Q&A with Evelyn Lewchuk and Dereck Bzowy, volunteers at the Spirit River Museum

Evelyn Lewchuk and Dereck Bzowy

On average, how much time do volunteers devote to the museum?
We had 50 volunteers in the past summer. Together with Dereck and myself, we put in roughly 5,018 hours. We had 1, 343 guests walk through our doors.

Is there a need for more volunteers?
We are always looking to add volunteers. There are no set hours. If all you have is a few hours a week to volunteer at the museum, we will gratefully take that. We try to have two volunteers on during the museum hours so that one can always be in the main building. We have 13 buildings on the museum grounds. Our main building is open year-round.

What is your favourite area/display?
Dereck: I enjoy the army display the most.
Evelyn: I love the camera collection. I also love the school tours.

Do displays change, or do they remain largely the same?
Displays tend to remain the same. We do add new items to collections as we receive them. We currently have well over 10,000 artifacts at the museum.

Word is out that you keep obituaries of area residents on file at the museum. Please tell us about it?
We currently have nine books full of Spirit River obituaries and three books from Rycroft and are adding more books as needed. Obituaries provide important history. Most obituaries have the story of someone’s life and who they were related to. We have had inquiries from all over Canada from people looking for relatives or ancestors. The obituary books hold a wealth of information. Also, if anyone were to write another history book of our area, they will be able to find a lot of information by checking out the obituary books.

The Spirit River Museum has quite an extensive display of buildings and items. Will there come a time when you run out of space, and, if so, is there a tentative plan to add more space?
We are going to be adding a new building on the grounds. Construction is planned for this year.

Can one plan events at the Spirit River Museum?
Yes. We have hosted more than 20 weddings in the small intimate church over the past 20 years. We have also hosted two funerals – one in the small church and one in the big church. We hosted a car show on our grounds as well that was very well attended. We are always open to suggestions if anyone wants to hold an event on our museum premises.

Why is it important to preserve history?
We have to preserve history so future generations can have a taste of how things used to be in our area. Our museum is the caretaker of the history of Spirit River and district. Donated items will remain in the museum for people to appreciate. If you don’t preserve them now, you may never get the chance again.

Is there a steady flow of donated artifacts?
Absolutely! We just recently received a saddle. George Lewchuk’s dream was to have a barn on the grounds. While we currently do not have a space to display the saddle, we are keeping it safe until we do have the space. We never turn down donations. Families who wish to donate items do not have to be from local pioneer families. If you or your family have lived or are still in the area, you are part of our history.

What happens to a donated item?
When a donation is made, we start by having you fill out a certificate of gift. You are given a registration number that is also put on the donated item, thereby marking who donated it. You are asked to sign a release and then we accession it. The number is written up, we document who donated it, and thus create a record of the item. When the item is put on display it is with the registration number as well as the name of the family who donated it.

Sometimes we also receive items donated from outside of our area. For example, we have a Narwhal tusk as well as a cabinet with items from Australia. We are able to use these types of items as educational material. How often do some people get to see items from other parts of the world, right?

How do you raise funds for the care and upkeep of the museum?
We are volunteer-based and do not have paid staff with the exception of having to hire a handyman on occasion to repair things we cannot repair ourselves. Some funds come through grants. Saddle Hills County provides an operational grant and the Town of Spirit River donates funds. We do fund-raisers such as the casino, book sale and bottle collection. We also ask a $5 donation for tours of the museum. Then there are memorial donations when people leave us something in their will.

You provide tours for students. How do students tend to react when they see how their (great) grandparents lived?
The students love it! The teachers are great at demonstrating things, and students get to cut grass, grind grain, wash clothes, make butter – all in the old fashioned way. It gives the students an idea of what daily life used to be like. For most, this is the first time they get to experience that.

Do you think today’s students will be willing to one day take over responsibility for preserving our local history?
We can currently think of a few students who might just be interested in doing that. Today’s youth have such a different lifestyle. But we take time with the kids, have patience and hope we spark an interest. We have a love for our community and a lot of our youth do too.

What is your hope for the Spirit River and District Museum’s future?
That it keeps going. That we keep the doors open. As long as we have volunteers, we feel this place will always be there for people to explore and enjoy.

Do you have a final thought for us?
We would like people to know that we have a collection of over 1,600 family history books, which are very useful for people researching on genealogy. Our books are from all over Canada; most are from Alberta, of course. We would like for people to come and browse through the books. We also have some history books for sale as well as other books donated to us.