Parkdale-Maplewood Community Museum
- the Little Museum that Could
by Donna M Smith
When Thomas I. (Uncle Tom) Spidell II set up his collection of old and interesting things in Avard Foster's retired barn on the newly opened Parkdale-Maplewood Community Fair Grounds in 1950 he probably never dreamed that his little "museum" would one day grow to be one of the best community museums in the province. Set in the rolling drumlin hills between Blockhouse and New Ross, the "Twin Cities" are vibrant communities that remain busy although the farming and logging that were once their mainstay are much reduced today.

In 1953" Uncle Tom" raised $300 and persuaded the community to build a 12'x20' metal sided building to house his collection on the Community Fair Grounds. When "Uncle Tom" died in 1963 he left his collection to "the people of Parkdale-Maplewood" and his niece and nephew Muriel and Lloyd Wentzel took on the care of the collection.

In 1957 the old house and barn on the Fair Grounds had been torn down and the Maccabee Lodge Hall, originally located down the road in Maplewood was moved onto the site to be used as a dining room.

In 1973/74 the present Community Hall was opened.
The Museum quickly took over the Maccabee Hall and filled it with artifacts. In 1980, the Museum Society was officially registered as a Charity with Lloyd Wentzel as Chairman and Muriel as Museum Curator.

As artifacts continued to pour in, the drawbacks to unheated, un-insulated buildings became apparent. Once more the Wentzels and the Board of Directors went to work holding suppers, selling tickets and borrowing money. A plain but functional "hall", attached to the old Maccabee building was opened in 1984. It had insulation, a furnace and yes, even a dehumidifier for use in the summer. The Nova Scotia Museum donated some furnishings and a local carpenter built some basic display "kiosks" and the most perishable items in the collection were moved into the new "digs".

Once the building was open, Muriel Wentzel announced her retirement as Curator. This writer, Donna Smith was new to the Community and had attended a few meetings of the Museum Society. Totally lacking in qualifications and not knowing any better she accepted the job of Curator. Her first priority was to find a Secretary-Treasurer as both positions were vacant - and she didn't want them! A real treasure in the person of Wendy Looke, then a new mother and business genius, was persuaded to take the job. She remains the financial and organizational rock on which today's Museum stands.

The first "Heidlebeerfest" was held in 1985 serving a selection of local "German" dishes buffet style. Now called "The Heritage Blueberry Festival," attendance had grown from less than 150 in 1985 to between 500 and 700 in the 21st century. It is held every year on the Saturday following Labour Day and is an all day event with lots of vendors, musical entertainment and demonstrations. The buffet style meal is served from 12:00 noon to 6PM. Just go to our web-site to find us.

Inspired by the acquisition of a 4'x4' folk art carving of a "sap camp" created by local wood carver Willie Mansfield in 1989, we began collecting artifacts from living artisans. The artifacts are exhibited with a photo and short biography of the maker. These now include basketry, paintings, bird carvings, knitting, hooked mats and quilting. The collection also includes displays on the Mikmaq, midwifery, the country store, shoe making, dairying, logging and horses, homemaking, toys and music including a hand written music book and pitch pipe from which one of the earliest settlers taught "singing school". The photo archive contains many old photos and the research centre holds many community histories and genealogies which are available to the public for research purposes.

In the early 1990s we began publishing a Newsletter for our membership several times a year as well as keeping our "news" in the public eye through the "Friends and Neighbours" column of the local weekly papers.

An increase in funding when the Community Museums Assistance Program (CMAP) was revamped in 1995 brought a welcome increase in our operating grant and an on-site Curator was hired in 1996. Donna Smith took the title of Administrator leaving the care of the collection and daily museum operations in Barbara Veinot's (now Wentzell) highly capable hands. A permanent part-time "Museum Assistant" in the person of Donna Wentzell Arenburg was hired in 2000.

Around 2001 we began to plan for an expansion. An application for ACOA funding for an expansion was submitted in 2003 - coinciding with our 50th anniversary - without great hopes of success. When, in the spring of 2004 we received approval of our application we did not even have a real building plan and were told the project had to be completed by January 2005! A frantic, crazy, confusing, exhausting and turbulent six months followed. Somehow we managed to get a well dug, a septic system installed, the old Maccabee Hall moved and a new building erected while operating the Museum as usual. We even held the Heritage Blueberry Festival in the middle of 'the mess'.

In the past four years much has been accomplished. The expansion has given us toilets, a meeting room, kitchenette, office space, research centre, retail shop, storage spaces and new heating system. This has allowed major improvements in the exhibit space. A fine granite cobblestone walk and patio at the new entrance have been completed and other landscaping around "the mess" has been done. We have even managed to pay off our debts thanks to a generous bequest received in 2008. That same year we received a very high score on a Community Museums Assistance Program Site Evaluation.

After 52 years as Chairman Lloyd Wentzell retired in 2005, Muriel having died in 1992. A member of his extended family, Carolea Kaulback in now Chair of our Museum Board. She is doing a great job and among her duties has taken on the "care and feeding" of our website. Just go to parkdale.ednet.ns.ca for up to date news about 'the little museum that could'.


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