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Chronic collector's hoard foundation of The Pas museum

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Laura Hrabarchuk outside The Pas' Sam Waller Museum.

JONATHON NAYLOR / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Laura Hrabarchuk outside The Pas' Sam Waller Museum. Photo Store

THE PAS — The late Sam Waller was nothing if not honest about his penchant for accumulating miscellanies.

"I am a chronic collector," he once said. "I always have been. I collect anything and everything."

But could he have imagined his hoarding would one day flourish into a northern Manitoba landmark?

Welcome to the Sam Waller Museum.

Situated in the heart of The Pas in a nearly century-old building, it's crammed with thousands of artifacts ranging from the historically momentous to the just plain quirky.

"Just a little bit of everything," says Laura Hrabarchuk, the museum's weekend host, in summing up the inventory of artifacts.

Indeed, the Sam Waller Museum is one of those places where you'll notice something new each visit, no matter how many times you stop by.

Up the smooth concrete steps and through the chocolate-brown doors, visitors know they're in for a curious experience once greeted by a two-headed calf fashioned from papier-m¢ché.

Soon they see the real two-headed calf, a preserved, glass-encased marvel of nature that was born on a farm near The Pas in 1950. It's so synonymous with this facility the museum's website assures there's "more than a two-headed calf" to see.

It's true. There are many other stuffed animals on display here, including an armadillo, a wolverine and the head of what would have been one helluva moose.

If you find smaller creatures more captivating, just open the drawers in the Sam's Gallery area to view the butterflies or, even more intriguingly, the dressed-up fleas.

I won't even attempt to categorize the rest of the exhibits, but among their highlights are a sharp-looking RCMP red serge, beautiful Inuit sculptures, compelling photographs, vintage pop bottles and old wristwatches.

It all started with Waller, whose stockpiling ways dated back at least as far as his service in the First World War.

Despite the ever-present danger of battle, Waller reportedly carried around more than his share of war keepsakes as he fought for his native England.

After the war, he found his way to the safe soil of Canada and, eventually, his true career calling in teaching. He arrived in The Pas in 1939 to teach at Big Eddy Day School.

By the time he retired from teaching in 1958, Waller was already known for his trove of war mementoes and teaching aids -- and his love of showing them off.

Waller took the unusual step of buying a couple of small bunkhouses from a lumber company to establish his own historical repository, known as the Little Northern Museum.

It was an instant hit, averaging well over 600 visits a month early on with the kindly Waller as the live-in curator.

Waller kept his museum open 12 hours a day, seven days a week, always putting his inquisitive visitors ahead of his own diversions.

Even when Waller was busy, he was never too busy. Sometimes visitors would stop by to find a sign hung on the front door: "Attendant in Garden."

Though Waller died in 1978, his legacy lives on. No longer confined to its original modest abode, the Sam Waller Museum today occupies the former The Pas community building and courthouse, a gallant brown-bricked structure along bustling Fischer Avenue.

Visitors can still descend into the basement to look at the cramped jail cells that once housed northerners accused of various misdeeds.

A separate, much more inviting room is used to display a range of travelling exhibits.

"(From) all throughout the world, actually, we've had temporary exhibits," notes Hrabarchuk.

Designated as a "Star Attraction" by Travel Manitoba, the museum is a definitive symbol of The Pas, whose few thousand residents hold it in high esteem.

"It receives a substantial amount of community support," says museum director Sharain Jones.

Fittingly, the museum's still-growing selection of artifacts is overseen by a life-size cardboard cutout of Waller, standing amid some well-stocked shelves.

Even in death, the chronic collector continues to amass things.

 

Jonathon Naylor is editor of the Reminder newspaper in Flin Flon.

jonathon_naylor@hotmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 13, 2014 A13

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