Skip to content

Fort Nelson Museum opens for 28th year

No one knows the Alaska Highway like Marl Brown. Back when the road was just a gravel trail in 1957, Brown was a mechanic for the Canadian Army at Mile 245, "fixing whatever the camp needed fixing," he said.
GP201410140519973AR.jpg


No one knows the Alaska Highway like Marl Brown.

Back when the road was just a gravel trail in 1957, Brown was a mechanic for the Canadian Army at Mile 245, "fixing whatever the camp needed fixing," he said.

Since that time, preserving the memories and equipment of those who worked on the highway has been his mission - a goal that was made paramount when he witnessed so much equipment being scrapped after the military operation died down.

"I saw so much stuff being destroyed - it was just thrown away," he remembered.

"Everything. Our vehicles, our history. I saw so much stuff that should have been saved. I thought, 'Hey, somebody should do something about this. We better start saving it,'" Brown continued.

His answer was to create a museum in Fort Nelson to preserve the present and past for future generations. That was in the 1970s.

The first step was the founding of the Fort Nelson Historical Society on March 31, 1977. It would be more than a decade before he could put together the money and resources to make the museum a reality.

"We had to raise a hell of a pile of money to build our own building," he said. "We built it out of logs."

The Fort Nelson Heritage Museum eventually opened in 1987. More than 250,000 people have walked through its doors since then to peer into the past.

"It shows how this country got opened up. People should know what went on before they came, how things came about," Brown said.

The museum opened to the public for this year on Monday, and will remain open through September.

A lot of the town's important historical buildings have been moved to the museum. Last year, an Anglican church was relocated there, where it joined the town's old post office, a Hudson's Bay house that was taken from the town's fort, a trapper's cabin and a blacksmith's shop. All are originals.

The automobiles are Brown's most prized possessions. In particular, two are more than a century old. "They're both running," he said proudly.

In 2008, he drove the 1908 McLaughlin Buick to Whitehorse, Yukon, and back, an epic journey to celebrate the car's 100th birthday. It experienced no troubles along the way - but the support vehicle, a much newer pick-up truck, broke down.

The other car is a 1909 Brush. They're among 21 automobiles in the museum's car shed. Caterpillars and other machinery used to build the Alaska Highway are also on display.

Many of the museum's artifacts have been donated by the public. On Monday, books were donated from an man who had served in the US 94th Division, 301st Regiment, which was involved in the highway's construction.

The Alaska Highway was completed in 1942 and opened to the public in 1948. It stretched 2,700 kilometres, connecting Dawson Creek and Delta Junction in Alaska.

Shallen Johnson, business manager, said the museum plays a fundamental role in the community.

"It's really important that we keep our eyes on our unique culture," she said. "Fort Nelson is a unique place. We have a diverse population and the museum celebrates that. The museum celebrates our past and future."

She said it's important for the people of present-day Fort Nelson to take note of the past.

"It's always really important to know where we've been to know where we're going. If we move forward without knowing where we came from, we're not fully informed," Johnson said.

She also highlighted some upcoming events at the museum: On June 14, it is hosting a family picnic, free to the public, which will involve a program structured around children. July will see the event Art at the Museum, also tailored for children and families.

The Fort Nelson Heritage Museum is situated near the Mile 300 milepost on the Alaska Highway. It closes for the winter, but opens for special events like dog sled races in January, Heritage Days in February and the Fort Nelson Trappers Rendezvous in March.

"There's lot's to see," said Brown. "Just come and have a look. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

"There's no end to good things."