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Western Development Museum celebrates 65 years of living history

WDM uses modern methods to keep history alive
Reported by Lasia Kretzel
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Paul Carson takes the reins atop the hand-made stagecoach and steers the two big Clydesdales through the Saskatoon Western Development Museum parking lot with ease.

The 95-year-old has volunteered at the museum since the passing of his wife 19 years ago. In that span he’s done everything from farm work to painting.

“What else would I do? This is my second home. I come here, meet the boys and shoot the breeze,” Carson, who grew up on a farm near Biggar, said.

“If I didn’t join the museum I wouldn’t be around.”

Carson may not be the longest serving volunteer but he is the oldest. He remembers a time when farms were smaller and the work was done by horse and hand.

Now he, along with the other volunteers helped the museum celebrate its 65th anniversary last weekend.

Since it opened in 1949, the museum has worked tirelessly to keep Saskatchewan’s history alive. What started off as a museum in a hanger has since grown to four locations in North Battleford, Saskatoon, Yorkton and Moose Jaw.

The museum has also expanded its history from farming to healthcare, energy resources and culture.

A painter and decorator by trade, Carson has helped build many of the museum’s pieces, including the stagecoach, from scratch.

“Lots of people have taken wagon rides, but they really like it when we bring out the stagecoach. Not everyone has had a ride in a stagecoach,” Carson said, adding he thinks such interactive activities might help attract a younger generation.
“I don’t think young people are much interested in history. They’d rather go on the computer. You can’t do nothing about it. Like they say, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”
Marketing director Janet Olsen said getting young families in the door is key to the museum’s future success. That’s why they’ve has adopted new technologies like interactive exhibits, touch screens and virtual exhibits to engage the wire-up generation.

In addition, they’re expanding their artifact collection to include pieces from the 1950s to 1970s.

“That’s key for the museum to keep moving forward and collecting things that are relevant to the younger generations so we can showcase that,” Olsen said.

Meanwhile, as Carson pulls up to the front of the museum to pick up another eager load of stagecoach passengers, he hopes a younger generation of volunteers will step up to keep the history alive.

“I hope we get more younger people to join in because us elderly men are falling off one by one,” he said.

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