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Museum exhibit paints ‘vivid picture’ of a White Rock era
When the revamped White Rock Museum and Archives opened its doors last year, there was just one downside to public reaction to the first show, the travelling exhibit Aliens Among Us.
As fascinating as the survey of invasive species of flora and fauna in B.C. was, for some it just didn’t have that local ‘zing’ to it to reaffirm one of the museum’s mandates – as a showcase of White Rock’s own history.
No such criticism can be levelled at the current show, Emergency and Everyday Assistance: A History of Fire Rescue In White Rock.
Created by collections and exhibits co-ordinator Jasmine Moore, in partnership with White Rock Fire Rescue – with a strong assist from museum community historian Hugh Ellenwood and a variety of eager volunteers – the show is a fitting tribute to the firefighters who have been inextricably linked with the evolution of the community from its pioneer days.
Detailed information – and a wealth of memorabilia and artifacts – contributed by retired White Rock fire chief Peter Duke, current fire chief Phil Lemire and Scott Booth, local president of the International Association of Firefighters, are complemented by the museum’s archival photographs and artifacts from the permanent collection to create a multi-faceted picture of the impact of firefighting, and other emergency services, on White Rock.
“And we do have quite a lot of artifacts that have been donated from the fire department over the years,” Moore noted.
Far more than political platitudes and long-forgotten photo opportunities, it has been the unexpected disasters – particularly the blazes that ripped through highly flammable wooden pioneer stores and residences – that have tested the mettle of the community, defined its resilience and lingered in the collective memory.
Photographs of the daylight conflagration that severely damaged the Army Navy Airforce Veterans’ Hall on Washington Avenue (now Marine Drive) on Aug. 17, 1956, are part of the display and they paint a vivid picture of a vanished era.
While members and volunteers with the White Rock-Sunnyside Fire Committee fight to control the flames and thick black smoke issuing from the building, the parking lot across the street at the Great Northern station is full of what are now considered classic cars, while shirt-sleeved residents and summer visitors gawk from the safety of the boardwalk.
Along with such materials, Moore has provided a written timeline of key fire and safety-related events from the pioneer days to the present, plus a series of ‘Did You Know?’ panels offering little-known facts.
“We’ve also included quotes from newspapers for the more significant fires from 1910 to the 1980s – the language helps create a real sense of the times,” Moore said.
Similarly, the historic eras of the fires that threatened the original White Rock school in 1918, and destroyed the Central Hotel and many businesses in 1930 and the Blue Moon Dance Pavilion in 1931, are evoked by carefully chosen artifacts, such as children’s toys and school books, old luggage and a portable gramophone.
“It gets people to see the impact of the fires and imagine themselves into the time period,” she said.
And while the exhibit has a lot of firefighting memorabilia from the past – including the air raid-style alarm that used to sit on top of the White Rock firehall, antique hose nozzles, firemen’s helmets and badges and the case from the original La France inhalator donated by the Kinsman Club in 1947 – clearly one of the prizes is the original 1925 Studebaker fire truck that was acquired by the volunteer force when it was formally created in 1934.
The truck, which served valiantly until 1951, was rescued from a collapsed barn in Abbotsford years ago and restored to its full glory by a group of volunteers that included Booth, plus members of the Shriners and the Teamsters’ Union.
But there’s also up-to-date equipment in the exhibit including a modern protective suit worn by a female mannequin – a nod to the fact that women are very much part of contemporary firefighting operations.
“Also, to give a more modern aspect, the display covers how useful and involved in the community firefighters are,” Moore said – pointing to a cycle used in last year’s cross-Canada Shore2Shore Ride to benefit the Variety Club’s children’s charities.
“White Rock firefighters donate 30 days each year to charity events, which is a huge amount of their time,” Moore said.
Not neglecting the artistic aspect – a continuing focus of the museum – the student art wall features fire-and-rescue-themed paintings produced by students of Elgin Park Secondary.
“It’s wonderful to see the creativity and imagination they bring to this,” Moore said.
Museum and archives executive director Sharon Oldaker said the exhibit, which has been in the works since October, exemplifies the newly-renovated museum in action.
“I’m so excited to have this show here – and excited for the community,” she said. “It’s great to show something that is so close to people’s hearts.”