A donation from a longtime local resident has inspired a new display at the Ashcroft Museum, which is now open for the season.
Museum curator Kathy Paulos says that they received a donation of a beautiful sampler from Reta Robertson, who passed away in January 2021.
“Reta was married to Fred Robertson, who had been married to Bella Stobie,” says Paulos. “The sampler was made by Bella’s mother Margaret in 1907, and we had one that she had made in 1889 when she was seven.”
Paulos has included both samplers in a “women’s creations” display, which features other items from the museum’s collection such as a dress with smocking, hand-embroidered gloves, and a beautiful lace collar. The pieces show some of the ways that girls and women used their needlework skills: not only to pass the time, but to create items that are useful, decorative, or both.
“When I get a new piece in, I think ‘What else can I add to it; what’s interesting?’” says Paulos. “It takes a while to put a display together, because I then take it apart and move things around. I know it’s done when I like it.”
Asked how many items the museum contains, Paulos shakes her head and says “I couldn’t even guess.” A massive book contains details of the pieces in the museum, which is based on items collected by former Journal editor R.D. Cumming. He began accumulating pieces in the 1880s, and in 1935 opened the first Ashcroft Museum on the second floor of the Journal building.
By the early 1950s the collection had outgrown the space, and was displayed at the former Harvey Bailey warehouse on the east side of Railway Avenue until Canadian Pacific, which owned the building, decided to tear it down. In order to save the collection, the items were donated to the recently incorporated Village of Ashcroft, which put them in storage until a new museum (now part of the fire hall) opened in 1958.
In June 1982 the current museum opened in the former public building at the corner of 4th and Brink, which had been vacated by its last remaining tenant — the post office — in 1978. Since then the collection has continued to grow, and Paulos says they get new donations every year. “I ask myself how a donation relates to Ashcroft’s history, or whether it’s unique, or if it’s something we don’t already have.”
In order to see and keep track of what they have, Paulos is now using an online system developed by Ashcroft Chief Financial Officer Yogi Bhalla, which maps the museum and its artefacts. Each item is being entered in the system with its catalogue number and classification, along with a description including what it is, when it was donated, and by whom, and where it is located within the museum.
While the system will be helpful for the public, Paulos says it’s more for the benefit of museum staff. “It helps us find things, and will be good for summer students or for someone new coming in. It keeps track of where everything in the collection is, so if someone says ‘I’m going to do a new display’ we can see that something is in the basement and something else is upstairs.
“We still have the paperwork, but the new system is nice to have.”
The museum is in the process of hiring a summer student, and Paulos hopes to get someone with good computer and social media skills to continue with the videos that she and former summer student Breana Paulos started doing last year during the pandemic.
“It would be nice to continue with the online stuff. Most of the videos we did last year were about different places like houses, but it would be fun to research a certain artefact and tell the story behind that. The videos were really popular, and some got viewed several hundred times.”
Paulos says that another thing she’d like to do this year is get feedback from the local Indigenous community about displays and get some collaboration.
“I’d like to find out what’s important to them, and use some Indigenous language a bit more throughout the museum, add Indigenous wording to different things.”
She notes that the pandemic makes it hard to plan things for this year.
“We’ll just carry on with whatever we can do online, and we might do a few little things like [last year’s] Project of Heart. We also went to the park and painted, so we can do a few things like that to get people outside. We’ll see what wonderful ideas the summer student might have.”
The Ashcroft Museum is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can also visit the Ashcroft Museum Facebook page for videos, information, and more.