Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Maple Ridge Museum, Searching for Finnish Heritage in Websters Corners By Dianne Kilback

Thanks to the covid-19 pandemic I had time on my hands to do some research on the history of Finnish Immigrants to British Columbia.  Searching the internet, I discovered the website for the Maple Ridge Museum.  I was happy to learn the museum had the history of Websters Corners in their archives.   Websters Corners was settled by Finnish people who left Sointula in the early 1900’s after a disastrous fire and differences of opinion in the community.  A group from Sointula founded a community in Websters Corners.  I was pleased to discover there was a book Maple Ridge: A History of Settlement at the Museum.  I contacted Val Patenaude, Director of the Museum and decided to buy some copies of the book.  The Museum has been closed due to Covid-19, but I was able to go and pick up the books through the door of the Museum.  There is a chapter on the Finnish People of Websters Corners.   

Here is a quote from that chapter that made me feel proud of my Finnish Heritage.

“This chapter in the history of Maple Ridge has been recorded as a tribute to these people.  Along with their love of family and sense of humour, they have given us examples of creativity, self-reliance, thrift, enjoyment of self-made entertainment, the helping hand, pride and  courageous “sisu” that add up to a philosophy from which we can all learn.”                  

Sammon Takojat was the name Finnish settlers gave their community in Websters Corners. The Sampo is akin to The Greek cornucopia or horn of plenty which brings riches to its holder.                                                        

The history of the museum begins with the Maple Ridge Historical Society. In the 1950’s, charter members of the society began a collection of objects, pictures, and documents important to community history. This collection lived in a variety of basements and sheds around town until 1967, when a display area was made available in the public library.

The library display did help to attract more attention and donations to the Historical Society, but it was also exposed and not manned full time, and it was inevitable that losses would occur. These losses sparked a drive to find a home for a museum in Maple Ridge. As an interim measure, in 1974, a corner of the library was walled off to provide more security for the collections.

Various venues were examined, including the Old Post Office building and St. Andrew’s Heritage Church. Both were finally determined to be unsuited to the task due to small size and lack of storage and office space. When the Haney Brick and Tile buildings first came up for discussion in 1977, they were not immediately considered for a museum, but for some re-use by the Parks Department.

What followed was the Battle of the Bypass, when the energies of the Historical Society were directed to stopping the plan for a southern bypass which would cut historic Port Haney in half diagonally. They lost that battle, but while planning the bypass, it was determined that the Brickyard buildings would make an ideal site for a museum. The two buildings had been moved during construction of the bypass and had been re-founded on full-height basements, giving two useful floors for the office building and three for the house.

A dedicated letter-writing campaign by the Society and members of the public resulted in an agreement in 1983 that the Municipality would lease the buildings to the Historical Society for $1 per year and that the Society would provide a Museum for the community on a fee for service basis.

In partnership with the Dewdney Alouette Railway Society, the Historical Society took on the renovation of the Manager’s house in late 1983. The Museum was officially opened, with Sheila Nickols cutting the ribbon on BC Day, August 6th, 1984. 

Sheila Nicols was President of the Maple Ridge Historical Society for many years and was instrumental in the founding of the Maple Ridge Museum.  Sheila helped write Maple Ridge: A History of Settlement, published in 1972.

In the new location, the Museum continued to be operated entirely by volunteer labour until 1993, when a part-time curator was hired. The priority was to automate the collection records and create an indexing system to make objects and information easier to find.

The Maple Ridge –Pitt Meadows Arts Council had moved into the brickyard office building in 1989 but eventually moved uptown to the ACT after 13 years in Port Haney. The Museum took over the building in 2002 and moved most of the community archives into that structure.

The museum staff now consists of a full-time Director and a Curator plus an ever-changing array of students, part-time staff, and volunteers.

Museum staff and volunteers help with resources to researchers, care for a large historical and archaeological collection, and have a busy schedule of taking temporary displays out into the community as part of numerous community events.

If you want to visit the Museum, please check the website to see if they are open for visitors.  The website can also provide information on contacts if you have any questions regarding family names.   The museum has a collection of individual histories in their archives.  Website:

By Dianne Kilback  

Originally printed in the Canadian Friends of Finland Spring 2020 Newsletter. This is one of the benefits of being a member of the CFF – at less than $20 a year, it is a great way to help keep Finnish stories circulating.

No comments:

Post a Comment