In 1973 a group started meeting regularly to discuss ways of preserving the history of Bonnyville and area. They wanted to make a film, but after realizing how expensive it would be, settled on putting together a book to tell the story of the region. Through the process of making the book, Echoes of the Past, the group decided to form the Bonnyville and District Historical Society and it was incorporated June 12, 1980.
Germaine Prybysh, current president of the society, says the group became incorporated to take advantage of funding. After the book was published, the group decided to open a museum. First, society members looked at the Duclos Hospital, but settled on the piece of land where the museum currently sits at the east end of town on Highway 28.
“It's important because it's the preservation of our lives and our history,” says Prybysh.
The museum currently has 13 buildings full of historical artifacts. While the historical society celebrates its 30th year this week, the museum will celebrate 25 years next year.
Réal Girard, president of the society in 1982, says after the release of Echoes of the Past the society was at risk of fading away. However the team pulled together around the museum to ensure preservation of Bonnyville's history.
“It's something that's in our nature. We like to know where we come from,” he says.
Lucien Croteau joined the society when it decided to start a museum. Croteau went on the road canvassing for support. He says he wanted to help preserve the antiques and machinery.
“I believe we have good people to look after the museum right now. That's why I'm really pleased with the museum because we're progressing all the time.” He says the museum is important to help remember the improvements in the world.
Prybysh became involved when asked by Croteau to do research on Angus Shaw for the historical society in 1988. She found that she enjoyed volunteering with the group so much that she has stayed with it ever since. Fondness for history turned out to be no passing fad for her; she started her 11th term as president this year.
“It's a passion and I'm waiting for somebody who can have as much passion for it to take over because I don't want it to fall down,” she says. “We have a good team. It's easy to work when you have a good team.”
She says she hopes more young people will get involved to keep the society going.
“We need to be more visible. We need to be more community minded,” she says.
The first president of the society was Henri Bourgoin, who co-founded it with Henri Lemire, Jeanette Bourget, Blanche Vallée, Jean-Claude Lajoie, Denis Germain, Rose Gray, and Randall Fowle. The society's two goals are to run the museum and increase awareness of local history.