Artifact stolen from Old George's in Whitewood

George Chopping takes pride in showing his collection of items from a bygone era. To hold something in your hands from 200 years ago brings a whole new appreciation for the item, connecting visitors to Old George’s Museum & Hidden Village in Whitewood with the past.

However, every once in awhile, someone decides that their greed is too great to ignore and items mysteriously disappear.

Such is the case with an Indigenous artifact dating back to the 1850s—a black ‘war club’ quite unique in its design.

Chopping noticed the item missing over the May 25-26 weekend, and recalls touring a group of people through his home shortly before the artifact was stolen. He remembered three people visiting the museum on that fateful day, a couple whom he was leading through his bottle room where Chopping is piecing together glass collected from the Manitoba Glass Company site near Beausejour in 1979. The other male did not continue on with the tour.

“This guy says, ‘well, I’m in a hurry. I gotta go’,” Chopping recalls, adding that he told the visitor to sign the guest book before he left. “He didn't sign the guest book, but he left with the war club.”

While Chopping didn’t have a chance to see what kind of vehicle the man—believed to be between 25 to 45 years old—was driving, he thinks the thief may reside in central Manitoba.

The war club has been part of Chopping’s collection for the past eight years. All black, the head is covered in brass buttons and features a metal point.

“It was quite a nice honour to get it,” he said of obtaining the war club. “That one there was my pride and joy.”

A wealth of historical information, Chopping explained how this war club in particular came to bear such unique features.

“The early fur traders—the Hudson Bay Company and that—traded metal points, or they had blacksmiths that made metal points and that was traded to them,” he said, also elaborating on the finer details of the brass buttons decorating the war club. “When you look at them closely with a magnifying glass, they’re not hammered with a hammer. They hammered into the wood, but with a stone because of the little pits in the brass. In those days, you didn’t have all this classy equipment that we have today.”

This isn’t the first time someone has decided to steal from Chopping.

“You have 500 or 1,000 people go through, and they’re just great, and then you get one person that has no scruples at all,” Chopping remarked.

While many items are eventually returned—sometimes noticed through attempts at reselling the artifacts—another piece of Chopping’s storied collection has been missing for decades.

A wood plane used by famed craftsman O.L. (Olaf Linus) Pearson once also called Old George’s place home. Pearson was a Swedish immigrant who initially worked as a lineman on the railroad and had land in the Percival area. While Pearson’s wonderful creations were primarily made of pine, his later work incorporated native species from the Pipestone Valley such as birch and maple. Pearson was also known for adding hidden compartments in his work, likely adding to his delight while watching clients try to figure out where these special additions resided.

The last time Chopping saw the Pearson wood plane (featuring the inscription ‘O.L. Pearson’) was 1981 when the piece was part of a museum tour.

“It traveled with the Museum Association for two years being on display, and then somebody walked off with that and it hasn’t been found yet neither,” Chopping said. No leads on the missing plane have been forthcoming since.

Despite the ‘once in a blue moon’ thefts, Chopping’s love of sharing history has not dashed his enthusiasm, and social media posts about the war club theft have been shared widely.

Anyone with information on this artifact can contact their local RCMP Detachment, or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS). Chopping also noted that if the person who stole the war club has a change of heart, he can mail the item back to him at Box 118, Whitewood, SK S0G 5C0—no questions asked.

Ryan Kiedrowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator