Much to explore at the Big Valley Historical Society Museum

Plenty of history packed into a diverse and extensive collection

The Big Valley Historical Society Museum continues to richly reflect the region’s history through multiple displays and featured exhibits.

There is also the McAlister Motors Garage which is packed with vintage automobiles, trucks, tractors, other antiques and artifacts and the Vintage Tool and Collectibles Museum which displays a huge antique tool collection plus model trucks, tractors and dolls – donated by the late Rod Miller.

“He was the kind of guy who would go down to a farm auction and he would put his hand up for the antique tools until he owned them,” explained Andy Von Busse of the Big Valley Historical Society, which manages the museums with volunteer support.

“He was very personable; very humble. I moved here about 10 years ago and got to know him – he was a good person,” he added. “And so virtually everything in here comes from this one family,” he explained, adding that Miller also lived to see the completion of the museum as well.

“As far as we know, this is the largest antique tool museum in North America,” said Von Busse. “There are about 20,000 items that are catalogued, and not all of them are on display,” he said, adding there are likely thousands more to catalogue yet.

“He was a mechanic and he lived on a farm, so it was the combination of those two things along with his interest in them,” he said, adding that some of the more unusual of the featured artifacts can’t even be identified. “When our tourists come in, they give us some of their guesses,” he added with a laugh.

“This is also our most popular local attraction.”

The Big Valley Historical Society Museum provides visitors with a broader look at the region’s history, while the McAlister Motors Garage, as mentioned, features all kinds of incredible, classic vehicles.

There is indeed much to showcase about Big Valley, which is about 105 years old.

According to the Village web site, “Several of our pioneer families settled in this area before 1910 and Big Valley soon became the center of rich ranching and farming operations. The natural grass (called ‘prairie wool’) provided excellent cattle feed.”

The rails were laid through the area in 1911 as part of the Canadian Northern Railway (CNR).

“The station was built in 1912. Big Valley soon became a thriving terminal with a big ‘roundhouse’, rail yards, stockyards, coal-dock, water tower and general railway maintenance and repair facilities.”

The web site also points out that in 1919, the CNR and Grand Trunk Pacific railways (and several smaller lines) amalgamated to form the new CNR (Canadian National Railway).

Today, folks can explore the remains of the yards and roundhouse via a self-guided walking tour.

As to the discovery of coal, that took place along the banks of the Red Deer River – about 12 miles west of town.

Big Valley coal was described as being of a softer variety, suitable for residential heating.

“The demand for this soft coal remained strong for many years and the mines continued to operate almost up to the time that gas and oil were discovered here in 1950. Oil, of course, has also played a big part in the region’s history as well.

Once developed, the Fenn-Big Valley field covered an area of 78.2 hectares (30.2 sq. miles).

“At its peak, the Fenn-Big Valley Field produced 35,000 barrels of oil a day for Gulf and similar amounts for Shell and Esso.”

As for the Big Valley Historical Society, Von Busse said that the door is always open for more residents to come onboard and join the work of helping to preserve the stories of the region’s past.

“We’d love to get more people involved here – we really would.”

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