A School Becomes a Museum for a Day

The Lavesta School's 100th Anniversary

Just this past month the Lavesta school house celebrated its 100th year anniversary. It was a small white building within a clearing, isolated from the road by a line of trees, just outside of Bluffton, Alberta. The school was constructed in 1912 and continued to be the school house to dozens of children until 1959. After 1959 the school continued to be a focal point of the Lavesta area, remaining as the community centre where get-togethers and Christmas parties were held. Grades 1-8 were taught within the one room building with up to two teachers at a time. My grandfather, great aunt and uncles were even taught at that school.  With the 100th year anniversary the school house was transformed into a museum of sorts for the celebration, marking the people that lived in the area and events that occurred in the community and within the school. It was a place where history was taught, but most of those that attended the school surely did not expect it to become part of history. It may not have been a museum in the conventional sense but the Lavesta school acted as one nonetheless for that day.
Image of Lavesta School (magnet)
Tangible History

There were no guides but it seems a little difficult to get lost in a one room building. If you had any questions about a family picture or an article of clothing you could just ask the person standing next to you. Everyone was free to wander around within the school as well as outside. There were no boxes of glass or ropes separating the guest from the pieces of history like most museums have. The history was all that more tangible being able to pick the documents up and holding them. It was an unconventional and unprofessional environment for history to be on display but it seemed to make the connection to the past all that more personal.
Wall of family and house photos
They had tables set up along the middle of the room littered with different documents from the school's past. It was not organized in a certain manner such as by date or type of document. Every so often the community publishes a book collecting information of the area and the families; some of those books were out for guests to see. There were records from the school such as listing the students that attended throughout the years. Report cards were also strewn across the tables, allowing everyone to see just how well the students did in class. At the entrance they had a guest book set out for the attendees to sign. It was creating a new document for the history of the school, marking the event and the people who were present.

There were news paper articles about things that happened in the community and advertisements were scattered across tables at the back of the school. There must have been hundreds of pages of newspaper over four tables put together. The age of the newspapers was apparent from the discolouration and how cheap things were compared to present day. I specifically remember a classified page listing vehicles that were for sale in the 70s. Another page from the newspaper listed the sales that were going on at the grocery store in town. A woman who was a long time resident of the community, had saved up all the clothing and newspapers that were featured in the school.

Attendees modelling outfits
A rack of clothing had been set up  near the back of the building. The clothing ranged from the early 1900s and up to the 1970s. A mannequin was dressed in a black dress with a veil, which I considered an odd combination. As it turns out it was a common style back in the early 1900s for women to get married in black; they just happened to be wearing their best outfit. There was also this particular pair of plaid tweed pants hanging on the wall that I clearly remember; but there is really no forgetting a pair pants like that. The clothing came back to life when some of the women attending the anniversary adorned themselves with the wedding gowns and bridesmaids' dresses and just wondered around the grounds. My great aunt even got involved, wearing a purple bridesmaid dress. Even though it was not worn by anyone there was a baseball uniform for the Lavesta school that really came back to life for me. We were just passing over the things hung on the wall and my grandma mentioned how my grandfather had worn the same uniform when he played baseball for the school's team.
Great aunt wearing bridesmaid dress (documents in background)

Lavesta baseball team uniform
They even had their own 'gift shop'. Anyone could buy a magnet, bag or mug with the image of the Lavesta school house with "Lavesta School 1912-2012" written on them. They had it all set up by the entrance but eventually one of the women who was involved in running the event went around to the little groups that had formed, asking if anyone was interested in buying a magnet or a mug. All the older women were just clamoring to get a piece of memorabilia. My grandma even bought me a magnet to stick on my fridge.

Listening to History

A tent had been set up outside the school within the clearing to allow the attendees to congregate. There they were able to recount the past with others around them. You sat where ever you could find a spot, even sitting along with people that you did not know, which was mostly the case for me. My mother and grandmother knew plenty of people attending the anniversary. A lot of the time I had to say who I was related to. However, I think the most important part of the event happened within that tent. Anyone who had a story could stand up and tell it to everyone.

It seemed that they were all troublemakers back in their childhood. An older woman told the crowd how they had to ride horses to get to school. The boys did not seem pleased to be sharing their horses with the girls so they would continue to scoot backwards until the girls fell off the back of the horse. One man told how when he was a child he had taken at least thirty vitamin C pills at once because the teacher had told them it was important for them to get that vitamin in the winter time. The teacher, in a tizzy, had given him something to help bring the pills back up but he just ended up pouring it down a gopher hole. My late great uncle had to have had the most trouble at school. Him and one of his pals had found a stick of dynamite and were playing with it behind the old shed by the school. Long story short, my great uncle lost four of his fingers.

