Lillooet Museum, Visitor Centre celebrate milestone birthdays

Trivia contest challenges locals' knowledge

Bring on the birthday cake and candles for the Lillooet Museum and Visitor Centre, which are celebrating their 40th and 25th birthdays, respectively.

To mark 40 years in their current location, the Museum and Historical Society are sponsoring a trivia contest that asks visitors to answer 10 questions on local history. Sharp-eyed contestants will find all 10 correct answers by touring the museum.

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Two $100 cash prizes will be awarded to the first two correct entries drawn. There will also be two $50 prizes and four $25 prizes. All entries must be submitted by noon on July 1 and the winners will be announced at 1 p.m. that day. Winners have to be present at the Canada Day Celebration in the Park to claim their prizes, which curator Susan Bell notes gives Lillooet residents a very distinct advantage over tourists.

Bell has longstanding family ties to the Museum/Visitor Centre. Her father Glen Bryson was the son of a pioneering Lillooet family and was Lillooet's mayor at the time the Museum was established. Her mother Hilda was curator for 25 years and Bell herself is coming up on her 14th year as curator and manager.

One of her favourite memories is of a "little old, silver-haired lady from England" who spotted the 1927 Croquenole machine displayed in the museum. The Croquenole was a hot wave hair curling device resembling an instrument of torture from a Frankenstein movie.

"This lady said she'd had her first hot wave on a machine identical to our Croquenole machine," Bell remembers. "She told me how hot it got. She lifted her bangs and she still had a great big scar on her forehead from the hot wave."

The museum contains many pioneer artifacts, archaeological finds and logging equipment relics. Rarities include the bell and melodeon from the original St. Mary's Church built here in 1861, Geoffrey Downton's chain mail armor from World War 1, one of the first sewing machines ever patented, vintage radios and a collection of valuable Artie Phair photographs of Lillooet. Downstairs, a display honouring legendary newspaper editor Ma Murray recreates her Bridge River-Lillooet News office.

As visitors enter the building, they see on their left the largest mounted Rocky Mountain Elk head ever registered in BC. Dusting the elk's giant antlers is a regular task for museum staff.

One of Bell's favourite items is a sampler embroidered in 1827 - yes 1827 - by nine-year-old Alice Webster in England. The sampler is in remarkably good condition and Bell says if the Antiques Roadshow ever makes it to Vancouver she would love to take the item to the show's experts.

The Museum/Visitor Ccntre had three employees this spring - Bell, her assistant Lisa LaRochelle and Louise Wirtz, who's studying tourism at Capilano College. Summer students start work in July.

"We're really fortunate that the kids like it here," says Bell, "Ninety per cent of our staff are returning staff and some come back for three or four summers.

She continues, "It's lovely to see the passion in the kids after they've worked here for a summer. It's a passion they didn't realize they had for their community."

Visitor Centres, identified by their distinctive blue and yellow logos, arrived on the BC scene in 1986, just in time for Expo 86.

The centres provide a wide range of services, including professional visitor counselling, helpful travel information and literature, and accommodation reservations.

Over the last dozen years, Lillooet's Visitor Centre has averaged 30,000 visitors a year. Many are from Australia, Britain and Europe, particularly Germany.

Bell says the cancellation of CN Rail's passenger service "cut into our numbers for a time, but almost instantly we had more bus tours coming in."

"I'm sure we must be close to a million visitors by now," Bell adds. "Tourism BC has a survey for visitors and we get many, many excellent reviews."

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