Residents preserve community stories in scrapbook

Early spring sunlight streams through the windows of the old Sunalta Community Association hall onto a table covered in photographs and scrap-booking materials. Teaspoons clink in china cups, and stories of the past fly thick and fast.

Edith Earl, Sharon Woodhouse, Kelly Schuler and Jerilyn Wolstenholme have gathered to work on Sunalta’s community album: a record of stories from one of Calgary’s oldest neighbourhoods.

Sunalta is a community of about 3,000 residents southwest of Calgary’s downtown core. It is bordered by 14th St. to the east, 17th Ave. to the south, the neighbourhood of Scarboro to the west and the Bow River to the north.


Video produced by Jessica Ryan

The first houses in the area were built in 1910 and many century homes remain on the tree-lined streets.

Sharon Woodhouse has lived in one of these 100-year-old houses since 1976, and says she has no intention of leaving Sunalta for the suburbs. She adds that she has always been involved in her community and likes the idea of recording shared memories.

“It’s tradition for so many people in our world to pass on stories through the generations,” Woodhouse says. “Scrapbooks keep it real. It’s tangible, it’s something you can create and I hope that the spoken and the written word never stop.”

Sunalta resident Kelly Schuler is the orchestrator of the scrapbooking project and also the executive director of Brave Communications, a company that uses storytelling strategies to help people become better speakers and presenters.

Schuler took inspiration from a series of workshops and tools called Storyline, designed to help people chart out their life stories and get a better perspective on where their passions and strengths can take them next.

“I think we’ve kind of adapted that as a community model as well,” she says.

Schuler got the idea for a community album when she heard about seniors scrap-booking at a library in another neighbourhood in Calgary. She enlisted the help of co-worker Jerilyn Wolstenholme, a professional organizer and “scrap-booker extraordinaire.”

Wolstenholme started scrap-booking as a teenager after her mother passed away.

“I wanted to have all of her photographs in one place and have a way to record the stories in our family about my mom,” she says.

Wolstenholme says she’s passionate about helping others preserve stories because, she says, “When you have an album to look at, it becomes this community way to share stories instead of individual people just sitting and looking on a computer.”

Schuler organized two scrap-booking events to kick off a project that residents can continue to build on indefinitely. The first event, on Jan. 19, was for the whole community and included storytelling sessions and a speech from Sunalta Community Association board member Michael Green.

Green is no stranger to storytelling, as the former co-artistic director of the One Yellow Rabbit Theatre Association and the founder and curator of High Performance Rodeo, Calgary’s international festival of the arts.

At the time of the January scrap-booking event, he was creative producer for celebrations of the culmination of Calgary’s year as the cultural capital of Canada in 2012.

“The theme of the whole cultural capital year was ‘every Calgarian has a story,’ and you could define any city’s culture by the collection of stories that those people share,” Green says. “To see this entire theme in miniature in Sunalta was beautiful.”

The second scrap-booking event coincided with the annual Sunalta Senior’s Tea on Feb. 9. Typical attendance tripled when seniors heard that storytelling and scrap-booking would be involved.

93-year-old Edith Earl lived in Sunalta for 60 years before moving to a retirement home a few years ago. She attended the Senior’s Tea and scrapbooking event on Feb. 9.

Photo by Jessica Ryan“We had a really great reunion as well as the opportunity to document some of the stories that were shared,” Schuler says.

Edith Earl, a former Sunalta resident of 60 years, was one of the seniors who attended the Senior’s Tea.

Earl has lived in a retirement home in another part of the city for several years now, but likes to stay involved her previous community. She remembers dances, teas and bingos at the hall, and rooting for community hockey teams at the “pleasure rink.”

“There’s been a lot of work done here by many people who have passed on now,” she says. “I hope I can continue coming.”

So far the scrapbook contains pages chronicling Sunalta’s history and community events like the annual Stampede Breakfast and the Children’s Christmas Party. Even those who don’t care for the arts and crafts side of scrap-booking can participate in the storytelling aspect.

Resident Tonya McFerrin has done a lot of writing for Sunalta Community Association and the Sunalta newsletter. She plans to provide text descriptions of future events to accompany photographs.

“I don’t enjoy cutting out zigzag materials on the edge or making it look like a scrapbook should,” she says, “but I really enjoy the writing part of documenting stuff about our community.”

The scrapbook project was made possible by funding from Calgary’s Family and Community Support Services’ Strong Neighbourhoods Initiative and the Sunalta Community Association:

  • $1,200 for the planning and programming delivery with the Brave Communications team, matched by an equal amount of in-kind donated time from the two facilitators, Schuler and Wolstenholme
  • $150 for the scrapbooking supplies, matched by an equal in-kind contribution from Wolstenholme’s “scrapbooking community”
  • Approximately $300 in food plus an equal amount of donations of delicious food contributed by the Sunalta community members.

Everyone involved hopes the scrapbook will continue to grow, as long as new community members and new generations have stories to tell.

jryan@cjournal.ca