We were in a party mood. The Museum’s annual gala took place on June 24th  - a Friday. The weather was iffy. A hundred of us gathered for the occasion. The audience was people who helped with the two new exhibits and the construction of the Montebello.

We launched the online exhibit Flight from the Flames and opened the new exhibit “It’s laundry day every day – the story of Mah Yick’s Chinese Hand Laundry.  We were also celebrating the locking up of the Montebello project – the building that will house the new museum, archives room, vault for archival storage, administration offices, and nine dioramas.

The doors were in place and the staff of Exel Construction Ltd had done its best to make the space presentable for viewing– doors and their hardware!

When we gathered Neskonlith Indian Band Counselor Louis Thomas kindly gave an introduction to the space, speaking in Secwepemctsin, telling us beforehand that he didn’t have a lot of his own language to draw on.

When he translated his words, it was obvious that Louis, although brief, was speaking volumes. He told the crowd that Louis Thomas web.jpghis ancestors have lived in the Shuswap for many, many, many generations. He said that before contact with the Europeans, his people, the Secwepemc, were responsible for taking care of this piece of the world. The Secwepemc, he said, were Mother Earth’s stewards. 

Then Louis brought us to the present quickly, saying that, at this moment in time, it was up to all of us to work together to take care of the land. Louis has a reconciliatory nature.   He was also doing what his mother, Dr. Mary Thomas, always did in situations like this, graciously sharing his time and reminding us that all cultures had to work together. The crowd applauded.

Then, the next elected official spoke. It was Grad night, so Mayor Nancy Cooper was busy elsewhere congratulating three hundred and eight  hopeful young people. Counsellor Louise Wallace Richmond came in the Mayor’s place. When Louise spoke she actually took my breath away. Her words had the power to move this historian!Louise Wallace Richmond.jpg

I asked Louise if I could share her words with you. She kindly agreed, saying that she had meant every word.

Louise began:
“It has been an historic day in Salmon Arm.

As we gather to open these exhibits, we also celebrate the graduation of the class of 2016. This morning, we awoke to the prospect of a new Europe, one where the UK would not be part of the EU.

And that brings me to this place. That Haney has the power to honour our past and set sail for our future gives me great hope for the capacity of this small community to build its future. 

That’s history for you. It’s like the wind. Sometimes it’s a gentle breeze, sometimes it’s a hurricane. But the wind blows every day. The wind reminds us of where we’ve come from and powers our course for the future.

In fact, I’ve watched Haney from afar for many years. I was married in this school house. My husband’s family has been in Salmon Arm for five generations. I’ve only been here for 15 years. I’m surprised I’ve even earned my admission. 

On my way to the gala tonight, I got to thinking about what an amazing community Haney has built. You have a school and a church, a tea house and blacksmith shop, a fire department and a gas station. I hope there are no secret plans to hold a referendum and leave Salmon Arm. You would be truly missed.

But kidding aside, the commitment, time and funds you have given to this place is a love letter to the future.

My very favourite heritage photo of Salmon Arm is “Clean Up Day in Salmon Arm” where workers gathered on the steps of the old Montebello Hotel to make their community better. It is my hope, in the not too distant future, we too can gather on the steps of the new Montebello building during Canada 150th birthday to recreate that moment and remember our shared responsibility to one another.

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Photographs courtesy  David G. Wood

So, on behalf of Mayor and Council, the City of Salmon Arm and its citizens, thank you from the bottom of my heart, for making Salmon Arm better both for its past and its future. We are very grateful for all that you do.”

So with that  President Norma Harisch, Exhibit Co-curator and cultural advisor Eugenie Mah, Louise Wallace Richmond and I cut the ribbon. The scissors were historic and gave us some trouble. It was to be expected because they were almost fifty years old. They were used in 1967 to open the C.I.B.C. on the original site of the Montebello Hotel.

It was truly an historic occasion!