Valerie Miller flips the lights as she enters Red Deer Museum’s vast storage space and illuminates more than 80,000 treasures from Central Alberta’s past.
Dolls from the turn of the 20th century stare back, soda bottles and kettles that haven’t held liquid since the Great Depression-era fill a half dozen shelves, and pianos that once played in historic Red Deer taverns sit voiceless under white sheets.
“The objects are great, but it’s the stories they tell which are important,” said Miller, who has been working in the museum’s collection co-ordination department for 25 years.
The Red Deer Museum is committed to displaying more of its collection to the public over the next few years, to hopefully better engage Red Deerians and remind them of the area’s unique heritage, Miller said.
“It’s a very selective process, we consider many things when people offer us something for our collection,” Miller said.
“It has to tell the story of Red Deer and Central Alberta, first and foremost.”
Miller and her team spend thousands of hours each year researching, documenting, and archiving the museum’s ever-growing collection.
“Sometimes people don’t want to give things up, so we document the object and give it back to them; sometimes we interview people for historical record and archive the interview,” Miller said.
Miller reaches onto one of the shelves and pulls off a stuffed green and yellow parrot, mounted on a piece of bark.
“Peanut was a parrot that lived at the Club Café, and when he died, he was stuffed and mounted by the club’s owners. He’s not in very good shape but we consider him an important piece of our collection,” Miller said.
The pieces in the museum’s collection often belonged to regular people who lived regular lives, but the details explained by these ordinary objects (like Peanut) tell a much grander narrative, Miller said.
“This collection of skates belonged to Mr. (Murray) Palmer; he gave them to children who couldn’t afford skates, and when they outgrew the skates, he’d lend them another pair,” Miller said, pointing to the two dozen pairs of old skates, lined up in neat rows.
The museum’s collection tells many happy stories like the one of Palmer’s skate collection, but there are also artifacts from darker periods in Canadian history.
“That bellows is from the Indian Industrial School, which was run by the Methodist Church and was a residential school for First Nation’s children,” Miller said.
The bellows is a direct link to one of Canada’s great historical shames, but Miller said all stories — triumphant to terrible — are important to knowing where Red Deer has been, and where it is going.
“The collection is about connecting to our past, and remembering through these objects how people lived and better understanding their lives, and our own lives, too.”
From Our Collection, an exhibit displaying historic fossils, artifacts, and cultural relics from the museum’s collection, is on now until Nov. 30 at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery at 4525 47A Ave. For more information, call 403-309-8405 or visit reddeermuseum.com.