Keepers of stories recognized

Community heritage commission hands out 2011 awards; ‘Mr. History' honoured posthumously

Debby Brandrick of the Maple Ridge library

Debby Brandrick of the Maple Ridge library

Time passes quickly, so it’s important to save the important moments so others who follow can learn how we lived.

Teachers and parents at Mount Crescent elementary understood the concept. Knowing that their school would close forever in 2010, they gathered 50 years of records, photos and artifacts from their school, representing the first decade of the 21st century and brought them to the Maple Ridge Museum.

Then for good measure, they bundled up an exclusive selection of those items and made a time capsule, not to be opened until September 2030, which could be the start of the school year for the children of many of the students now at the school.

For their efforts, they received one of the 2011 Heritage Awards from Maple Ridge’s community heritage commission, issued Thursday.

As noted by the commission, if staff and parents didn’t make those efforts at preserving history, no one else would.

Similar efforts at other schools are encouraged.

When it comes to visual history of days gone by, Bruce Walther’s and Ann Wilson’s ideas are walked all over.

Their four ceramic history mosaics have been embedded in the new sidewalks on 224th Street and Lougheed Highway.

The artists, along with Maple Ridge Museum director Val Patenaude and the District of Maple Ridge’s engineering department, received the Heritage Landscape Award.

One of the four mosaics shows Thomas Haney, the founder of Haney, now in Maple Ridge’s downtown. The other three depict Maple Ridge’s military service, women and youth and will be there as long as the sidewalk is.

“They’ve very, very durable,” said Patenaude.

Similar mosaics are used in Vancouver and have stood the test of time. And because of their artistic qualities, people don’t even walk on them, she pointed out. “People recognize them as art work.”

Given the range of subjects, many other designs could have been chosen, Patenaude said.

That’s why she’s open to other groups sponsoring other designs. The cost of each mosaic is about $5,000. Forestry, fisheries, and fruit growers are just some of the stories from the past that could be illustrated on concrete.

“When you can only do four and you have the entire community history and 10,000 photos, you really have to focus,” said Patenaude. Sheila Nichols and curator Allison White also helped with the ideas.

The Maple Ridge Public Library is also in the history business – which earned it the Sheila Nichols Community History and Heritage Teaching award.

The library works closely with the Maple Ridge Museum and provides the “space, light, tables and open hours,” that Patenaude says the museum can’t provide.

The Maple Ridge library has duplicates of the museum’s archival newspaper files. Those files are maintained by museum staff, but provide the public access at hours the museum cannot.

The branch is only one that has a microfiche reader (thanks to Friends of the Library,) so researchers can read any issue of The Haney Gazette, dating from 1922. Directories and census records and family history print materials are also on hand and it has a section dedicated to genealogy and local history.

“I think that we have re-invented ourselves,” said Debbie Brandrick, with the library.

“We get a lot of calls. There’s quite a demand for the use of these files.”

An enduring relationship with the Maple Ridge Historical Society, which holds its meetings in the library, and the meetings of the Youth History Club, composed for grade 4 to 7 students, keeps the library aware of the past.

One project students do is The Year I Was Born and involves them researching the archives to find out what happened the year they came into the world.

Brandrick notes any librarian has a “natural curiosity about the past.”

“There’s a lot of families that have been here a long time,” she added.

She said it was nice to be recognized with the award.

‘Mr. History’ honoured posthumously</h4?

The park in central Maple Ridge bears his name and now so too will the award for heritage conservation.

Don Merkley, who decades ago sold most of the family farm to the school district, which later transferred that to the municipality, which made it a park that now bears his name, was honoured at the awards presentation Thursday.

His son Blake received the award on his dad’s behalf. His dad died in September at age 90.

“Don was Mr. History in Maple Ridge,” said Coun. Craig Speirs, a family friend.

“There are not a lot of Don Merkley’s in this world.”

He was always bringing artifacts to the Maple Ridge Museum, Speirs said.

Merkley would do so one at a time so he could tell staff the stories behind each item, according to writeup describing the award.

Telling stories so they didn’t get lost in the mists of time was his life-long interest. He used to write out his childhood memories on series of Christmas cards, to ensure those memories lived on.

Don lived on the property, north of Maple Ridge Secondary, on 124th Avenue, most of his life, taking over from his parents, who arrived there in the early 1900s. His dad used to raise turkeys and rabbits and grow flowers, said his son Blake.

Blake said his dad only lived in Vancouver intermittently while working as an industrial pattern maker, but later commuted from Maple Ridge when he started his own business, Industrial Pattern Works, in False Creek in 1947.

An industrial pattern maker carves wood moldings which are later transferred to sand, into which molten metal is poured for making metal parts.

Don made all the patterns for IEL Chainsaws, said Blake.

He also made the patterns for the flex joints for the Port Mann Bridge.

But it was his mom, Grace, who died in 2008, who held the family together, says Blake.

“She was the nurse. She was the cook. She worked her backside off to keep him doing the things he did. She was the glue that kept things rolling, that kept things going.”

His talent for tinkering was also employed on a recreational basis. He’d bring a wheat grinder to community events so he could supply people with fresh flour. Somewhere along the way he acquired a small cannon, which he used as the starting gun for the opening of the Trans Canada Trail.

Blake now lives in his parent’s old house and said he’s leaning towards selling the property to the district, if a deal can be worked, so Merkley Park can be extended.

“I’m not going to subdivide, let’s put it that way. I don’t think that way. I think that would be an insult to mom and dad.

“That’s the best way to honour these guys and that’s hopefully what will happen.”