The Agassiz-Harrison Museum is a well-preserved portal into the past that helps visitors picture their community in a whole new light.
You don’t have to imagine Canadian Pacific passenger cars rolling up to a crowded station on Pioneer Ave., or the chairs the original Agassiz women sat on while they sipped afternoon tea, or even the flood of 1948 when hundreds of people and livestock fled to Mount View Cemetery for safety. Why? Because the museum has the images and artifacts to take you back in time.
But Agassiz-Harrison Historical Society president Mal Shephard, his wife Linda and former-president, long-time volunteer Joan Vogstad are putting out a call for volunteers. The museum, and the deep history that lives within it, depend on the dedication of committed locals, they say.
“We’re not that much different than anybody that’s in the arts and heritage side of the economy,” Shephard says. “It’s always a struggle getting funding. This museum was put together and run exclusively by volunteers for a long time.”
The museum relies heavily on grants, explains Linda, adding volunteers and employees can be integral to obtaining certain grants.
“In some situations, you need a full time employee to even to ask for [a] grant. If you don’t have that person, because you don’t have the funding to start with, then you’re going around in circles,” she says.
Other grants require fund-matching, which Shephard says the museum has done with in-kind labour.
“If we don’t have access to the volunteer base then there’s another challenge to getting the grants,” he says.
The dedicated group of history-lovers worry that locals might think the museum is owned by the District, and therefore secure.
“If it was already owned by the district, well we wouldn’t have to worry, it [would] be here forever,” Shephard says. “But as a volunteer organization, responsible for trying to keep this going…. that’s what worries us a little.”
While the collection technically belongs to the Agassiz-Harrison History Society, Shephard says in his mind, it belongs to the community. “It’s their history,” he says. “Because of that, it’s important they recognize that they’re as much caretakers of this history as we are.”
The historical society feels positive about the museum’s future. With 3,500 visitors over the summer, their numbers were down 27 per cent, but Shephard says that was the norm for tourism in the area, with forest fires scaring off a sizable portion of potential visitors.
With 7-days-a-week summer hours over, the museum is closed. But the society is happy to open for visitors who call ahead or want to do a group tour.
Most importantly, the focus now is finding volunteers.
“I believe that there is a pool of potential people coming into our District that would both be ideal volunteers and would enjoy it,” Shephard says. “Because when you look at what’s happening in this District, there is tremendous influx of new residents who are young retirees. I’m sure that they are thoroughly enjoying where they moved to and it’s a great way to learn more about it.”
Linda agrees, adding the museum is perfect for learning more about the community and meeting new people.
“There’s all different areas that we need volunteers,” she says. “Some of it is in physical labour, some of it is carpentry [or] it can be archival work upstairs.” Anyone with computer skills would be an asset, she adds. “There’s just so many things we need people for.”
Whether it’s the hidden details, the human stories or society’s advances and growth, Shephard believes preserving, and learning from the past is vital.
“I’m a firm believer in that old adage that if you don’t study history, you’re doomed to repeat it’s mistakes.”
To learn more about becoming a museum volunteer with the Agassiz-Harrison Historical Society, call (604) 796-3545.