From a summons for Canada’s first court trial to include women jurors to letters from Boris Karloff’s wife, Olive de Winton, you never know what will turn up in the Red Deer and District Archives.
“Every day, you find something new and amazing. It’s a wonderful place to work,” said archivist Selena Percy.
On Thursday, June 12, Central Albertans will be officially invited to discover this treasure trove — the local archives is celebrating its 50th birthday by hosting a community open house from 1 to 7 p.m.
Besides partaking of some cake and refreshments, visitors can hear Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer speak at 4:15 p.m., and take a tour of the archives, located at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery.
Some interesting files will be opened, promised Percy, who believes people might be surprised by some of the records and photographs that turn up.
For instance, there’s the aforementioned court summons from the early 1920s — Percy believes many area residents don’t realize the first Canadian trial to include female jurors was held in Red Deer.
There are also documents and photos pertaining to English-born de Wilton, who grew up here before leaving to pursue an acting career, eventually becoming the common-law wife of Frankenstein actor Karloff.
De Wilton acted in Eastern Canada, the U.S. and England, before returning to live in Montreal, where she wrote for the National Film Board in the early 1950s. She retired to Lacombe, where she died in 1968.
Percy said the archives also has weighty papers linked to Alix resident Irene Parlby.
The early London-born feminist settled in this area with her family in 1896.
She helped found the first women’s local of the United Farmers of Alberta in 1913. She was elected to the Alberta legislature in 1921 and held the Lacombe riding for 14 years. Parlby, who became the first woman cabinet minister in Alberta, was also one of the Famous Five.
Through a court battle known as the Persons Case, the Famous Five established that women were “qualified Persons” under the Canadian Constitution and, therefore, entitled to sit in the federal Senate.
Percy said the Red Deer and District Archives was started in 1964 to collect records for the City of Red Deer, but also began collecting documents about the general community.
This includes hundreds of thousands of newspaper stories, including decades-old Advocate articles on microfilm.
Over the years, the five local archivists have helped many individuals search for the histories of their homes, businesses or families.
Members of community groups have sought historic tidbits about their organizations. Students and academic researchers have called to check facts — as have various filmmakers and members of local, national and international media, who needed background information for stories.
“We help whoever comes in,” said Percy, who hopes more people will discover this local asset through the open house.
For more information about the event at 4525 47A Ave., call 403-309-8403.