It’s time that Clearwater had its own museum

There have been several local attempts to establish museum collections, each enjoying some success

Eleanor Deckert

A riddle: What is invisible, intangible and yet motivates each person every day?

What is both fragile and enduring, yet could be lost in silence and crumble to dust if not captured, recorded, preserved and treasured?

Answer: Our story. Our history. Our decisions, limitations, hopes, efforts, goals, and all of the other intangible things which prompt our actions, only to become a wisp of memory as time keeps tirelessly moving on.

A puzzle: What small unrelated pieces does each family hold that, if gathered, compared and catalogued, would weave together a meaningful, fascinating whole?

Answer: Everyday objects and rare artifacts hold meaning and remind the storyteller of the sequence of events, specific places, names of people, the significance of dates, an individual’s decisions which led to actions.

When these stories and artifacts are collected, labelled and shared, it is called a museum.

Why doesn’t Clearwater have one?

Barriere has a museum.

Information is posted in the form of a time-line. Much of it comes from Barriere’s local history book, “Exploring Our Roots.” Schools, churches, roads, ranches, telephones, electricity, fires: all of these have places, names and dates.

Clearwater has such a book, “North Thompson Reflections.” Much research has been done. A similar display could be prepared.

Valemount has a museum.

Valemount museumEfforts began in the 1980s, when a rundown abandoned railroad station was going to be demolished. A committee formed. The building was moved and restored by volunteers. Funding was obtained to maintain the facility.

Clearwater has old buildings. Empty spaces, memory-rich places, former businesses, closed schools, condemned churches, any one of which could be restored and reclaimed.

Valemount and Barriere share displays of logging, farming, railroad, families, and lively individuals who left their mark.

Clearwater has similar items, but at present there is nowhere to share them. Clearwater has a similar history, and yet, the details and variations are stories worth preserving and retelling.

What would be needed to begin such an important project?

There is no need to re-invent the wheel. So much information is available on-line today.

If you Google: “How to start a museum” instantly to-do lists, contacts, business plans and templates appear.

First step: the mental work. Envision your purpose, mission statement, bylaws and policies.

Then the physical work: property, buildings, zoning, building codes, access to the public.

Gathering facts, photos, names and dates. Installing display cases and arranging the collections of objects.

Cataloguing archives and repairing, researching and storing additional materials. All of these are on-going tasks and dedicated people need to commit to the work.

Then there’s the maze of decisions surrounding the topic of funding. Is this to be a private museum? Will it be funded by donations or admission? Is it a project that a level of government will address? What are the pros and cons of each of these choices?

There have been several local attempts to establish museum collections, each enjoying some successes.

When Ida Dekelver arrived in the valley in 1958, she began to explore abandoned homesteads and, finding discarded items, began her collection. The Yellowhead Museum opened in 1975, sharing stories of the pioneers with tourists.

Rocks, furs and other items from nature as well as equipment and tools, newspaper clippings and photographs make for variety in this small museum. Visitors also took advantage of Ida’s tour guide skills and enjoy a day in Wells Gray Park. At age 91, Ida can no longer host guests.

Denis Greffard, Ida’s grandson, continues her interest. He has continued his education, preparing for the day when he will take over the collection.

Pete Miller built a beautiful log structure that tourists pass on the way to Wells Gray Park. He hung up a “Museum” sign. Doubling as an antique store, his flea market and auction skills brought additional goodies he could offer as takeaway treasures.

The museum downstairs was set up as an old-time general store with boxes and cans and cartons of familiar products with their old slogans and logos. Shoes and baking supplies, fly paper and hats, a sled and a record player gave the visitor a sense of time travel.

For several years during the 1990s, the quilt club used the space, which doubled as a classroom and gift shop.

More recently, about 2009, North Thompson Aboriginal Cultural Centre used the space as an information and meeting place. The centre’s new location, near the post office, continues to host a small Metis museum display of the Michif Historical and Cultural Preservation Society.

Joan Unterschultz shared her collection in Vavenby after the McMurphy schoolhouse was relocated. On a drop-in basis visitors could glimpse everyday belongings from yesteryear such as pretty glassware and children’s toys, furniture and clothing, books, maps and newspapers.

But the risks of running a private museum are high. Mice and mildew, flooding and fire can damage the paper, fabric, fur and wooden objects. Inexperience and family disagreements can dismantle the collection. Old-timers die. Donations can be sold. Property changes hands. Verbal agreements are disregarded.

Building codes and zoning bylaws have come into effect after these older buildings were constructed. Disagreements between individuals through misunderstandings or differences of opinion decades ago have blocked potential and halted progress. Now what is the owner to do?

Will there ever be a permanent museum in Clearwater?

What properties and existing buildings might be considered? What governing body would need to come into being? What existing organizations could cooperate to share information, scrapbooks, photographs, background data, skills, time, and their own historic story?

Resources are available for research: “North River” by Muriel Dunford, “North Thompson Reflections” compiled by the Clearwater and District History Book Committee, and memoirs by other local authors are available at Clearwater Library and for sale through the YCS Resource Centre and the book rack in Safety Mart.

The Kamloops Museum has an archive room for research and Victoria and Prince George archival photographs can be found on-line. The Times newspaper office has bound books of old newspapers available for research. Recently, students at Clearwater Secondary created an ongoing project to digitally record interviews.

Space and time, a location and a collection, skills and effort all seem within reach. Maybe the necessary missing part of the formula is the hardest to obtain: cooperation?

A Clearwater Museum: so near and yet so far.