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U of G students looking for stories of the arboretum

The stories will be used as part of a project called 'Hear, Here Arboretum' which will help create a new walking tour in the area
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Miriam Al Sari, left, and Amy Moffat are two students at the University of Guelph participating in 'Hear, Here Arboretum.'

If you have a story about the University of Guelph Arboretum, a group of students would like to hear it and use it for a new project.

The project is called Hear, Here Arboretum and it aims to capture oral history of the natural area to share with the community. 

Next week, a group of undergraduate students will be collecting stories from residents about a memory or event affiliated with different locations in the Arboretum. These stories can range from childhood memories, wedding ceremonies, community events and everything in between.

All the stories, along with a photo of each resident, will be put into a digital archive that will be used for a new Arboretum walking tour.

Once established, walking tour signs in the Arboretum will have a phone number that residents can call to listen to the oral histories. There will also be a QR code on the signs, which residents can scan to access a website documenting the project.

The interviews will take place at the Arboretum on July 27 from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. and will continue to be conducted until August 3. Residents must be over the age of 18 to participate in the project. More information can be found at hearherearboretum.org.

Hear, Here Arboretum is inspired by a project started in La Crosse, Wisconsin, by a professor at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse named Ariel Beaujot. 

"There's one in London, Ontario, there's one across Wisconsin, and they're really about downtown cities, and because we were working on the Arboretum, and I knew Ariel, I thought, 'What if we took this out of the city and put it into an actual landscape where people have memories to share with us?'" said Kim Martin, an assistant professor of history at U of G involved in Hear, Here Arboretum.

After speaking with Beaujot, Martin said she agreed to the idea. Martin adds inspiration for this project came from a previous class where a few students covered the history of the Arboretum. Martin has done similar projects collecting oral histories from residents at Norfolk Manor and Downtown Guelph. 

"What we're really looking for are these community stories. People who have visited, gotten married, loved ones who have a tree or bench dedicated in their memory," Martin said about Hear, Here Arboretum. "It's a huge piece of land in Guelph, it's not small, and it's been 50 years, and they have held events here. So people that have childhood experiences there, teenage experiences, all that kind of stuff."

Currently, students have only interviewed volunteers and workers at the Arboretum. Amy Moffat, an undergraduate student of history part of Hear, Here Arboretum, said they are learning the vision for this natural space has changed since it was opened.

"Before digging into it, I just assumed everyone was always like, 'This is exactly how it should be and the vision will always stay the same,' so it's interesting hearing from different people. Hopefully we get enough diverse voices to show the space as it is now, and the vision going forward, and what it was originally, going back to the 1970s," said Moffat.

Miriam Al Sari, an undergraduate student of history and psychology, said it has been an amazing experience learning about oral history, and hopes the project will highlight all who have contributed to the Arboretum while showcasing what the area has to offer.

"All those little, different spaces and sections are open towards the public and maybe somebody doesn't realize what the University of Guelph has to offer, and the Arboretum, because they also have classes for students as well at the nature centre, even for high school (students) as well," said Al Sari. 

By listening to residents' stories about the Arboretum, Martin hopes the project will have students rethink what history is. 

"I also hope they understand that history is not just something that you have to go on to be a teacher, that you can work in the public and you can engage with the community and help people understand themselves, and what they mean to the space, and what the space means to them, " said Martin. 

In September, the Hear, Here Arboretum will take part in the Arboretum Expo. Martin mentions another group of students during the fall semester will continue collecting stories for the project. To participate in the project, contact Martin at kmarti20@uoguelph.ca.


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Ariel Deutschmann

About the Author: Ariel Deutschmann

Ariel Deutschmann is a feature writer and reporter who covers community events, businesses, social initiatives, human interest stories and more involving Guelph and Wellington County
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