It’s impossible to describe how profoundly moving it is to walk through Trail history in the city’s new museum.
You’ll just have to go see, hear, and watch it for yourself.
And more than once at that.
Because now that archived treasures are out for everyone to view, there will be a jog – many jogs – down memory lane for the Trail community, as well as lessons to learn from the city’s rich past.
Sarah Benson-Lord, Trail Museum and Archives Manager, took the Trail Times on a preview tour before the Riverfront Centre officially opened on Monday. The deal was to keep everything under wraps until the ribbon-cutting, which is understandable, because there’s so much history – and “wow” – to take in from the very thoughtful collective, that one story cannot do it justice.
So we asked her how it felt to finally have a space dedicated to Trail history, which includes a special archives room with its own HVAC and humidity control on the second floor as well as a new microfilm reader and research desk.
“(The collection) was tucked away, and we’ve always been thankful to the city for giving us space, but it wasn’t ideal,” she began, referring to the old archives nestled in a far corner of city hall. “This space is ideal from the access and location perspective, but also, we are given the opportunity to make this content relevant. Even if all of it isn’t relevant to everybody, a little bit will touch you in some way.”
A grand staircase embellished with graphics is the first visual punch guests will spot when they enter the Riverfront Centre doors.
“We have such a tremendous collection of panoramic photos, this was the best place to utilize that, with the skylight above,” Benson-Lord said. “We worked with Teck to develop this visual, and we didn’t want to focus solely on industry, we wanted to focus on community.”
The city’s flagship collection, the sports gallery, is off to the right of the staircase on the first floor.
“People that come in here will want to see the flash, the bright colours, and see it busy,” Benson-Lord said. “So with this gallery we were really lucky because the artifacts speak for themselves.”
Upstairs, a soft colour palette casts a calm, more reflective, mood.
“We were able to utilize our massive photograph collection,” she continued. “We’ve got over 13,000 photographs in our collection, so especially upstairs – where we don’t have the artifact or a tangible item to represent a story – we certainly have the imagery, and that’s what has been so great.”
After a tour through the prodigious sports gallery – which includes huge silver trophies dating back to 1911, early skate blades and curling artifacts as well as original Little League uniforms and a custom case that honours every team that was ever in the WIHL – Benson-Lord took the Times to the second floor galleries.
Again, visitors may be taken aback by the sheer volume of archival content and obvious heartfelt thought that went into the museum’s design, which begins with “A Prelude to Settlement” and remarkable First Nations artifacts.
Looking at the early arrow heads and tools of Lake Tribes, museum-goers will likely feel like they are in the presence of something very special.
From there, the exhibits move into a time when settlements began to spread, the smelter was being constructed and gathering points like the Crown Point Hotel and Arlington Hotel were going up.
There’s even shards of ceramic plates, a spoon and trading beads that were discovered at Fort Sheppard.
From there, the museum moves into industry. First, there is the story of Randolphe ‘Ralph’ Diamond, the inventor of differential flotation, which was a metallurgic process that catapulted Cominco and the Trail smelter into the forefront of Canadian mining companies back in the 1920s.
There’s even Diamond’s original drawing of his flotation machine, which Teck Trail’s Carol Vanelli Worosz donated to the Trail Historical Society on behalf of the company.
That leads into a section focused on immigration, replete with photos of Trail pioneers, voice recordings of their stories, and exhibits of unique artifacts like naturalization papers and an old pasta pot donated by the Colombo Lodge.
As the city developed through industry, then came the finer things like arts and culture, Benson-Lord explained.
Inside a 100+ year-old wooden cabinet from the original CM&S office, are bagpipes, a clarinet, even a woman’s fancy evening gown, still in pristine condition, which reflects a flourishing music and dance scene in Trail.
Benson-Lord pointed to a pipe band drum that sat on a Legion shelf for many, many years.
“All the skin had peeled, so we sent it to a conservator on Bowen Island and he fixed it for us “ she said. “And the Trail Legion donated it to us.”
Finishing touches were still underway last week, so the last part of the tour had Benson-Lord being pulled away to touch base with exhibit designers from Westwind Design Group of Calgary.
Also, there are a number of flat screens installed at various points that play footage of vintage hockey games, May Day parades and the like. But with the hustle and bustle of last minute set up, we saved that viewing for another day.
So for the last part of the preview, we had to pick up the pace a bit.
There are letters written from Trail soldiers fighting in the trenches of the first World War and exhibits from WWII , including a section dedicated to Jean Stainton, Trail’s own Rosie the Rivetor.
From the vast wartime and industrial collective, the museum flows into the history of social and commercial development. For example, the education-related exhibit. For those long enough in tooth, the Kootenay Columbia Heritage Society has loaned a number of items, including the “strap” from Sunningdale school.
And of course, there are dedications to high profile city pioneers such as Walter Hull Aldridge, S. G. Blaylock and Ralph Diamond.
Finally, and with great impact, is the “Labour Movement” exhibit.
“We can’t talk museum without the labour movement,” said Benson-Lord. “I think we’ve done it some justice here. Local 480 was an extremely generous donor, and we are pretty proud of this and hope they are really proud as well,” she added.
“And we kind of like that Ginger Goodwin is watching us walk out of here.”
If you would like to know who Ginger Goodwin is and why he is a key character in Trail – and Canadian – labour history, then you can visit the museum beginning April 3. Hours of operation are Monday and Friday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
While there is no admission to the building, there are donation boxes on site.
With treasures from so many nooks and crannies in Trail, there’s something for everyone to see and learn from in the new museum, says Benson-Lord.
“That’s just a natural aspect of Trail citizens,” she shared. “This inherent pride, you are just born with it. If you are from Trail, you are proud of it. And now we have the forum in which to celebrate it.”