A couple of years ago Val Patenaude discovered what looked to be a pot attached to a stick sitting on the front porch of the Maple Ridge Museum.
There was no note, no explanation of why the person left it, why they didn’t want it anymore or what exactly the object was.
Patenaude knew, of course, that it was the kind of thing people would have used in and around 1920 to put hot coals in before sliding it in between the covers to warm up a bed. It was an antique that somebody else could have sold for a profit.
This random discovery, along with many others over the years is the part of the job that Patenaude is going to miss the most when she retires at the end of October as director of the museum.
“I’m going to miss the randomness of life,” said Patenaude, thinking back over her 27 year tenure.
“You know, coming in this morning and having Shea hand me a big package that was in the mail with no forewarning.”
A package that contained copies of the Maple Ridge Historical Society newsletters and minutes, items Patenaude is happy to receive to copy them into digital form.
She has received photographs and archaeological collections. Even a collection of trunks.
“Bill Archibald had a massive collection of big trunks at the farm in Albion. He had these trunks, leather-bound trunks and wooden-bound trunks,” explained Patenaude, who could only take five of the trunks at the time because of a lack of storage space.
Archibald was a local teacher and horse riding enthusiast who was best known for the creation of a horse riding trail network throughout Maple Ridge.
“I said, ‘Bill, I can’t take any more trunks, they take up a lot of room and only so many can fit in a display,” chuckled Patenaude. But a couple of days later she found three more trunks waiting for her on the front porch.
She immediately called up Archibald and said, “did you think I would not know who this was”.
However, retirement was an easy choice for Patenaude, who told her herself years ago that she wanted to leave by the time she turned 70.
At 68, though, she felt her timing was close enough.
“It’s time for new blood and I’ve really been feeling that,” said Patenaude adding that another conversation has been started about finding new space for the museum, a battle Patenaude fought hard for and lost. A battle she’s grown cynical with.
Patenaude’s fondest memories come with all the people she’s worked with over the years.
“I had 50 students that worked here over the years and so for many years so that they still contact me and they still send me pictures of their children,” said Patenaude.
“I feel like we give a lot of people good starts here,” she added.
One of her proudest moments was when Lisa Codd, a former student under Patenaude, became curator at Burnaby Village Museum.
Patenaude also feels pride when she thinks about the great strides at the museum making local history more accessible to the public.
“I’m just generally happy with the whole 27 years. I really don’t have any regrets. I’m sorry we didn’t get a bigger facility, but I know how it goes and that it’s very tough and that only a few people ever achieve that step,” said Patenaude.
Patenaude is set to retire on October 31 – Halloween.
“I’ve always liked Halloween. We made it easy to remember,” she said.
Her successor will be the current curator Shea Henry, who has been with the museum for the past three years. Henry will step into the position on November 1.
“The main thing for me was to get somebody in place who would sort of take the ball and run with it. Sheila did that with me and there’s a good deal of time that needs to be spent transferring information across. it’s a very idiosyncratic job,” noted Patenaude, who spent the past year writing down procedures for Henry and training her in the administrative areas including where to find information and also who to ask.
Patenaude is now looking forward to some “unstructured time”. Although she will not be dropping all of the historical projects she is currently working on including a revision of the book Maple Ridge: A History of Settlement by Maple Ridge writer Sheila Nickols and the Canadian Federation of University Women published in 1972. A project she is working on with Whonnock historian Fred Braches.
She is also planning to do a lot more sewing.
The best memory Patenaude will hold onto from her time at the museum is the day an elderly man walked through the door with a potato rock.
“He was Ukrainian and probably about a Grade 2 or 3 education and somebody had told him that this brown rock he’d found was a fossilized potato. And he, of course, believed them,” explained Patenaude.
So, the man brought the item to the museum and handed it over to them with great excitement.
“It was clear that he believed it and was very excited to have something to give to the museum. So we wrote a number on it and made a big fuss about it and put it on display,” continued Patenaude.
From then on the man would return to museum with his great grandchildren to show them his fossilized potato.
“We still have it in the collection,” added Patenaude, noting that the museum is for the community.
“Because sometimes it’s just more important to respect somebody and their desire to be a contributor to the society than it is to be accurate.”