Prairie Trails Network Chapbook Initiative
Written by Michelle Brownridge, Community Engagement Coordinator
The Prairie Trails Museum Network, a group of museum staff and volunteers from across South West Saskatchewan, undertook an innovative network project in 2018, creating a chapbook that tells stories from the collections and archives of their museums and their local area.
The idea for the project came from Mary Thompson, a board member of the Grand Coteau Heritage & Cultural Centre in Shaunavon. Thompson drew inspiration from the The Okanagan Historical Society, who has published a book of stories each year since 1925. The annual publication can be purchased at local museums and book stores throughout the Okanagan Valley. “I was so impressed with it, and I thought, why don’t we try something like that? And that is where the idea was born,” says Thompson.
Last year, the Network put out a call for submissions and received numerous diverse submissions from museums from around the Network. “I entered one featuring memoirs of an old cowboy, one is about a family, they are about everything, but they are really glued to the place,” explains Thompson.
Thompson believes stories and storytelling play an important role in the future of museums, “I think there is an interest in moving beyond the bricks and mortar of a museum, I want stories, I want interactive, I want people to be able to help themselves and so this is a first step.”
Although they were pleased with the initial chapbook, there is always room for improvement as a project moves forward. “We don’t quite have the numbers in on the first book, but I feel like we maybe didn’t promote it well enough. We should have had some articles written about it to let people know it was there. You can put it on a shelf in a museum but it might not get someone’s attention,” explains Thompson.
At their fall meeting in November 2018, the Prairie Trails Network voted in favour of putting out a call for submissions for a second edition of the chapbook in 2019. As far as advice or tips for anyone or any Network wanting to start their own chapbook project, Thompson says, “I don’t think we have any tips yet, we have to get a little more experience under our belts, but I would advise anyone who is interested in doing this sort of project to have a look at the Okanagan Historical Society’s journals.”
The Prairie Trails Chapbook project was supported, in part, by an operating grant from the Museums Association of Saskatchewan (MAS). The Museum Network program, managed by MAS, is made up of 11 regional Networks that meet each spring and fall to share information and ideas, discuss issues and concerns, and work together on joint projects. Each Network appoints a volunteer representative to coordinate its activities and act as a liaison with the MAS staff and board. Museum Networks are a valuable member group within MAS and play an important role in facilitating communication between members and MAS staff. If you’d like more information please get in touch!