Q&A with Wayne Grusie, curator of Grizzly Bear Prairie Museum

Wayne Grusie and wife Betty are a two-person volunteer team that keeps the Grizzly Bear Prairie Museum in Wanham open.

How long have you been the curator for the Grizzly Bear Prairie Museum?
I have been looking after the museum since 2012, when Stan and Jessie Sather moved to Grande Prairie. Before me, they were the ones mainly responsible for the museum.

What does your job entail?
My job includes upkeep of the building and the grounds as well as organizing artifacts inventory. I mow the grass, apply touch-up paint and repair places that have rotted out. We have five buildings that need constant cleaning.

Are you from around Wanham? If not, what drew you to the area. If you are from the area, was that one of the main reasons for you to step up and become the curator of the museum?
I have lived in the area since 1951, when my father came to farm on the Lassiter Project near Belloy. We have always been interested in the history and stories of our area.

The museum falls under COCO (Community of Coordinating Organizations). Does this mean that the museum does not have to fundraise the way other museums have to? If you do fundraise, what are some of the fundraisers the museum holds?
Right now, we have no fundraiser and rely on COCO and donations.

Are all the local pioneer families represented at the museum? How many old names have remained?
We have definitely tried to include many pioneers and have contributions from many of them.

COCO was formed in 1970, while the museum was founded in 1979 and officially opened in 1981. Was there talk of a museum before COCO? How did the creation of the museum come about?
The idea of establishing a museum came from those who wish to preserve our heritage. And through the generosity of some in our community it became a reality. The donation of the land and the house was the beginning of it all.

The Grizzly Bear Prairie Museum is open seasonally. Where do you get most of your visitors from?
Most of our visitors come from the Peace Country. There were also out-of-area visitors, and it’s interesting to have them and share stories with them.

What are some of the things you’re doing to keep visitors coming to the museum?
The museum benefits a lot from the yearly Wanham Plowing Match. We open the museum throughout the three days that the match is ongoing, and this is the time of year when we get a lot of traffic to the museum. It’s just unfortunate that, due to COVID-19, organizers have to cancel the Wanham Plowing Match for 2020 and 2021.

What was the earliest artifact donation to the museum?
Agriculture-related equipment were some of the first donations the museum received. And it has been an important collection in the museum ever since. We have contributions of all kinds – tractors; plows; threshing machines; household items, especially kitchenware and other items; and tools of all kinds. We also have a dairy display, a fossil exhibit and a schoolroom. Our sizeable display of tractors, plows and threshing machines began with a donation of a few tractors in the early days of the museum.

Are donated items ongoing? Do you accept donations from the area only, or do you also accept other items?
Donations just keep trickling in.

What is your favourite display and why?
The museum has a collection of more than 250 hand planers. That is one of my personal favourites, as I donated most of them to the museum. The 200 or so tractors and 50 plows are also an interesting collection.

How important is it to preserve the history of rural Alberta?
To me, it is very important that we remember and honour those who came before us; they made our area what it is today.

What happens when the museum is off season?
We are restoring artifacts.

Contact:

  • Location: 50th Street, Wanham
  • Phone: (780) 694-3947
  • E-mail: grusieb@gmail.com