Cuyler Page and I were recently touring a group of museum colleagues through the Montebello Museum. They were on a road trip, visiting regional neighbours. They’d checked our schedule ahead of time and wanted to tour Haney House. They’d used our website to confirm hours of operation and then I got a phone message. Julia, Matt, and Jaimie were coming from Kamloops on Wednesday. Was I available?

 I always wonder what I have to show other museum professionals. The Montebello seems like the obvious choice. We’re in the middle of a move, we’ve opened three of four dioramas, and, thanks to MAP funding, moving the collection is a work in progress. There’s a new exhibit in the gallery, but the building itself is the story.

The Montebello structure was up for an award. It had been nominated for the10th Annual Thompson Okanagan Kootenay Commercial Awards. Competing with 37 other structures throughout the three regions, it received an award of merit, a close second to the winner. Not bad.

Norma Harisch first drew plans for the structure. Then the Museum Association hired Cuyler Page to create a concept plan we could present to an architect. We needed Bernd Hermanski Inc. to ensure all codes were met. The ground broke in December of 2015 and the building opened July 2017, 18 months later.

When I tour people around the Montebello Museum I tell them about the business choices for the dioramas. They were distilled from a list that I felt represented the community.  I tell them about the references we used in the archives, photos of the community more than a hundred years ago. We talk about cladding and I show them the wonderful tin on Bedford’s pharmacy. Each building has a story. They have been painted with heritage colours and contiguous doors have a different stain and doorknob. I get excited and tell people I wanted the “buildings” to look like the same locksmith hadn’t installed all the locks on the same day and how I asked Dale at Windowland to flip the locks so the necessary deadbolts would be less obvious.

Cuyler Page gets excited too and is fond of saying a doorknob is the visitor’s initial handshake. He and I want that introduction to be perfect. 

As the tour continued that Wednesday, the five of us entered the most recent “business” to open at R.J. Haney Heritage Village. The Telephone Exchange has full size cut outs of three related women in the room. Two are operators, and one is a visiting sister. I’d carefully worked with Doug Hlina to choose the pieces on display. Doug was patient and thoughtful, figuring out ways to give me what I wanted. He also gave 380 hours to the project.

At installation time and in a stroke of genius, I superimposed the photo of the original Telephone Exchange I was trying to create in the calendar. Justin Mass helped me figure out a ratio for the calendar so it looked right proportionally. It is smaller than the original, but the wall it is hung on is smaller too. 

My efforts are not perfect. The building is different; the original room had another window and two doors. Sylvia Cummings, the senior operator, had children who ran in and out of the room in a game of chase. I didn’t have doors or the children. 

The Curator from Kamloops Museum turned to me and said he thought the photo was one of the exhibit. High praise. He has a keen eye and an MA in Art.

A little later, two other tourists went into the Telephone Exchange. I heard the woman’s comment.

“Look at the calendar.  It is 1914,” she said.

I asked the visitor if she thought the photograph was of the exhibit or an old photo.

She thought it was of the exhibit as well.

They all agreed.

Interesting, I reflected. They thought the photo was a piece of art imitating real life. As the exhibit’s Curator, though, I was imitating art; the photo was snapped in 1914 by Rex Lingford just before he went off to Valcartier.

All of a sudden I was seeing the exhibit through my visitors’ eyes.

Post script 
The Telephone Exchange Exhibit has a long list of contributors. We especially thank the City of Salmon Arm Grants-in-Aid program, Cuyler Page, and Doug Hlina for sharing the vision and making the space happen.