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Grasmere’s Pioneer Hall gets new panels commemorating the community’s history

Five new history panels are now hanging in Grasmere’s Pioneer Hall, with more on the way

The people of Grasmere treat their history with respect.

The valley’s Pioneer Hall is currently in the process of being filled with new panels commemorating the community’s history and people. The completion of phase one of the project was celebrated with a luncheon at the hall on Wednesday, March 16.

In attendance were members of the Triangle Women’s Institute (TWI), who spearheaded the project’s vision, historians from the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History (CBIRH), who put the raw information together onto the panels, and three elders from pioneer families, Betty Sinclair, Andy McDonald, and Cecil Letcher, who graced the project with their memories.

“Today we’re celebrating all the hard work that went into the first phase,” said Judy-Lou McDonald, chair of the Pioneer Hall committee and past president of the TWI.

Speaking of the elders, who can trace their histories in the valley back to the early 1900s, McDonald said: “We’re honouring them today and thanking them.”

McDonald said Pioneer Hall was buit around 1972 through the efforts of the community and TWI, to pay “tribute to the pioneers and the families of this valley.” Soon after, the women of the institute started to work on the ‘pioneer wall’, recording the history of the valley on panels and paying tribute to its people: the pioneer families and the Tobacco Plains Indian Band.

The wall was re-done in the 90s, and is now being done again for a more ‘professional, museum look’, something that would last as long as the hall itself, McDonald said. The current project began in 2019 in collaboration with Derryll White and Erin Knutson of the CBIRH.

“We’ve been doing all kinds of research,” McDonald said.

The five panels of the first phase are: memories, industries, school days, the history of the TWI, and the history of the rural youth organization, 4-H. The five panels were completed with funding from the Columbia Basin Trust, the Regional District of East Kootenay, and TWI. The total cost was between $5,000 and $6,000.

The second phase of the project will include panels commemorating the families of the area, bringing them up to the present generation, and include more information on the history of the places and land the families homesteaded on.

The luncheon was also put on to celebrate the TWI’s new grant-funded website, which went live in November, and was also put together by Knutson and White.

“We have to keep the history of our valley going,” McDonald said.

“Retain all the information. These are our elders. They’re it. They’re the older generation. And we think we know a lot, but when you get down to it, we don’t, and especially about history.”

McDonald said she wanted to ‘sincerely thank’ CBT and the RDEK for the grants that funded the project.

“We’re excited to get this far,” she said.

“It’s really wonderful.”

READ MORE: Triangle Women’s Institute celebrates latest achievement