Boomtown Trail on map nationally

The Boomtown Trail Community Initiatives Society won the nation’s top history award for its Bringing History and Culture to Life Project

In front of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa last week are award-winning Boomtown Trail representatives Nora Smith (left)

The Boomtown Trail Community Initiatives Society won the nation’s top history award for its Bringing History and Culture to Life Project they started just three years ago.

“It’s still processing,” Ken Duncan, CAO of the society, said about winning the 2013 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Community Programming. “Words like transformational and a lot of other words come to mind, but there isn’t any other word you can use to sum it all up other than stunned.

“From the time we won it until now, I just think it’s a dream and I’m going to wake up and think this didn’t happen.”

Duncan, along with Nora Smith and Christie Mason, went to Rideau Hall in Ottawa last week to receive the award from David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

“The whole experience was something none of us have ever been involved in,” Duncan said. “We were in Parliament and all the MPs for our country, the lawmakers for our county, stood up and gave us applause. How do you describe that? It’s overwhelming.”

The society didn’t even know the award existed, he said. “They reached out to us and they said, ‘You guys are doing some phenomenal work — tell us about it.’ ”

At the award presentation in Ottawa, Phillippe Mailhot, one of the judges, said, “There was an unprecedented number of submissions for this year’s award. So the task for the judges was not an easy one. But, Boomtown Trail stood out because of its creativity and commitment to community engagement.”

So just how did the Boomtown Trail society bring history alive to earn such an honour?

It started in Cumberland, in a country hall that serves rural folk spread out on farms dotting the vast Prairies. The history society wanted to latch onto something that would attract tourists and generate income into their struggling communities.

“What we looked at was, we said, ‘We got big communities, we got little ones, and then we got tiny ones. What do they have in common? What one program could we put in place that they could all participate in at their own size level?’ ”

The society, knowing the area is steeped in rich history, dug a little deeper. They thought about what they call the colourful five per cent.

“These are the folks that pushed the law right to its limit and sometimes might have crossed over it and sometimes made laws, but they were larger than life,” Duncan said. “And what if we brought them back, the person dressed in character, fairly authentic, and present that as though they were that individual, and they did that for 20 minutes and you have three of them — you got dinner theatre.”

Well, it was almost dinner theatre.

The Cumberland women said “we’re done cooking for a bunch of people, desserts we can do, but the meals forget it,” laughed Duncan at the recollection.

“And that is how Boomtown Trail Dessert Theatre was born.”

Legendary Alberta residents like Irene Parlby, a member of the Famous Five who fought for women’s rights, Gabriel Dumont, Louis Riel’s lieutenant during the 1800s, and James Gadsby, a sharpshooter and an American Civil War veteran, come to life with stories gleaned from residents — and even descendants of the colourful five per cent — through entertaining monologues.

A common thread that unravels at these performances is the values from the past.

“When you listen to these characters, or you watch them perform, one of the things that comes through loud and clear is the values at the time,” Duncan said. “We start to see the results of the efforts that were tied to those values. They did something pretty special, those people. Can you imagine the values it would take to be a housewife on the prairies before power? You have six kids and you are living in a one room sod hut and you don’t have power and it’s wash day. How do you make meals?

“We say life was simpler then — I’m not so sure.”

Bringing the Prairies’ rich heritage to life builds community character.

“It makes people value their community,” Duncan said. “We have to look to the past before we can move forward.”


Just Posted

Stettler senior gets 60 days in jail for drug possession

Charged with having ‘small’ amount of marijuana, meth and cocaine

Rhapsody Girls and Tiny Tenors take top award at Provincial Choral Festival

Tears rolled down their cheeks when winners announced: Sylvester

Court full as schools, parents dispute Alberta gay-straight alliance law

Justice Centre argues keeping parents out of the loop violates freedom of religion and expression

Stettler RCMP ask for public’s help

Wants to identify alleged shoplifter

In reversal, Trump signs executive order to stop family separation

President had been wrongly insisting he had no choice but to separate families apprehended at border

A look at what Canadian teams might do in the 1st round of the NHL draft

Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Edmonton in top 10 of upcoming draft

Koko, the gorilla who knew sign language, dies at 46

Western lowland gorilla, 46, died in her sleep in California

Clearview and Wolf Creek school boards sign historic agreement

Partnership will help 2,000 high school students

Trudeau says he can’t imagine Trump damaging U.S. by imposing auto tariffs

New tariffs on Canadian autos entering the U.S. would amount to a self-inflicted wound on the U.S. economy

B.C. inmate gets 2 years in prison for assault on guard

Union rep said inmate sucker punched correctional officer, continued assault after officer fell

Temperature records broken across B.C., again

The first heat wave of the season went out with a bang across the province

Canada’s first national accessibility law tabled in Ottawa

The introduction of the Accessible Canada Act marked a key step towards greater inclusion

Most Read

Weekly delivery plus unlimited digital access for $50.40 for 52 issues (must live within 95 kilometers of Stettler) Unlimited Digital Access for one year for $50.40 Prefer to have us call you? Click here and we’ll get back to you within one business day.