The Clinton Museum is celebrating 60 years in its current building in style, with Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart and Clinton mayor Jim Rivett cutting a birthday cake there on Thursday, June 23 at 2:00 p.m. The free event is open to everyone.
There has been a museum in Clinton since at least 1912, but it did not settle into its present location until 1956, when volunteers hand-carried the collection up the street from its previous home in the old shed by the church. The museum building is itself a piece of Clinton’s history, having been constructed of locally-made bricks in 1892. It is the only building made of Clinton bricks that still exists.
The building was a school until 1925, a courthouse from 1925 to 1945, and then served as a dual-purpose school and courthouse until 1951, with students being dismissed from classes while the Clinton Assizes were being held. After that the building “sat gathering dust and spiders,” says Andy May, president of the South Cariboo Historical Museum Society, the volunteer organization that now runs the museum. At some point the BC Buildings Corporation ended up owning the structure, which was formally obtained by the Village of Clinton in 1989.
The museum now has more than 4,000 items on display, and May contrasts that with the Kamloops Museum, which has 40 items on display at a given time. Different things attract different visitors, he notes. “Americans are really interested in the firearms, while Europeans love the 1884 square grand piano.”
Visitors are encouraged to play the piano if they care to, and May says people are encouraged to touch many of the exhibits. “If we don’t want you to touch it, we’ll put it out of reach,” he laughs.
“We’ve just set up an old schoolroom,” he continues. “It has three old desks that have quills, ink, paper, and a wax seal, and we encourage kids to write a letter and seal it. It’s very interactive, very hands-on.”
It is an approach that visitors seem to appreciate. “We’ve had lots of very favourable comments from people from all over the world regarding the size of the display and the hands-on approach.”
When asked what he would recommend to visitors who only have a few minutes, May says it depends on what their area of interest is. However, he says he would take visitors out to the old barn behind the museum, which houses more artifacts. “It’s the old provincial government stable that was built in 1911,” he explains. It was going to be bulldozed in 1999, as there were worries that it was a fire hazard. This idea was met with resistance by locals, who asked if it could be moved.
“Provincial government engineers said it couldn’t be; but don’t tell that to a bunch of ranchers,” chuckles May. “Or maybe do tell it to them, because then they’ll move it.” That is precisely what happened, with locals dismantling the building and moving it to the museum site, where it was reassembled and made usable between 1999 and 2000.
May says he would then bring visitors back past the old freight wagon in the yard. “We like to claim it’s from the 1860s, but it’s probably from the 1880s.” It’s an important part of the museum, he adds, noting that freight wagons built the area. Visitors would then be brought back to the historic museum building itself, a part of Clinton life for almost 125 years.
The museum season is off to a good start this year, says May, with numbers fairly steady compared with last year. “We’ve changed the displays in the museum, barn, and yard.” It is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (closed Mondays).