ST. PAUL - The St. Paul Historical Museum is kicking off its summer season with an open house June 19 and organizers are hoping people interested in the region’s history will take the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with the impressive collection that has been years in the making.
The open house begins with a barbecue at 12 noon and entertainment with local musician Rollie Poitras front and centre stage. The annual event was sidelined the last two years by the pandemic, so the museum is excited to throw open the doors to the community to enjoy some good company while taking a walk down memory lane.
Clem Fontaine, president of the People’s Museum Society of St. Paul and District, is eager for visitors to see the group’s latest addition at the museum – an old school room which has been carefully recreated to capture the era of one-room schoolhouses that were once scattered across the area.
The display depicts what school rooms in the early 1900s would have looked like. The windows were salvaged from an old white schoolhouse that was once situated just west of the Catholic Cathedral. Carefully stored away until a use was found, the windows now have been given a new home. Natural light was an important element of the old schoolhouses, with a bank of windows a key feature of each one.
“We always wanted to show the old schoolhouse and how it looked,” Fontaine said. “We’ve been collecting for a long time planning this.”
Fontaine together with Fred Gratton and Ernie Piquette constructed the school room inside the museum’s main building, using lap-siding commonly used in the construction of schools of the era. Stepping through the doorway, the room features the traditional student desks, old wood stove, water jug, chalkboard, old scribblers and textbooks, lunch cans that would have been old lard or syrup cans and on the wall is a massive map of the Dominion of Canada and Newfoundland from 1902 and a wall calendar from Brosseau Bros. Department Store from 1947.
Alberta’s first one-room schoolhouse was built in Edmonton in 1881. By 1910, Alberta has 1,501 school districts with 1,195 schools, with the vast majority being in rural areas, according to information from Alberta Historic Places website.
Over the years, the People’s Museum which focuses on curating the area’s agricultural heritage, has recreated numerous vignettes that have become permanent displays at the museum including a blacksmith shop, barn, barber shop, trapper’s cabin, general store, farm kitchen and dental office complete with the tools of the trade that would have been used at the time. There is also an extensive collection of farm machinery on display in the museum’s yard. A completely restored log home known as the Destrube home has been on the site for public viewing since 2011. Furnished in period style, it provides visitors with an opportunity to step back in time.
“It’s our history and there is so much to learn,” Fontaine as to why the work of the museum and its volunteers is important. “We often get the comment that we have the best museum in Alberta. There is a lot to learn from our history.”
The museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through to September. For people who have been before, it is worth a return trip to see the new school room and the Ukrainian pioneer display curated by Amil Shapka, an especially fitting tribute given the war in Ukraine. For those who have never stopped by, it is an impressive showcase of the area’s history that has carefully been curated through the years.