Race to digitize past going strong in Edmonton

GigCity Vintage EdmontonThe campaign is well underway to digitize Edmonton history – music, films, photos, news-paper clippings, you name it. As you read this, someone, somewhere in town is busy scanning, burning or posting area lore on the Internet, and at this rate the sum of human knowledge in the entirety of recorded history will be catalogued – and owned outright by Mark Zuckerberg.

For photo history buffs looking for “that funny feeling” when one views old photos of a familiar place, The (Other) Vintage Edmonton is now online. An alternative to the City of Edmonton Archives, the new website offers photographs of local street scenes from a bygone, unimaginable pre-digital age. Turns out that Ernest Brown wasn’t the only guy taking pictures of Edmonton (most his work is owned by the Provincial Archives of Alberta). From visitor contributions and old postcards whose copyright has expired, webmaster Ryan Gagne started the page a few weeks ago in response to Vintage Edmonton’s Facebook popularity: At one point drawing more people “talking about” than “likes” (about 7,300 at the moment). It differs from another Edmonton site called Vintage Edmonton – which posts a lot of old newspaper clippings – and “we kind of balance each other out,” Gagne says. He’s also selling a calendar to help with the costs.

GigCity Vintage EdmontonOne odd thing: The 29-year-old Moncton marketing executive doesn’t actually live in Edmonton, but that doesn’t matter because “I’m not the one who’s telling the stories,” he says. “I’m just giving a forum for people who know what they’re talking about, who have that emotional connection with those places.”

Even so, Gagne is one of them. He spent the first five years of his life in Edmonton, his most vivid memories driving across the High Level Bridge and once getting lost in West Edmonton Mall. “That’s probably the most powerful one,” he says. “Even to this day, when I look at some of the photos, it brings back, not really the panic, but that strong memory.”

His family moved to Moncton almost 25 years ago and hasn’t been back since. What an experience it would be to get the Gagne clan back for a visit, treat them as if they were time travelers in fantasia of modernity. Gagne is an avid collector of old photographs who runs similar websites and Facebook pages for cities across Canada, and he says he was particularly attracted to Edmonton because of all the stories he heard from his parents, who, like many Maritimers of the time (and now) came here to work, and lived here for most of their 20s. Gagne is both intrigued and a little bit scared at the prospect of actually visiting the city he only sees in his dreams.

The Rathole

The Rathole

He says, “You hear people talking about all these places, all the different bars and clubs and the stories of the Rathole and all these things, so it kind of creates this image in your head, almost to the point where you know that going there will never be the same as what you idolized it to be. In a way, that’s part of why I haven’t gone back.”

You can never go home, as they say – but you can get close.