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Marl Brown receives provincial posthumous award

BC Historical Federation bestows Award of Recognition in honour of five decades of work preserving Fort Nelson's past
Marl Brown arrived in Fort Nelson in the 1950s when the Alaska Highway was still just a gravel trail after it was built in 1942. (Alaska Highway News Archives)

The BC Historical Federation has honoured pioneering Alaska Highway historian Marl Brown with a posthumous award.

The award of recognition was accepted by Brown’s family during the BC Historical Federation’s annual conference and gala held online June 4.

“History and Marl Brown went hand in hand,” the federation said in a release. “The founder of the Fort Nelson Historical Society in 1977, Marl was a pillar in being the first and only curator of the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum until his passing in 2021.”

“Marlin [was] the first one at the museum in the morning and the last one to leave at night. The museum, and everything in it is his passion: his life’s work. […] Because of him, the museum will be enjoyed by future generations for many years to come.”

Brown arrived in Fort Nelson in the 1950s when the Alaska Highway was still just a gravel trail after it was built in 1942, and worked as a mechanic for one of the Royal Canadian Army maintenance camps.

Preserving the memories and equipment of those who worked on the highway later became his mission, and 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," Brown told the Alaska Highway News in 2014.

"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.”

His answer was to create a museum in Fort Nelson to preserve the present and past for future generations. That was in the 1970s, and the Fort Nelson Historical Society was founded 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 museum eventually opened in 1987, and later became the home for a lot of the town’s important historical buildings: an Anglican church, the 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. 

More than 250,000 people have walked through the museum’s doors since it opened.

Brown died June 30, 2021.

The historical federation was established in 1922, and represents more than 100 member societies in B.C.’s nonprofit sector. 

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