Although we’re sure we can find something to criticize and complain about if we really tried, we’re in a relatively good mood this week for a change.

That’s because one of our favourite places in Hay River is reawakening from its annual winter slumber.

We are talking, of course, about the Hay River Heritage Centre, AKA the museum. (We never quite understood why the community has the Hay River Museum Society, yet calls its museum a heritage centre. But that’s a question for another time.)

As we have already said, we welcome the return to life of the museum.

A museum is a special place in any community, and the Hay River Heritage Centre is certainly special here.

The building itself is an historical artefact. It was built as a Hudson’s Bay Store in 1946 on what is now the Hay River Reserve. It was moved in 1951 to its current location in what is now called Old Town and continued as a Hudson’s Bay Store until the early 1970s. After a stint as a warehouse for Northern Transportation Company Ltd., the building was sold for $1 to the Hay River Museum Society in 2000.

In the following 18 years, the museum’s role in the community has only grown.

In recent years, it has begun to open its doors for various events – musical performances, plays and a Ladies’ Night, to name just a few. Those events have been quite successful, and have made the museum more relevant to the community. It is now not just a place to remember the past, but to enjoy the present.

The museum has also in recent years expanded it grounds to create what is basically an outdoor museum. That has definitely added to its appeal.

The Hay River Heritage Centre is also a living place. It changes from year to year as some exhibits are gradually replaced. Certain exhibits will probably be there for as long as the building is standing – the buffalo head on the wall, for instance – but others will be changed to keep the exhibits fresh and surprising, even for residents of the community.

Last week, we got a peek into the museum before it opens for the season on May 26, and we were kind of surprised with the extensive work that goes into getting the building ready for visitors.

And that brings us to the most important thing we want to say. That’s a massive thank-you to the staff at the heritage centre and the volunteer members of the Hay River Museum Society for the effort they make in keeping the community’s history alive.

Some people might think that history is recorded automatically, and to some degree that happens in contemporary books, and records by churches, courts and other institutions. And even community newspapers like The Hub are historical documents, along with the new kid on the block, the internet.

But nothing is quite like a museum. Not only does it have records, it keeps a collection of artefacts – actual things from the past.

Nothing can replace looking at history.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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