East Coulee School Museum forges toward new direction | DrumhellerMail
Last updateFri, 17 May 2024 12pm

East Coulee School Museum forges toward new direction


    The East Coulee School Museum is forging ahead with a new direction in hopes of revitalizing the historic and cultural institution.

    The museum celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. Since 1985, the museum has been a key part of preserving the local history of the community and the approximately 80-year-old schoolhouse that sprang up towards the end of the coal boom.
    This year they are looking at revamping the operations of the museum, and this comes with a new manager and revitalized board.
    “We wrapped up 25 years, and said ‘let’s shake some things up,’” said Scott Evans, new manager of the museum, who has previous experience managing the Canadian Badlands Passion Play.
    As this is also the centennial of coal mining in the valley, he said it was time for the institution to look at where it has been, and where it is going. They hope to change the perception of the sleepy museum, and have the town and visitors see it in a new light.
    There are five new energized members of the board. Evans says there is a good balance of new members and long time community members, and they are working well together.
    The most dramatic change many have already seen is the museum is no longer open all year round. Evans said they have pulled back from staffing and operating the museum through the winter months to hopefully retain some savings, and allow them to focus on the peak season. This year they are introducing a new interpretive tour called 'Mike the Miner', tracing a young East Coulee boy from a student to an adult, outlining the life of a miner.
    In the summer months, they are hoping to attract more visitors. The Atlas Coal Mine has been on a consistent growth curve over the last few years and has made exciting changes. Evans laments that for the number of visitors who visit the mine, only a small fraction of those who drive by the school museum stop.
    To keep the museum vital, they are looking to use the building more as a venue for music and the arts. This winter the East Coulee School Museum hosted the Alberta music act Woodpigeon as part of the TransCanada’s Alberta Backstage Series. CKUA broadcast the event live, and it attracted a full house of music lovers.
    These are the kind of events that the museum would like to host. Already renowned for the annual East Coulee Spring Festival, they are working hard planning next year’s event. Evans said they already have 40 acts applying for the 30 spots to perform. In the future they may look at expanding the show to be a weekend long event, and says they have the best entertainment ever coming this year.
    “We want to make this a place where people can go, and know they are going to have great entertainment,” he said.
    The museum is also looking at inviting these acts to the museum to perform throughout the year. The venue is popular with artists and music fans alike.
    To expand the utilization of the facility, they are also hoping to open it up for private events such as weddings, anniversaries and other family events. It is also suitable for corporate events such as board meetings.
    Evans said largely the community appears to be supportive of the changes. The board sent out a survey to residents with the proposed ideas for the museum.
    “From the feedback, they were not opposed to the changes. There was a little bit of hesitation, but really what everyone wanted was what is best. Everyone seemed to realize times change, and with it we really couldn’t keep on going the way we were as a year-round operation,” said Evans.
    One change they are still mulling over is the post office.
    For years, the museum has delivered this service. Canada Post does help support the museum to deliver the service, however its compensation does not pay to have the office open for full business hours. They are talking to Canada Post about truncated hours.
    “We have to analyze whether we really need it. There has been no decision made; hopefully we’ll have one in the next couple months,” said Evans.
    “It is a touchy one, because even though people don’t use it, they don’t want to lose it, that is part of change.”
    Part of keeping the museum viable is making sure the building will last.
    “We are looking at giving the ol’ lady a face lift. The building has really needed some work for the last couple of years and that has gone right to the top of the list,” said Evans, adding that Robin Digby, who has a wealth of experience with historical artifacts, is still a member of the board and will be spearheading the project.
    “We feel the building is in good hands with him,” said Evans.
     They are also planning to work on the Tasco House to open it for visitors in the future.

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