One could even say that the people attending were a part of the museum effect of the anniversary. Many of the people in attendance had went to the school or lived in the area. They contributed to the telling of history just by being present. They contributed to the oral history of the school by retelling their stories from their childhood.
Grandfather's (far left) family. (great uncle that blew off 4 of his fingers second from the left)
Personal History

My grandfather attended school there, my mother had dances there, even I went to events at the old school house. It holds a very personal history for me. I was a part of the history of the old school house. When I was young my parents would take my brother and I to the Christmas parties held at the Lavesta school. One Christmas party I remember quite clearly. The man who usually dressed as Santa Claus was not able to, so my dad stepped in. Even with my child eyes I was able to tell that that was my dad behind that white beard and red suit. My mother had to shush me to keep up the charade for the other children.

They had pictures of the houses and families that were in the Lavesta area hung along one of the walls. They phoned all the families in the area to get the pictures of the families and houses in the area. The pictures they could not get, they went around and took their own. At the bottom of the images they would provide some information: they listed the family members portrayed in the images, they said when the homes were built, who built them, and whether they were still standing or not. It seemed a little out of place to see the image of my grandfather's family hanging in this museum-like setting when I am so accustomed to seeing it hanging on the wall of my grandmother's home. There was also an image of the home which my great-great-uncles built and where my mother and her siblings grew up.
Grandparents' former home in Lavesta area
A School Becomes a Museum

It is amazing that a building such as a school out in the country could stand for one hundred years; especially when there were kids setting off dynamite nearby. The 100th anniversary of the Lavesta school made it possible for its history to come back to life. For a day, the school became a museum for its own history and the history of the people in the area. The school was part of the history, it was an exhibit in itself. This event did a lot for the community. It brought them back together to bring back the past and recall the history of the school and the area. It was quite an emotional event for some of those in attendance. This just proves that history can be quite personal, even within such an impersonal place like a museum.


  1. This is cool example of a museum in that the contributions for what was displayed seemed to have in many cases come from the homes of individuals in the community. Usually when I think of a museum, the pieces or what is on display take on this different kind of quality to them (as if they are not real or mythical) as they are behind glass and displayed like rare artifacts. The temporary nature, origins of the artifacts, personal photos, and oral history element really cements that this museum belongs to the community as it individually involves members.

    As a person removed from the immediate history or Lavanta and the school house, would you say, if at all, there was a different experience or connection for you in visiting this temporary museum versus visiting a full fledged museum?

  2. What is nice about this museum is that the contributions have a personal connection to the people who lived in the area. Depending on the type of museum you visit, that is a rare quality. Even as someone who has no connection to Lavesta, a museum like this would make it easy to connect to the people that made it's history.

    I find it so interesting that you mentioned the "troublemaker" aspect of the people who attended the school. My grandparents would always tell stories of their school days and they as well seemed like troublemakers too. Similarities like this are interesting, maybe it was indicative of the time period and what children did in their spare time.

  3. Such a cool article you have written, with great personal perspectives. The event sounded like an effective commemeration that was able to bring together family and friends, and reinforce a sense of community. With people still around who attended the school almost seems like a necessity to have an event like this, along with it being so meaningful. I wonder in 50 years from now if an event like this could still be held to the same effect?

    Oh, loved the story about your great uncle with the dynamite, however such an unfortunate result. Can't believe children had access to dymamite though. Maybe it was the equivelent of kids playing with lawn darts 30 years ago...

    It must have been nice to have an event like this to relate to family members and hear stories when they were a younger age. Did the anniversery give you greater motivation to seek out family members and learn more of their past, or did the novelty of reunion wear off after it was complete?

    1. When I first arrived I wasn't too excited because it was history I was used to hearing throughout the years from my mother and grandmother, but it was kind of interesting to hear and see an expantion of what I have heard from my family. What really caught my attention was the story telling which was at the end, so I guess the novelty really didn't wear off at the end because my interest was peaked at the end.

  4. After reading this great blog, it reminds me that any tiny experience or event around us is still valuable for the society. It is good to notice not only the large museum could offer the experience for our society but also the nongovernmental institution could provide all the memories that connect us together. I appreciate all the hard workers in the museum. Clearly those kind of museum is nonprofitable. Their intention is to keep the great memories alive and let the next generation to experience them!

  5. Loved this blog! Reminds me of my own small town area. Brides wore black? (Wow, that's different).

    I particularly like ones of your opening lines: "It was a place where history was taught, but most of those that attended the school surely did not expect it to become part of history." I often wonder what people were thinking back then when their picture back then. Did they ever think it would be become part of the greater historical record and that people would study their faces decades more to understand the times as a whole? The likely didn't care about that, just as we don't think of these things now. Yet we too will become in a sense "historical" one day. (Makes me think I should dress better for pictures...).

  6. Oops, that should read:
    "I often wonder what people were thinking back then when their picture was taken."

  7. I am really pleased with this article, Kaitlyn. It brings back many memories for me. I didn’t think you were interested that day or that you were busy taking pictures. I am so glad you wrote this article and I was happy to clarify a few details for you. The pictures really added to the story and I have enjoyed sharing it with family and friends. Thank you.
    Love Grandma