Fred Light Museum manager to celebrate 40 years service

It’s been 40 years, 64 summer students, six mayors and four administrators.

Bernadette Leslie has been working at the Fred Light Museum in Battleford since its beginnings. She worked many years with the museum’s namesake, who passed away in 1998, and who she has always and will always refer to as Mr. Light. “I guess I’m old school,” she has said.

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The museum’s origins date back to Light turning his collection of firearms and artifacts over to the Town of Battleford in order to see them preserved in a museum setting. Leslie started working there as a summer student. Now she is the curator-manager, and the museum has grown not only in its collection, but in buildings and capacity as well.

The museum, in addition to the former St. Vital School building, also has a replica fire hall, a woodworking shop and exhibit, a replica of the Fred Light’s garage and, in its latest development, a blacksmith’s shop.

A bigger museum means more work, so Leslie is now working 10 months each year. It helps her get much more done, such as applying for grants (which previously would have been missed out on due to the timing of the grant intakes), changing displays and dealing with incoming artifacts, plus paperwork.

“It also helps my pension plan,” she adds. She does intend to retire someday, probably in three more years, but she is also saying, “We’ll see.”

She also has a bucket list. It includes a trip to the Maritimes. Travelling is something she and husband Lyle haven’t been able to indulge in, as for the last 20 years they have been running a care home, a 24/7 endeavour.

When Leslie retires, they will also retire from the care home operation. They presently have three guests.

Keen bicyclists (Leslie usually rides around six miles a day), She and Lyle hope to travel to various Canadian provinces and tour around on their bikes.

She would also like to return to Ireland to her father’s family’s roots. It would be Lyle’s first trip to Ireland, and her second.

But until retirement comes around, there is still lots to do and lots going on at the museum to keep Leslie, three summer students and 25 volunteers busy.

Over the last three years, the museum, which is overseen by a board of directors, has brought in day camps for children. They have been popular enough to create waiting lists.

About 80 children aged six to 12 have been attending each summer. They tour the museum to find suggested items and they’ve built birdhouses with the assistance of board member and woodworker Floyd Andersen and other volunteers.

Last year, says Leslie. they had a visit from the Saskatchewan Archeological Society caravan. It travels to a different reagion each year and should be back in a few years. It was extremely popular, says Leslie.

They also have a program they call “I Spy” for children who visit. They are sent on a quest throughout the museum to locate certain items for a chance to retrieve a treat from a “treasure chest.” Leslie says the children really enjoy it, and so do the adults, who then have a chance to view the museum on their own. The adults also like the idea of the “I Spy” program for themselves, as it tends to slow them down and cause them to take better look at all the showcases.

This year, there’s a plan to add camps for adults as well as children, also conducted by Andersen and volunteers, in which women (in their own camp)  will built a wine rack, and the men (also in their own camp) will build a backyard personal beverage and food server. There will be room for eight people in each camp.

Last year, the museum had 2,223 visitors, not including the camps. Entrance continues to be by donation and Leslie says she is pleased with how it is working out. Patrons also seem to appreciate it. One year they tried charging a set fee and some came to the door and turned around. With donations, she said, people give what they can.

“Some are generous and some not so much.”

Additional plans for this year include the Aug. 9 old fashioned family picnic, running from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. There will be games for children, vendors, horse wagon rides, the Balloon Man, face painting and a nail hammering contest, The Lions will have a food booth, so patrons can bring a picnic meal or buy it there. It’s timed to coincide with the Battleford parade.

The museum is also involved in an Honour Our Veterans program which will see banners featuring local veterans up on 22nd Street light poles by Remembrance Day. Watch for more information on this program in future issues of the News-Optimist.

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