Few buildings in Grand Forks are as recognizable as the Boundary Museum and Interpretive Centre.
The stately building, situated at the top of a hill overlooking the valley, is synonymous with gatherings, history and community in Grand Forks. However, the building wasn’t always a museum, and the museum has a long history before it came to occupy its well-known space.
The Boundary Museum formed officially in 1958, at that time under the auspices of the Boundary Historical Society, said Boundary Museum Society board member Laura Lodder. The museum formed because of a desire to preserve local history and show it off to visitors to the area.
Lodder said that while she didn’t become involved with the museum until later on in life, she remembers visiting the museum with her children. The museum has always been immensely popular, she said, even in those early days.
“You always brought people to the museum. It was really nice. It was an attraction, a very popular attraction,” Lodder said, recounting bringing guests and family to the museum for the day.
For many years the museum was located in a building next to the Grand Forks and District Library, although that space is now a parking lot. It was a Centennial project of the B.C. government, and officially opened its doors on Oct. 5, 1958.
Museum Manager of Operations Cher Wyers said the original building was built from cinder blocks and was never meant to last. The museum remained in that location until 2008 when the building was demolished, and the museum board began looking for a new home.
After some maneuvering with the city and looking for a space that offered more room, the museum board eventually arrived at lease with the USCC to move into the former Fructova School site.
When the museum moved into its new space, there was definitely a learning curve, Lodder said. The museum went from a relatively small space to a much larger one — the current museum facilities sit on six acres of property.
Boundary Museum Society president Lee Derhousoff came on board last year after working with the museum for many years. Like many things in Grand Forks, it started out with an invitation to a meeting.
“My girlfriend asked if I wanted to go to a meeting and I got hooked,” she said. “My husband calls it my second home.”
Derhousoff said the bigger space has been a blessing for the museum, allowing it to expand and take on more artifacts.
“It started out small. It was small but cramped for space and they needed a bigger building,” she said. “We started out small but we are getting bigger and bigger.”
In her capacity as board president, Derhousoff said she reports to council quarterly as part of the fee-for-service agreement they have with the City of Grand Forks.
That service agreement forms part of the museum’s funding; other funding comes from RDKB Areas C and D. The funding from the RDKB went to a referendum, meaning the museum can count on stable funding from year to year, key to keeping the museum up and running.
The museum is overseen by a board, which makes decisions related to museum infrastructure and programming. Derhousoff said the current board, made up of seven members, is one of the joys of volunteering to help make the museum work.
“We all work together as a board which is really good, we talk about something as a meeting and next thing you know it’s done,” Derhousoff said.
The museum’s site has a B.C. Heritage designation, and is owned by the USCC. The partnership between the USCC and the museum is a close one, Wyers said, with two USCC members sitting on the museum’s board and an official liaison between the museum and the USCC. The museum relies on the support of the USCC and Wyers said the partnership has been beneficial for both groups over the years.
“This property had been sitting idle for a number of years. It was the former Fructova School site from 1929-49,”
Wyers said. The history of the school is something the museum continues to recognize to this day, she said, and it’s something that visitors, especially former students, enjoy about the space.
“The children [who went to school here] were not allowed to speak Russian, and still today we hear from the elders that come from the USCC. Their language was denied them in the classroom. It is a part of our history, but we move on and build bridges.”
Last year the museum had nearly 3,000 visitors, an incredible number that Wyers said is a sign of the museum’s value to the community. Wyers said what makes working for the museum so special is interacting with visitors — people digging up family history, retracing steps and using the museum to learn a little more about their ancestors.
In addition to educating tourists and community members alike about the history of the area, the museum also hosts meetings and even weddings. Over the years the museum society has added to the space to make it more accessible to the community. Groups like the local 4-H Club, Elks, Granby Wilderness Society and others use the space in many ways throughout the year.
Right now, Wyers said the museum’s project is adding an extension to the blacksmith building. The 40- by 60-foot extension will house a collection of antique fire equipment, and the museum society’s board is working closely with the Grand Forks Fire/Rescue on the maintenance of the collection.
The society also maintains the Boundary Community Archives under the auspices of Sue Adrain, as well as conducts research done by Joan Heart.
“[Heart] is so thorough, she came to us in 2015,” Wyers said. “She was thorough, loved history, and we were missing that piece where someone could take a piece and follow through. I get interrupted with visitors and day-to-day operations.” Heart often also leads school groups through the museum, giving presentations on the Indigenous history of the area.
The museum will also have summer students this year beginning in June; Wyers said the students are a key part of making the museum’s summer operations a success. Throughout the summer the museum offers programming, including the ever-popular bread baking in the outdoor oven on Thursdays.
Derhousoff said the museum functions as more than a historical record for the community — it really is a “hub” in Grand Forks.
“It gives the community a sense that it is theirs as well, not just us running the museum, but this venue is for the whole community to use,” Derhousoff said. “I really believe it is a hub for the community, we enjoy having events here and so many people enjoy coming here.”
The museum is open in the summer from Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from May until September.
-This story is the second in a series about the culteral institutions of Grand Forks.