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The Roaring Twenties come to life at Okotoks Museum

Exhibit relaunched July 4 highlights a decade full of fun and frivolity.
SCENE-Museum exhibit
Okotoks Museum and Archives specialist Kathy Coutts says The Roaring Twenties exhibit provides a glimpse into life in Okotoks a century ago.

The decade that saw the end of prohibition and drivers fall in love with their automobiles was so special it warranted its own exhibit. 

That was the thought of Okotoks Museum and Archives specialist Kathy Coutts in launching The Roaring Twenties, which will be on view at the North Railway Street institution for the rest of the year. 

“It's a fun decade. It sounds like it was just this fabulous era pushing the limits and wearing dresses that you could see your knees, which was quite a departure from prior times,” Coutts said. “It was such an awakening following World War One. You look at pictures and the people always look like they’re having fun.” 

The exhibit actually opened in January of 2020, but given the museum was forced to close a couple of months later, not a lot of people had an opportunity to see it, so Coutts did some slight revisions and relaunched it July 4. 

Some of the interactive components, including dancing the Charleston and building a flapper hat, have been removed, but the display spread throughout two rooms on the main floor of the museum boasts much else to provide an interesting glimpse into what life was like in Okotoks during the 1920s. 

One of the highlights is Alberta’s 1923 liquor plebiscite that saw 58 per cent support the end of prohibition, although voters at both polling stations in Okotoks were in favour of keeping the province dry by a margin of 168-124. 

The exhibit covers everything from hairstyles and fashions, including examples of a mink stole and a pair of men’s spats, to the impact of radio and the love affair with the automobile. It also provides recipes for a sidecar and a scofflaw, among other cocktails popular at that time. 

With a population of 448 in 1921, Coutts said Okotoks was far from a sleepy little town, its thriving business community featuring an array of stores and services reminiscent of the era, including a shoemaker and blacksmith. One photo in the exhibit shows the 1928 construction of the Willingdon Hotel, now known as the Royal Duke Hotel. 

Coutts said the 1920s were a prosperous time in Okotoks as jobs were plentiful, with some men working in oil fields to the west. 

“People had money to spend, had money to buy a car, money to entertain, buy a radio,” she said. 

The ’20s ushered in many time-saving household inventions such as the refrigerator, vacuum cleaner, electric razor, hair dryer and pop-up toaster, several of which are on display. It was also the decade that brought us the Oh Henry!, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Pez. 

Coutts said the vast majority of items in The Roaring Twenties are from the museum’s collection, donated by members of the public over the years, although she borrowed a few things to round out the exhibit. 

On view until the end of 2022, the display will add some festive items later in the year to show how Okotokians celebrated Christmas a century ago. 

Ted Murphy

About the Author: Ted Murphy

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