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Museum portrays prairie life as it once was

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On July 1, people around the country will celebrate Canada Day. However you spend the holiday, consider how our country has changed since it was established in 1867.  Life back then was nothing like it is today.  Here in Westwood, we have our own little window into the past.

The Historical Museum of St. James-Assiniboia at 3180 Portage Ave. (right across from Superstore), boasts three buildings, including an 1856 Red River frame house. Originally built in Headingley by former Hudson’s Bay Company employee William Brown, the home was relocated to its current site in 1970. The historic Municipal Hall Building at the corner of Banting Drive and Portage was built in 1911 and served its civic duty until 1969; it now displays artifacts and story boards of early trade, the development of Unicity and the local commercial district. The third facility on the complex is an 1890s interpretive centre depicting period prairie life — farming, butter-making, blacksmithing, transportation, etc.

The museum is a treasure trove of approximately 5,000 artifacts: cultural textiles, militaria and decorative arts which illustrate the history of the St. James-Assiniboia area. Although open year round, summer is when the museum really comes to life — staff wear period costumes, guide tours and model ‘the way it was’ way back when.

Pioneer Heritage Day, on July 26 this year, is an annual community event featuring live music and dance, pioneer activities, refreshments, period play acting and a silent Auction. Festivities run from noon to 4:30 p.m., and admission is free!

Museum director/curator Bonita Hunter-Eastwood says funding comes from a variety of sources including government; in the recent past they’ve been grateful for the support of Coun. Grant Nordman (St. Charles).

Given its age, maintenance and accessibility are expected concerns for the museum. The city is apparently working on an official designation for the ‘significant historical building’, and one would hope to see all three structures made wheelchairfriendly in the future — only the Interpretive Centre is presently accessible.

During the summer, the complex is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

In the off-season, the museum offers tours by appointment, delivers off-site programs, hosts exhibits in malls, and conducts workshops for special interest groups, senior centres and schools.

For information about the museum, hours, tours or programs call 204-888-8706.  

Sharon Pfeifer is a community correspondent for Westwood.

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