Campus Life

50 Voices research project gathering steam

The University of Lethbridge, as central as it is to the fabric of southern Alberta, means something different to each person who has walked its hallways.

What better way to commemorate the U of L’s 50th anniversary than by giving those who have been part of the University’s journey the chance to tell their stories? That’s the idea behind the 50 Voices research project by the Centre for Oral History and Tradition (COHT), led by Dr. Chris Hosgood, a historian and co-chair of the 50th anniversary steering committee, Professor Emeritus Dr. Jim Tagg, Mike Perry, University archivist, Dr. Heidi MacDonald, a history professor, and Tracy McNab, project manager.

“There’s not one story of the University of Lethbridge,” says MacDonald, COHT director. “The great thing about oral history is that people interpret their own experience. The goal here is diversity.”

“The objective is to attain a richness and multiplicity of voices,” says McNab (BASc ’81, MA ’09). “We’re looking for voices from all populations, including students, professors, staff, community members, and alumni. We want to include everyone, from the movers and shakers to the ones we should know about but don’t. We want to get a flavour of what the University has been like these last 50 years.”

Tagg has already captured some of that flavour in the interviews recorded for the First Generation Oral History Project. Those interviews focused on the formative years at the U of L and include such gems as the story of how Dr. Dennis Connolly, a longtime mathematics professor, joined the ranks of the University.

Connolly found himself stranded in Lethbridge in April 1967 when a blizzard shut down travel across southern Alberta. He knew nothing of Lethbridge then; it was merely a stopover on his way from Yellowstone National Park to Banff.

“I’ve never seen so much snow in my life. It was five feet of snow within a day or two. They were feeding cattle with helicopters,” he says.

Being stuck in a motel, Connolly found a copy of the Lethbridge Herald and read an article about the new University opening in a couple of months. With nothing else to do, Connolly made his way to the college campus to have a look.

“I put in an application,” he says, adding he thought he’d work for a year or two before doing a doctoral degree. “I thought it would be a new start and I’d be a professor all of a sudden.”

Excerpts from some of the First Generation recordings will be used in the 50 Voices project, complemented by additional interviews with other voices, like that of Sheila Matson, a U of L employee since 1968. She started in the registrar’s office when the U of L was still in its infancy.

“It was a really cool time. We were in little trailers over on the south side just at the corner where you turn to go the Enmax Centre,” she says. “I’m a people person and the thing I’ve loved about the University is interacting with faculty and staff and students.”

Matson has been an administrator in almost every department on campus, from anthropology to student awards, and she’s watched the U of L become the dynamic place it is today. She didn’t hesitate to participate in the 50 Voices project.

“I was absolutely stunned, first of all, to even be asked. It’s a remarkable undertaking, especially for the 50 Voices to represent the diversity of this place,” says Matson. “I feel thrilled and very proud to be asked to contribute.”

To ensure a breadth of voices is included, the 50 Voices final project will feature equal numbers of interviews with men and women, represent all of the University’s constituency groups and cover the entire U of L timeline.

“We want a variety of stories from all walks, so the process is extremely difficult. We have literally tens of thousands of people from whom to choose. It’s been a tough job for us,” says MacDonald.

“It’s a considered effort and a lot of work has gone into looking at the people who have been brought forward. We’ve had suggestions from all over and we are still accepting suggestions,” says McNab.

Since 50 Voices is a research project, approval from the Human Subject Research Committee was sought and granted. Students are involved in the project through Applied Studies placements. In addition to selecting excerpts from the First Generation interviews, they will participate in interviewing new subjects. The end result will be a webpage with a photo of each participant, a short biography and a link to an audio excerpt from their interview. The interview excerpts will be less than five minutes long, but the full interviews will be available through University Archives.

“Through these interviews we’re also building sources and preserving materials for future scholars,” says MacDonald. “Oral history, more than other kinds of history, is democratic and grassroots, bottom up. It shows that history is completely dependent on one’s perspective. We don’t believe in a single narrative. We think 50 Voices will, to some extent, give 50 histories.”

Suggestions are welcome and can be submitted by email to