Fascinating facts and intriguing stories about Okotoks’ unique history will fill the Okotoks Museum and Archives in a year-long devotion to a Canadian milestone.
In celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, the museum is displaying facts and stories that reflect numerous aspects of the community since the nation’s confederation in an exhibit entitled Our Place in History.
Information includes settlers’ stories, the introduction of the railroad, local businesses, community activities, policing and the impact of war on Okotoks.
“I didn’t’ want to just have a short-term exhibit around Canada Day, I wanted something that whether you came to the museum in January or you came in September there would be something related to Canada’s 150th birthday and how Okotoks fits into that history,” said museum specialist Kathy Coutts.
“It really is hard to jam pack 150 years into an exhibit.”
Museum staff will make changes to the exhibit throughout the year.
“I tried to pick themes that could be broken down into almost bite-sized spaces because every exhibit space is very small,” she said. “I made this plan so it could evolve and nothing is left out.”
For example, Open for Business, which features the various businesses and industries in Okotoks over the years, will change three times, said Coutts.
From January to May it will focus on business and industries that relied on natural resources, May to September will feature businesses that shared the news like newspapers and radio stations, and September to December will focus on small businesses, said Coutts.
The exhibit Trails, Rails and Settlers’ Tales tells the story of how settlers immigrated to Okotoks and will initially have an exhibit on the Macleod Trail borrowed from the Museum of the Highwood in High River.
“The Macleod Trail very much played a significant role in how our community developed,” Coutts said. “It features a lot of research and work that Bill Dunne of Cayley did.”
The exhibit will then change into the arrival of the railroad, said Coutts.
“We will use those two themes throughout the year, but change some of the settlers’ tales,” she said. “Everyone had a story to tell - just the perseverance of how people traveled here and stayed here. There are some remarkable stories.”
An exhibit called Essential Services will tell stories of policing in the west, starting with a focus on police history including the North West Mounted Police, town police, Alberta provincial police and RCMP through the first half of the year.
It will end with details about the fire department, including major fires in Okotoks, said Coutts.
An exhibit in the balcony room will initially feature churches, clubs and weddings in Okotoks and then change to a focus on games and sports that were popular in Okotoks, she said.
“We’ve had a long history in sports,” she said. “We had a tennis club at the turn of the century, a cricket club and a golf club.”
In October, the exhibit will focus on one-room schools, Coutts said.
Our Place in History will also contain an exhibit featuring the impact of war on Okotoks, including a focus on the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge and on Okotoks’ military service from the Boer War in South Africa to peacekeeping in Afghanistan.
Coutts said the exhibits will appeal to everyone, whether they’re tourists wanting to learn a bit of Okotoks’ history or residents wanting to delve into the place they live.
“Having a milestone birthday reminds us that history is important,” she said. “It’s how we got here. Each community is so different, but there are common Canadian threads that tie us all together. We’ve come along way in 150 years.”
Visitors of the museum are also encouraged to write a short sentence about why they love Canada on a red or white sticky note that will create a large Canadian flag.
“I hope to make more than one flag,” said Coutts. “We have two giant windows up there. If we run out of window space I will put it on the wall.”
Coutts said the notes will be archived at the end of the year as a legacy of Canada’s 150th birthday.