Your stories keep history, museum alive

Dr. Laurie Alexander

Dr. Laurie Alexander

Our lives are made up of many firsts, some exciting and others scary. These incidents all evoke a distinct emotional response, which often gets carried through the rest of our lives.

Although we may not recall the vivid details of that first trip to the dentist, I’ll wager a guess that everyone can recall at least the feeling they left with, and it was that reaction that has stayed with you upon repeat visits, and it is the one that is called to mind when even the mere mention of the word ‘dentist’ is uttered.

For some, the inside of the dentist’s office can be similar to nails on a chalkboard. Especially if you started going to the dentist before many of the conveniences of modern dentistry emerged.

If you were living in Maple Ridge between 1951-81, there is a chance you went to Dr. Nikiforuk for your annual dental check-up, and you might recall the mint green chair, cabinets, instruments, and X-ray machine that the Maple Ridge Museum has from his office on 224th Street.

Seeing one piece of this collection, standing alone, or just the mint green colour in general may not set off an emotional reaction, but imagine walking into a space with all of these objects arranged in the same fashion his office would have been set up like. Walking into a space that depicts a central theme, anchors it in a way that a room filled with a dozen different objects cannot. There are memories still tied to the individual objects, but a larger story, a more specific encounter, is likely to be recalled with a central theme encompassing a space.

This is because objects trigger words, and stories. Almost every visitor to our museum has their own personal narrative to go along with certain objects.

From a community history standpoint, this is one of the greatest parts of the job. With Dr. Nikiforuk’s dental office, we have the objects, but the story is only truly complete when the visitor enters into the museum space, and brings with them their reaction. The objects then can take on a different life when the visitor shares their story, and with that retelling, a new history for the object can be formed.

A shared identity through the objects not only helps to unite links to the community as a whole, but specifically to the individual people. Uncovering the past of the object displayed helps us to question its place for both the viewer and object, whether the viewer’s heritage is related to the object or not.

This is why it is important to have the proper space to showcase a community history collection, which is why the Maple Ridge Historical Society has been campaigning for a new museum.  Without a proper platform for the objects, the stories we collect from each visitor remain capped at what we can display in a limited area.

And those stories, your stories, are what keeps a community history museum alive.


– by Allison White, curator at the Maple Ridge Museum.