, a number of new community collections have been created, notably for Registered Heritage Districts in both Heart’s Content and Bay Roberts. These specific collections focus heavily on the reminiscences of seniors in those communities.

ICH thematic collections cover a number of topics, ranging from calendar customs such as mummering, to craft traditions like rug hooking. Almost all the collections include the voices of seniors, but there are a few collections of note which are particularly excellent examples of the documentation of the voices of elders. Some of these collections include:

The Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery -116 audio interviews
The daily work of the fishery had a profound impact on the culture and history of Newfoundland and Labrador. The particular method of curing fish in Newfoundland (and Atlantic Canada)--soaking in brine and sun- drying on stretches of coastline--led to the development of specific architectural forms, language, and many different aspects of occupational folklore. This collection showcases the history, hard work, and lifestyle of many Newfoundland fishing families.

Voices of Nurses -119 audio interviews
In the mid 1980s Marilyn Marsh interviewed a group of Newfoundland nurses who graduated between 1918 and 1949 and worked in a variety of nursing settings and locations in Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) and in several cases internationally.The nurses' stories capture what life was like for women and nurses during that era. Women in the 1920s and 30s had few career options. Most chose to stay in their community, marry and have families. For those wishing to pursue a career, to travel or were adventuresome, nursing provided the greatest opportunities but for many also their greatest challenges. These interviews reveal their lived experiences and provide insight into who they were as women and nurses.

Boatbuilding - 63 audio interviews
This collection of audio recordings highlights the stories, knowledge and skills of Newfoundland boat-builders, several of whom who have passed away since the time of recording. For much of their history, the fishermen of Newfoundland and Labrador enjoyed a reputation for making fine boats. Using only hand tools and local timber, they built skiffs, punts or "rodneys", motor boats and schooners, and a variety of other small wooden boats. While the principle focus of these recordings center around the materials and methods used in the construction of inshore fishing vessels, often those being interviewed will provide personal narratives about their lives in early twentieth century Newfoundland and Labrador outports.

Photo: Wilson Hayward showing tourists the art of mending nets, 
at Ryan Premises National Historic Site of Canada. Photo courtesy Parks Canada.

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