History in the Making

Film graduate Joel Schwarz and some of the key individuals interviewed for the retirees’ video.
by Christine Hearn
Photograpy by Greg Ehlers, Photo effects: Rick Butler

An oral record of SFU's early days

It began at a meeting of the executive of the Simon Fraser University Retirees Association (SFURA). The group wanted to do something for the 40th anniversary celebrations, and board member Bev Carlson, formerly with housing services, suggested an oral history on DVD.

“We were talking about the fact that so many voices were being lost as people retired, moved, or passed away, and we began thinking about somehow trying to capture their stories and voices,” explains Marv Wideen, education professor emeritus and association president. “We received funding from the president’s anniversary fund and that’s how it all started.

“We sat down and generated a list of names [of people who] we thought should be interviewed, then decided the people we chose to interview should be representative of students, faculty, and administration, as well as different departments.”

In the end, those chosen were faculty members Ron Baker, Roy Carlson, Thelma Finlayson, Maurice Gibbons, Malcolm

Page, Klaus Rieckhoff, and Hal Weinberg; staff Marilyn Cairns, Win Caldwell, and Harry Evans; and students Allen Garr, Stan Smith, and Stan Wong.

SFU alumnae Bev Carlson, retired staff member, and Evelyn Palmer, retired senior lecturer and lab instructor in chemistry, were instrumental in getting the project off the ground. “We didn’t limit ourselves to the early years – ’65, ’66, and ’67 – but that’s how it worked out. The most recent person we interviewed was Thelma Finlayson who came in ’68.”

There was broad agreement on the themes of prehistory, history, architecture, PSA, recruitment, how people got started, entertainment, and student life. There was also consensus on the individuals to be interviewed. Each was

carefully selected to give a different perspective and to ensure various viewpoints were represented. Then came the hard part: how to interview 13 people on a variety of themes and still have a product that would be informative, engaging, and entertaining.

Enter Joel Schwarz, a 2002 graduate in film, currently on contract with the Centre for Educational Technology and LIDC. “I suggested we do it like a documentary and do a series of interviews in the same room so it looked cohesive,” explains Schwarz.

“He was pivotal,” says Wideen. “He anchored it, figured out a process, and managed to work through the editing process while coping with the diverse opinions of the eight-member SFURA executive board.”

The process ensured that all members of the SFURA executive were involved at every step. Board members conducted the interviews, Schwarz made notes during the meetings, and all board members reviewed all the interview footage. The interviews are supplemented by archival photos and footage.

“The most important thing is that they decided as a group how the video should turn out,” says Schwarz, “What I got out of it was how to tell a story through a group of people using their own voices, and how to work with a group who were clear about what they wanted, yet were still prepared to let me be artistically creative.”

The group is planning to do at least one more oral history project featuring different people, but using many of the same questions.

The DVD is available at the SFU bookstore or from the SFURA web site at <www.sfu.ca/retirees>