Museum to close due to building deterioration

Mike Carter Chetwynd Echo Reporter

CHETWYND – The Little Prairie Heritage Museum on the Westgate Road will remain closed this summer as it undergoes a transformation and refurbishment.

The building, originally a general store in the downtown area during Chetwynd’s humble beginnings, is in need of an estimated $100,028 in repairs.

In the basement, a rusting jack-post stands off to the side, propping up the main support joist for the building’s beveled floor. The building itself is sagging.

Outside, the deck that was built with non-pressure treated lumber leans to one side. Upstairs a live-catch rattrap sits waiting for the furry critter that has been gnawing away at the walls.

“It’s a safety issue, and it’s us being proactive, and dealing with the cards that we have at hand,” said Julie Shaw of the Little Prairie Heritage Society. “The reason we want to shut it down is because of the liability issue. The fortunate thing is the foundation is real good according to the people that did the quotes.”

The floor will be completely redone, the front and side deck will be removed and new replacements installed, there will be repairs to the rafters and the false front roofline. The carpeting inside will be removed and replaced with new flooring, and two upstairs windows will need to be replaced as well.

“We need to replace [the] set of windows because we have no ventilation and of course, what happens when you have no ventilation is you get mould issues. You can tell when you walk in there it has an odour to it,” Shaw said.

The repairs will be completed over the summer. Barring any unforeseen delays, the museum is scheduled to reopen in the summer of 2014. In the meantime, the contents of the museum will be sorted through and stored away in a C-Can storage container.

“We can kind of sort through it and make sure we don’t have duplicates. The only thing we’re going to sell or give away would be the original windows.

Maybe somebody wants them for their own personal greenhouse or they have a project with the frames or what have you. If we have duplicates we may look at exchanging them with other museums,” said Shaw.

The Little Prairie Heritage Society (LPHS) will also take part in the large job of cataloguing every piece on display and digitalizing the photos and newspaper clippings it has.

At the groups monthly meeting, held Feb. 25 at the public library, discussion was continued about how to fund the repairs with an operating budget of only $9,402.

Shaw has contacted the Peace River Regional District who have instructed the LPHS to apply for Grant-in-Aid funding through Electoral District “E” Director, Jerrilyn Schembri. As well, the group is planning a submission for a cultural grant through the Fair Share funding program.

The LPHS will be approaching the District to see what – if any – contribution could be made to the renovations and are putting the call out to local businesses to see if the interest is there to supply materials by donation or at a discount.

“The thing is you need to get this place done up and if we just spend the $100,000 we’ll be able to do this and we really wouldn’t have to worry about it for some period of time,” Shaw explained.

Once the refurbishment is complete, new exhibits and events will be held at the building.

“I would love to have it changed around, so it’s not static,” Shaw said. She suggested perhaps a Christmas in July or an Easter in August as two tentative events.

“The problem is from my perception people have come here through the years and it hasn’t changed. We want people to come visit, whether they come to visit the museum itself or they come to visit the grounds. We would love to have families have picnics out there. Come enjoy the museum and the grounds. Even if the people could come look around and come and peek in the windows.

Of course it takes a lot of money to run a museum but on the other hand you need the people to come here.”