Small Town Museums – Keeping History Alive
“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”– George Santayana
We’ve all seen them, the small town museums created in an old building, or grain elevator, with artefacts that run the gamut from hair curling devices of torture (Sceptre Great Sandhills Museum) to 80-plus year old cured bacon (Eastend Historical Museum), but why is it important that we preserve these artifacts and the stories that go along with them?
Ask one of the many tireless (and tired) volunteers who collect and catalogue these artifacts and they’ll tell you it’s an opportunity to preserve their own community’s and family’s heritage, but even if you or your family have never lived in one of these small towns, their history can help inform you about the world you live in, and a time gone by, while also giving kids a hands-on experience that is often behind glass at a larger more sophisticated museum.
Want to touch the hide of a buffalo or a now-extinct Great Plains Grizzly? Small town museums can help you out. Want to try laying on a much-shorter bed to discover the difference in size of the average man or woman of a few years ago – small town museums can help you out.
Want to know why society evolved in a certain direction and why we aren’t all living in identical communities? A small-town museum can showcase that evolution and direction for you in a real-world way.
More than just the keepers of history though, small-town museums also often act as the cultural hub of the community, offering events and activities that enrich a community’s sense of place.
Such was the case for the SW Sask Oldtimer’s Museum in Maple Creek’s recent Living Heritage project, which engaged local artist Geoff Phillips through the Artist in Communities grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board to link Maple Creek’s “vast and rich history” to the arts by allowing participants to literally have their hands on history.
A visual arts program that was opened to the public, it looked to reflect on the community’s heritage and the on-going work that is being done to conserve it not just by museums but by places of recreation including the nearby Fort Walsh and the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, and the impact these sites have as places for learning and the making of memories.
In Gull Lake the Museum offers both tourists and residents alike, the chance to sit down enjoy a cup of tea and hear of the stories of the past, while the Blumenfeld Church (now decommissioned for religious services and preserved as a Heritage Site) near Leader, offers a glimpse into the tenacity of pioneers when you realize it took approximately 250 horse-drawn wagon loads of 250lbs of gravel each, from a quarry over 15 miles away, to build the foundation that the Church sits on, as well as the Grotto that pilgrims still visit every June.
If you love hands-on learning and a good tale, take the time on your travels to stop at one of the many small-town museums that dot the landscape. Chances are you’ll learn something you never knew before.
Museums of the Cypress Hills Destination Area
T. rex Discovery Centre (Eastend, SK)
Great Sandhills Museum (Sceptre)
Grasslands Museums and Visitor Centres