Centennial exhibit a ‘trip down memory lane’
For decades, the 12-metre tall rocket-shaped climbing apparatus stood like a monument above the Kin Kanyon playground in Red Deer.
Then one day the local landmark from the early 1960s was suddenly gone. It was pulled down about 15 years ago, after being considered too unsafe for today’s tots.
Now its paint-peeling, Jetsons glory can only be seen in a faded photograph displayed at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery.
Like Red Deer’s old dismantled Drive-In Theatre sign, the demolished St. Joseph’s Convent, and the little deer souvenirs made by mentally disabled clients of the Provincial Training School, Kin Kanyon’s rocket ship has disappeared into the history books.
But it survives in the personal memories of anyone who’s ever admired its quirky, retro design, or as a child, climbed its metal rungs to reach the steep slide.
The museum’s My Home Town exhibit, in celebration of the city’s centennial, is full of such nostalgic images and artifacts — from old school jerseys and cheerleading sweaters to assorted local milk bottles from the days when milkmen would bring them right to your door.
Museum executive-director Lorna Johnson has heard a lot of positive comments about the displays, saying people “enjoy the trip down memory lane.” Johnson believes the school, sports and business memorabilia appeals to both those who grew up in Red Deer, and those who simply appreciate the general memories stirred up by the exhibit.
For instance, motorists pulling off the highway into Red Deer in the early to mid-20th century could apparently leave with some odd reminders of this Central Alberta berg. Tourists could purchase a sealed, labeled can of “genuine (?) fossilized deer droppings” or some snazzy salt and pepper shakers emblazoned with pictures of the Alberta Ladies College.
They could take away triangular Red Deer pennants, or small red felt deer toys that were meticulously hand finished with blanket stitching by the inhabitants of what was to become Michener Centre.
By 1950, local motorists could also catch a flick at the brand-new drive-in movie theatre, which was called 2-11 presumably because it was located near the junctions of Hwys 2 and 11.
The drive-in’s two large signs are among the most eye-catching artifacts in the exhibit. They no longer have neon tube lighting, but still sport a large, faded stylized deer mascot. “They have a painterly quality,” said Johnson, who likes that various touch-ups done over the years are visible.
Museum visitors can relive part of the drive-in experience by planting themselves in what looks like a chair from the All in the Family TV set and watching vintage cartoon shorts of walking hotdogs and talking popcorn containers that nudged drive-in customers towards the concessions.
By 1962, Johnson said the local car culture was in full swing. Motorists could go to a drive-through restaurant opened on Red Deer’s south hill by Mr. and Mrs. Konopacki. The couple had previously started the sit-down Peacock Restaurant on Ross Street, but were astute observers of changing eating habits. A menu and images from both establishments are included in the exhibit.
Among the more esoteric artifacts are wooden boards from the lobby of the old RDTV studio that contain signatures of various celebrity guests, including Mr. Dressup, hockey player Brett Hull and country singer George Fox.
The local TV station flourished for years before being unceremoniously closed by its owner, Canwest, in 2009, due to financial pressures. Johnson said Red Deer’s identity was in part shaped by TV and radio, which is also represented by a CKRD nylon jacket and a loud red, black and white check broadcaster’s blazer from the 1970s, which seems pulled from Herb Tarlek’s closet (from the classic TV series WKRP in Cincinnati).
Sparkly, flamboyant clothing worn in the Westerner Days parade is also shown, as are bottles from locally produced beverages, including various milk and beer producers. Union Milk, the Whitehills Jersey Dairy, and Uncle Ben’s Brewery are no longer around, but their bottles are reminders of these businesses past.
Johnson remembers drinking Uncle Ben’s beer while at university in Calgary the late 1970s. “There was a beer strike on and Uncle Ben’s wasn’t unionized, so everyone drank it,” she said, with a chuckle.
She hopes these displays of Red Deer’s “material history” will provoke visitors to think about the things they believe are worth preserving. For instance, no one consulted with museum officials before the rocket apparatus at Kin Kanyon was dismantled.
While it’s doubtful the museum would have had storage room for the sizeable structure, Johnson noted she could find only one photograph of it for the exhibit — even though so many local people remember it.
“One of the issues we’d like people to look at is how are some things significant in (their) memory? And how do we determine what’s significant?”
The My Home Town exhibit is on until Sept. 2.