With a mission to preserve the past for coming generations, the Blackfalds and Area Historical Society is a vital resource within not only the town, but also the region.
Preserving history of the area is a passion of President Judy Carleton. It is with this dedication and tenacity she formed the Society in 2005.
A few years before the formation, Carleton became highly interested in her own family history, who came to the Blackfalds area in 1905, and she was doing a lot of research.
“I went to the Town thinking – oh I will get all of this information from the Town and find out where my family was and everything,” she said. “And they had nothing. Zero. I couldn’t believe it.”
Carleton found out from a Town councillor that the Town’s 100th anniversary was quickly approaching in 2004. Showing again, her passion for history, she was asked to sit on the board planning the centennial.
“Then I got thinking – well, Blackfalds doesn’t even have a history book. Wouldn’t that be a great centennial project?” noted Carleton.
Many championed the idea of a Blackfalds history book, but it was Carleton who took to the arduous task all on her own. History books in the past only featured chapters on the Town, but none solely featured Blackfalds.
“In my often very hard task of trying to do that I really realized no one was preserving Blackfalds history at all,” she said. “I enjoyed sitting on that board and somehow I finished the history book and published it in time for the centennial.”
After that two-year process, Carleton thought the history of Blackfalds should be preserved even further, beyond just a book, and so the not for profit Society was formed.
“It’s one thing to form a Society, but where are you going to operate out of?” questioned Carleton.
A solution was found, right around the same time Carleton retired from being an animal health technician. The Town was constructing the Civic and Cultural Centre building at the time and in partnership with the library, it was decided Carleton would develop an archive and work out of the library space for one day a week.
“And we were in business just like that,” she said.
One of Carleton’s main projects through the Society is curating the Blackfalds archives – a collection of documents, records, maps, photographs and items that represent the history of Blackfalds and the surrounding area.
To start the archives from scratch, she began asking people in the area for old photos and Blackfalds memorabilia.
“People started donating stuff and now it’s been 10, 11 years and I have expanded the archives from zero to quite a holding of probably 5,000 to 10,000 historical photos,” said Carleton.
Today, the Society ranges between 20-40 members annually. The Society also has a display area in the front of the library that features historical items from the expansive archives.
Through the Society, Carleton has applied for multiple grants which are used to fund projects including funding the Veterans Memorial located outside the Abbey Centre. The monument honours veterans, 85 men and women in total, that lived in the Town for a significant part of their lives.
A 90-page book was also written about the memorial, to provide more information about each veteran. Carleton, under the Society’s umbrella, has published four Blackfalds history-based books so far.
The Society is also currently undertaking a project with the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.
“We are doing a heritage survey of historical homes in and around Blackfalds,” explained Carleton. “We’ve identified about 45 properties that we are doing work on.”
Another project underway through the Town, and with the assistance of a major federal grant, is the restoration of the Wadey House.
“They are going to restore the 100-year-old Eaton’s package house that the Wadey’s had – that will be our new home as well as the visitors’ information centre for Blackfalds and the Chamber of Commerce office,” said Carleton.
With the restored Wadey house and a new location, the archive will be able to expand and the society will have more room for displays, including one on the main level of the home.
“Every visitor will, whether they like it or not, get to see a little bit of Blackfalds history,” laughed Carleton.
As per the requirement of the grant, the restoration of the house, which includes moving it to a new location and building a new basement, must be completed by Canada’s 150th birthday, July 2017.
Last year the Society also hosted a new event – a spooky cemetery tour, just before Halloween. Carleton researched 10 pioneers who are buried in the Blackfalds cemetery and society members guided guests through the cemetery while dressed as the beyond-the-living pioneers. The Society hopes to bring back the popular event next year as it is an interactive way to showcase history.
“I’ve really made it my mission to find out as much Blackfalds history as I can,” said Carleton.
The Blackfalds and Area Historical Society archives are located in the Blackfalds Public Library, on the lower level of the Civic and Cultural Centre at 5018 Waghorn St.
The archives are open every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information call 403-885-4314 or visit www.blackfaldshistoricalsociety.com.