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FORT QU'APPELLE - First-time visitors to the Fort Qu'Appelle Museum might be in for a little bit of a surprise.

A postcard illustration of a part of the old Hudson Bay Post
- Special Collections, University of Saskatchewan Libraries
A postcard illustration of a part of the old Hudson Bay Post.

To be sure, the museum houses many of the kinds of artifacts one might expect to find at a place where the Hudson Bay Company established a trading post in 1864 and the North West Mounted Police arrived a dozen years later. Interesting stuff it is, too. What makes this museum stand out from others that can tap into a similar history of fur and red serge, however, is everything else.

A manual vacuum cleaner, an enlarger used to make "Wanted!" posters for police agencies, a replica of a European crown of jewels created by a man who travelled the world collecting imitation gems, a metre-long chain whittled from a solid piece of wood, an intricately carved farm scene - the Fort museum is full of curious delights. Shutters on the small, adjoining building that's part of the original Hudson's Bay post must be closed each night because dew and precipitation would dissolve the windows. The original "water glass" panes are made of sodium silicate.

A portable x-ray machine.

Sleek, chromed x-ray machines that look like props from a 1950s science fiction flick sit next to decidedly low-tech medical gear like foot warmers, both testimony to another significant piece of valley history. Thousands of people suffering from tuberculosis were treated at the sanatorium constructed during World War I on the north side of nearby Echo Lake. "Fort San" became a community in itself during its decades of operation. The Fort museum documents its life.

Echo Valley
Conference Centre
Echo Valley Conference Centre is the former Fort San.

"When they found out fresh air and sunshine were a pretty fair cure for TB, they built balconies on the buildings and they'd roll the whole bed outside," museum head Lorne Rowell said during a tour.

"Pigs", earthenware containers filled with hot water and used as foot warmers, were popular items at Fort San. The shiny x-ray machines, meanwhile, were the business cargo of a mobile fleet that rolled across the province taking still pictures of chest cavities.

Old movie projector

Moving pictures are nicely represented, as well. Two old and enormous movie projectors offer a glimpse into the way in which popular entertainment was served up at the local movie house before the singe-projector system came into use in the 1960s.

Elsewhere, giant mammals and dinosaurs are evoked through fossilized jaws and vertebrae. And archaeological excavations in the near vicinity turned up the original key to the fort, an item that looks as through it could open absolutely nothing other than the door to a fort.

In 2002, people interested in better understanding the present by learning about the past will have another reason to visit Fort Qu'Appelle. That's when the "Treaty Four Keeping House and Archives" is scheduled to open.

Keeping House will showcase the culture of the 34 Saulteaux, Plains Cree and Nakota First Nations who are signatories to the 1874 treaty, curator Lorne Carrier said in an interview. The facility's temperature and humidity controlled atmosphere will also provide a private home for important documents, and a temporary one for sacred artifacts belonging to First Nations who do not yet have appropriate storage facilities of their own.

"I think we'll complement each other very nicely," says Rowell, who has worked with First Nations groups to help them "repatriate" several sacred artifacts housed in the Fort museum.

"I agree," says Carrier. "(Lorne) has a lot of interesting items there."

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