The tinny sound of a venerable Victrola provided a welcoming serenade at Lacombe’s Michener House Museum.
To walk through the door is to step back more than a century to when the Rev. Edward Michener and his wife Mary moved to this small farming community of 100 people and set up home in the Methodist parsonage.
Less than a year later, in April 1900, son Roland was born. He would become one of Canada’s most popular governors general, a post he held from 1967 until his retirement from public life in 1974.
While Michener only lived in the house for a short time as a baby, it remained connected to him and was named a Provincial Historic Resource in 1977.
About seven years earlier, the local Chamber of Commerce had expressed interest in preserving the home, which had seen additions and many renovations over the years.
A society was formed the following year and several years of renovations began in 1980.
The home was opened to the public as a museum in May 1984.
Paintings by Mary Michener grace the walls of the living room, which has been redecorated with period furniture and restored with the decorating tastes of the day.
Upstairs, there are a number of showcases recounting Michener’s fascinating life.
A gifted student and athlete, Michener had the highest academic standing in the province when he graduated from the University of Alberta in 1920.
He had taken a short break to join the fledgling air force in 1918, but the war ended before he finished his training. He was named a Rhodes Scholar and studied at Oxford, finishing in 1923 with degrees in civil law and jurisprudence.
Michener’s career in law led to a political career that saw him hold provincial office and he later entered federal politics, winning as representative for a Toronto riding in 1953. He later became House Speaker.
Michener and his party were defeated in 1963 and in 1964 he was appointed Canadian high commissioner to India and the following year he became ambassador to Nepal.
As governor general, Michener was immensely popular and known as Canada’s jogging governor general for his fitness regimen.
It became such a trademark that political cartoons of the day depicted him in jogging clothes, says museum guide Sayde Vockeroth.
Showcases upstairs have a number of items from Michener’s life, including his air force cap, family photos and other mementoes.
There are a number of furnishings that date back to when the Micheners lived in the house. Michener managed to track down the bed he was born in and other bedroom furnishings, which had been sold a couple of times over the years and were traced to B.C.
A staircase and upstairs floors are also original. A church organ in the living room once played in the now-gone Methodist church that was located next to the house.
Vockeroth, a Red Deer College first-year education student, has been guiding tours of the home since she was in Grade 9.
“It’s always nice to have visitors who are really excited about it,” she says. “Everybody loves the record player and the organ.”
Among her favourite artifacts is a unique cooking pot divided into three sections so several items could be prepared at once.
“We should still have something like that,” she says with a laugh. “As a college student, it would be nice.”
Michener always had the air of a gentlemen. Even as a young man, he preferred fairly formal clothes.
“He was a always very clean cut, proper-looking man,” she said.
Vockeroth admires how Michener brought a very clear-eyed view of the role of the governor general as the Queen’s representative in Canada.
The museum is a frequent stopping point for local visitors.
“During the summer, we’re actually really busy,” she says. Even on cold winter Saturdays, it is not uncommon for a dozen people to pass through.
Among those visiting recently were George Geddie, and his wife Heather and his sister Heather.
“I absolutely loved it, “ said sister Helen. “The place has such a wonderful energy and spirit.”
George was captivated by the warbling Victrola.
“It instantly transported us back to the Zeigfeld Follies girls dancing.”
The Michener House Museum is open Saturdays over the winter from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but is closed over lunch. It can also be visited by appointment. Call 403-782-3933. Admission is free but donations are welcomed.