Museum of the Highwood celebrating 60-year anniversary
In 1961, it was decided that the Town of High River needed a museum to celebrate its history and the idea was hatched on Sept. 9 of that year.
"One of our former curators here worked at the Glenbow (Museum), so he arranged for them to loan some artifacts and some members from the community brought stuff in," said Irene Kerr, Museum of the Highwood curator and director.
"But the craziest thing of all is they actually opened the museum to the public on Oct. 12 (1961), so in just over a month they managed to get the space ready, set up some displays and open their doors."
The town just south of Calgary has a long history that dates back thousands of years to when Indigenous people camped in the area.
"The Blackfoot people, this was a major area where on their seasonal rounds they, stopped and camped here," said Kerr. "There was a good crossing called The Crossing because it's a good place, only at certain times of year, to get across the Highwood River."
By the mid 1800s High River was part of an important trade route between Fort Benton, in Montana, and Fort Calgary. As the town grew, so did its history.
In 1971, the town purchased the vacant railway station and it became the permanent home for the museum. It's one of the oldest in Alberta and has had its challenges over the years. In 2010 a fire started behind the building in some old patio chairs and spread into the attic where artifacts where stored, and water from fire hoses flooded the basement, where more artifacts where kept.
"They had to remediate the building so we had to move out for 22 months and we moved stuff all over the place and did a lot of work on it," said Kerr. "We had volunteers that spent hundreds of hours restoring things, we didn't lose a lot of things at that point."
But the museum wasn't so lucky in June 2013 when the entire town of High River was flooded and had to be evacuated. The basement of the museum was also flooded, but even worse, much of its collection was being stored in the basement of the Highwood Memorial Centre. Volunteers and professional restoration specialists were able to save some valuable items like saddles, textiles and the founder of the Calgary Stampede, Guy Weadick's famous cowboy hat. But they couldn't save everything.
"We did lose 70 percent of our collection in the flood so that was pretty hard," said Kerr. "Because we weren't allowed back into town for 11 days, so anything that was wood or paper suffered the most damage."
And now the museum is dealing with a pandemic and has endured a cycle of closures and openings all while trying to record its collection digitally.
Kerr says in the future the museum is revamping its film exhibit that will soon feature Superman's cape from the third instalment of the movie series that was shot in High River, and create other exhibits for people to enjoy. She says she and her staff are just caretakers of the community's history.
"As everyone always says, if you know about the past you can certainly deal with the present and the future better," said Kerr. "I think that's part of the job of a museum is to make sure people are aware of what happened."
Learn more about the museum online.