Mortlach Museum: More than antiques

By Jamie Fischer

Lisa Goudy photo
The Mortlach Museum is housed in the old fire hall.

Located just off Rose Street, the Mortlach Museum has been helping its community piece together their history since 1979.

“It’s like a giant puzzle,” Joan Searle said. As curator of the Mortlach Museum, Searle is no stranger to putting together the pieces of history. After retiring from years of teaching at Mortlach’s school, Searle took the volunteer position of curator in 2004. Since then, she has helped the museum gain status as a Saskatchewan Heritage building, apply for grants, and she was crucial in bringing the museum its travelling exhibit.

“There's so much history there." 
                         - Lois Jack

For Searle, preserving the legacy these items leave behind is what her job is all about.

“It’s very important to (the village’s) descendants to come in and see grandma’s old blouse or the pictures of grandpa when he was a councillor in 1910,” she said.

Once in a while, lucky people find treasures hidden on the museum shelves. For example, when a Mississauga man visited the museum, he found his great uncle’s sepia-toned portrait hanging upstairs in the old court house. “It always surprises me how delighted and thrilled they are,” Searle said.

Dozens of ancient arrow heads, some dating back 13, 000 years, hang behind glass on the western wall of the museum. These artifacts belong to the museum’s newest exhibit, The Bernie Forbes Archaeological Collection. “I coaxed him a little bit,” Searle said with a laugh recalling how she secured the display for the museum. Forbes had originally decided to loan the collection to Regina’s Royal Saskatchewan Museum. After a lecture on the importance of community history from Searle, he agreed to keep part of the collection in Mortlach.

Ironically, the museum’s president, Alan Kouri, has no roots in Mortlach. A recent addition to the town, Kouri spent most of his life in Mankota, a village deep in Saskatchewan’s southwest. He moved to Mortlach to be closer to his grandchildren in Moose Jaw. “I would have liked to build a museum in Mankota,” Kouri said. “I was there all my life.”

Even though Kouri was new to the area, the village asked him to be museum president in the summer of 2010. For Kouri, antiques don’t make history, the stories behind them do.

In the museum’s mock ladies’ dressing room hangs an antique scarlet gown. Attached to the gown is a note that tells the story of the day the dress was worn. “That’s history, besides being old,” Kouri said, pointing to the gown. “I like that.”

Lois Jack and her husband Clayton own the HollyHock Market just down the street from the museum. Both agree it’s an important element of their village. When family visits, the couple enjoys taking them to the museum to look through the town’s history piece by piece. “There’s so much history there…They’ve put it together so well,” Lois Jack said.

The Mortlach Museum has all the typical items you can expect to find in any small town Saskatchewan museum: old photographs, town directories, newspaper clippings, and pioneer furniture can be found across the province. But, it doesn’t matter that other museums in the province have butter churns and sad irons, because Mortlach people like their history, not just antiques.