If you use Facebook, and you’re looking for something other than cat pictures and political arguments, you might want to visit the Elk Point Historical Society’s page.
The page is a wealth of stories and pictures, each providing a glimpse of the region’s past. It is overseen by Marvin Bjornstad.
“The Historical Society’s been around since the early 70s,” Bjornstad said. “They formed it and then they published a couple of books in ‘77 and ‘78. And they also had a lot to do with the development of Fort George/Buckingham House site.”
Book projects have been a major part of the society’s activity over the years. While it’s typical for a small community to commemorate a centennial or homecoming event with a history book—and then consider the job complete—Bjornstad says the Elk Point society recognizes that the region’s history never stops.
In the late 1980s, though he and a friend had begun building history websites for nearby communities, they realized that the older generations were the ones most engaged with local history. And, he said, those people were not drawn to using the internet.
“We had started building websites for the various books that were around because you could no longer buy them,” he said. “We built four websites—one for Ek Point, Lindbergh, Heinsburg and Ferguson Flats. That was because we had the rights to those books.
“And then we found older people, who are most interested in history, wanted other books.”
He says the group has compiled and printed another dozen books, usually in a coil-bound format.
“We publish them when we find somebody who has something they want to put together. We help them do that,” he said.
These histories are a valuable source of information. The stories may be told from one family’s perspective, but they help to assemble a broader narrative of the area’s past.
“There’s lots of people who have a story of their family or of the building of a road or a bridge or something like that. But how do you keep it current?” Bjornstad said.
“My hope is, as I expand the reach of things, people will come forward and say, ‘Well, I have a little bit of information’ and sometimes you can find someone else with some more.
“Last year, a fellow I knew came forward—he had collected a lot of information about the Canadian Salt Company at Lindbergh, so we were able to make that into a book. I had a bit of information, he had information, and I am originally from there. So we were able to make it into a coil-bound book. We sold about 200 copies and we have another hundred that will probably sell over the next year or so.”
Many of the pictures and stories tell of a simpler time, when people could get together on a community project and see it through. The curling club at Lindbergh and the arena in Elk Point are good examples.
The Lindbergh curling rink was a project of Canadian Salt Company employees.
“The employees actually got together and built it in two or three weeks, because they had to have a curling rink,” Bjornstad said. “I remember I grew up there and the curling rink was the major focus all winter, and it spawned other things which people tend to forget. Like they had a crib tournament that had a regional playoffs where people from Grand Centre or Cold Lake, Bonnyville all came and played for the trophy. And so there’s these little idiosyncrasies of the times that are of interest.”
The arena in Elk Point started in much the same way.
“It started at a party one night where somebody just laid down some money and said, let’s form a group and start an arena. And it got more complex after that, but that was the start of it,” Bjornstad said.
The Facebook page shows pictures that show what has changed over the years, and old streets and buildings that are still recognizable. Likewise, there are names that will stir memories and some names of families that are still in town.
Bjornstad says community history is important.
“I think it’s quite easy in a small community for a few people to pass away or move away, and complete areas of the town’s history are gone,” he said.
“There’s a lot of the history either buried or completely forgotten as people throw things out when they’re dealing with estates and stuff like that. I think it’s important to keep the information as much as you can.”
Bjornstad says everything from the fur trade to settlement and the Frog Lake Massacre of 1885, through to the development of agriculture and industry—especially the oil industry—is part of the community’s history.
Establishing a local museum may be a prohibitively expensive proposition, but in the meantime the Elk Point Historical Society can keep updating history through its collections and books.
Much of the future of history, to coin a phrase, is electronic and digital. The Facebook page is an important part of that, and Bjornstad says the society is exploring the possibilities of a smartphone app—something that will tell visitors not just where to buy food and fuel, but something about where they are.
“Maybe in the next month or so we’ll launch the app and see how that does,” he said. “We’ve tried to select one that will allow us to input information about history and statistics about a town.”