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Museum project aims to preserve seniors' stories

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The clock is ticking.

With each obituary that appears in these pages, another local resident's life story is lost. So why not get that person's story down on paper before it's too late?

The Fort Frances Museum is working with local resident Sandra Brunetta to chronicle the memories of everyday life of Fort Frances' aged citizens so they can be kept there for posterity.

Plans were set in motion last Wednesday during a meeting between Brunetta, museum curator Sherry George, and longtime museum volunteer Maxine Hayes.

Brunetta said they're all aware so much history is going to be gone—and already is—with each elderly resident who passes away.

And that history is valuable to help present and future generations “get to know the beginnings of Fort Frances better.”

“That generation—the settling generation—that came in the '20s or '30s can't tell us anymore and so we've got to capture as much as we possibly can while we can,” Brunetta stressed.

“I feel that we've missed so many," she later noted. ”I think about Ron King and Harlan Faragher—people that [were] my age.

“That's gone forever and I think it's really important to get some [stories] down.”

So going forward, Brunetta will be meeting with and interviewing elderly residents to record their early memories of living in Fort Frances.

“I've already left messages for a number of elderly people—more elderly than I—in the community,” she noted.

“And I'll go to Rainycrest and just get a sort of feeling of the different cultures and where they came from, and what their daily living was like.”

Brunetta has a keen interest in people's life stories and has experience chronicling them.

Back in the mid-1980s, for instance, she interviewed the late Bill Wardman, a local junk dealer.

“He was just a really colourful person who was probably our first recycler,” Brunetta recalled.

“I got to know Bill. He took me [to] a number of his sales ventures out into the country,” she added, comparing Wardman to an old-time tonic salesman who would set up a wagon and sell spirits to the settlers.

"I don't where he would purchase his stuff or where he would get it, but he [laid] it out in farmers' front yards and word would spread and people would come.

“He didn't have an auction, he just said, 'This shirt is $3,'” Brunetta noted.

“I thought, 'There's got to be more to this.' So I wrote Bill Wardman's story and enjoyed every moment of it.”

Brunetta also interviewed and wrote a story about the late George Armstrong after his family contacted her.

Both of these stories were given to the Fort Frances Museum.

While Brunetta is being proactive in finding interview subjects, she and George also are hoping people come forward and contact them about interviewing someone whose history they feel should be recorded.

Everyone's story in noteworthy, George said.

“People often feel that their own story isn't important enough," she conceded. ”What we need to emphasize is that it is the ordinary stories that we want.

“Yes, it's important to know the details surrounding those people who are prominent in our community,” George noted.

“But only by collecting the simple stories of everyday lives that we can get a good picture of what life was like in the 1930s, '60s, or '80s,” she reasoned.

If you know someone—or of someone—whose history should be recorded, contact either Brunetta at 274-2324 or the museum at 274-7891 or via e-mail at sgeorge@fortfrances.ca

But Brunetta and George also are encouraging families to do this themselves.

“There are quite a few people I know of that are capable of writing this out, which would make it so much easier,” Brunetta noted.

“If they do not know what information to collect, we have lists of questions that they can use as a guide,” said George.

"Simple questions, like how did you celebrate special occasions? What food would be served? Who might visit?

“It's not necessary to stick to the format, and we hope our list will make them think of other questions to ask,” added George.

“They know their family member best.”

The list of sample questions will be available at the museum and on its website at www.fortfrances.ca/experience/activities-amenities/museum

While the scope of Brunetta's work will be limited to Fort Frances, district residents are urged to collect information about their own elderly family members' recollections of their respective communities.

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