Tool time in Big Valley

Historical society on track to open new museum by summer

Construction crews finished pouring the cement for the Big Valley Historical Society’s new museum last week. The steel structure will house a collection of 30

Construction crews finished pouring the cement for the Big Valley Historical Society’s new museum last week. The steel structure will house a collection of 30

After years of fundraising to build a new museum, the wait is finally over for the Big Valley Historical Society.

Construction has begun on a building that will house a new collection of around 30,000 items, donated by the society’s former vice-president, Rod Miller, and his wife Ione.

The collection, which will be named in Rod’s honour, features more than 10,000 tools and other artifacts of life in western Canada.

The steel structure, a project of Big Valley Builders, is to be about 4,000 square feet in size and will be heated and outfitted with electric power. It will be located on Railway Avenue beside the Creation Science Museum.

Last week, a construction crew finished pouring the concrete for the walls and floor. Lois Miller, the society’s director, said the society anticipates opening the new building by next summer.

“It’s all very weather-dependent,” she said. “It may not be totally finished.”

Lois said the new building has been in the works for close to five years. The society purchased a lot four years ago and demolished the house that stood on it to make room for the building, but couldn’t afford to begin construction until recently.

“We had trouble raising the initial funds,” explained Lois, who said the building is expected to cost around $200,000. Of that, about $160,000 has been raised thus far.

A $75,000 grant from Alberta Culture’s Community Facility Enhancement Program provided a major boost, while fundraising events and donations from individuals and corporations have also played a significant part.

The donated items come from Rod Miller’s own collection, pieced together over the decades from auctions, flea markets, garage sales, antique shops — “every which way,” in his own words, from Vancouver Island to Manitoba.

Rod said he began collecting around 30 years ago after finding some tools he couldn’t identify, and from then on it became something of an obsession for him.

In addition to thousands of tools stretching back to the 19th century, the donation includes other items of interest, such as his wife’s antique dolls.

Rod lives in Big Valley, while his wife Ione now lives in a long-term care facility in Stettler.

He said he decided it was time to move the collection to a new home to be shared with others.

“I’m glad the building is finally going up to hold my collection,” he said, “before I get too old to do anything about it.”

For now, the collection is stored in Rod’s workshop, although around 3,500 items have already been placed on display in one of the rail cars that form part of the existing Big Valley Museum.

Lois Miller said the society has begun cataloging the collection, which includes a variety of steam whistles, a motorized bathtub or “tubmobile,” and some homemade tools.

She said she believes it would be the largest collection of tools on display anywhere in Alberta, and likely in Canada as well.

“It should be quite a tourist attraction, I would think,” she said.