Northern Alberta Historical and Railway Museum (NAR) in McLennan has become a major attraction for people travelling through or visiting the region, with an extensive collection of artifacts that depicts what the railway means for the community. “We’ve been so happy with the number of people that have stopped at the museum every year,” says museum committee member Darlene Bruneau. “On Canada Day we had close to 500 people come through our doors.”
The museum features many railway items including a caboose, a speeder shed, an old track supervisor’s car, and the last passenger train used in Northern Alberta. It also has a separate collection in the Kimiwan Birdwalk building featuring a display on the World Wars, a historic school building, an old country store, a church, hospital, and an old home display. “We try to add something new every year to keep people coming back,” says Bruneau. “We’ve had people from all over the world visit our museum.” The museum is set to close for the season, as it is only open through summer months from May 1 until the beginning of September. Bruneau explains that the museum is completely volunteer run and they find ways to fundraise to pay utilities, insurances, and student wages for when they’re open in the summer.
“We’re hoping to bring the museum to life for kids,” says Bruneau. “Oculus makes a couple train headsets that we think would be a great addition to the museum. The virtual reality would make it feel like you’re driving the train.” Bruneau also said the group has looked at potentially adding a model railway to further enhance the experience for young people, noting that the committee understands interests are changing for children and they want to keep the museum relevant and exciting. The individuals who originally brought the idea for the museum together were long-time McLennan residents Pauline Gervais and Fred Napier. Bruneau explains that the railway was the biggest employer in town for a very long time, and much of the reason why McLennan became a town.
The museum had a major addition to it in 2019 when the railway station was moved to McLennan from Falher. Organizers were excited to be able to showcase how the railway impacted the entire region and honour the rich rail history that was held in all the local communities. Their team wanted to ensure to pay appropriate respect to the building that used to rest in the neighbouring town, fundraising significant amounts of money to help restore and update the building. The museum is always accepting donations, both monetary and items that would add to its collection. Specifically, organizers are hoping to expand the aboriginal section of the museum.
“We are always accepting partners, funding, help from tradespeople and also new volunteers to help bring ideas to the table,” says Bruneau, noting that she’s hoping to see some of the younger generation step up to learn about the railway and to help keep its memory alive. “My concern is that many people involved in our organization are seniors, we need to find young people to carry the torch.” If you have items you think would fit well at the museum and would like to donate, or would like to contribute a monetary donation, please call the museum at (1-877) 696-3379 or message the group on its Facebook page.
South Peace News - southpeacenews.com
Emily Plihal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, South Peace News