Sometimes it’s the smell of freshly baked bread that transports a person back in time, or sometimes it’s an old saying you haven’t heard since your childhood, and sometimes it’s a song.
As the home of the largest collection of gramophones and phonographs in Western Canada, the Westlock Pioneer Museum has added the opportunity for patrons to actually hear what the sometimes-centuries-old sound machines actually sound like.
The Wiese Gramophone Collection “is the largest of its kind in Western Canada, boasting over two hundred gramophones and phonographs. These machines sit silently in the museum, mysteriously keeping their songs to themselves,” said the museum’s summer program coordinator Rebecca Skuban.
That is no longer the case though as notes from Fats Domino’s song Blueberry Hill can now be heard coming through the static of the Victor Presentation Model gramophone; or a recording of the inventor Thomas Edison’s voice on his namesake Edison Triumph Model E from 1918; or maybe you would prefer to hear Wilf Carter’s 1935 rendition of He Rode the Strawberry Roan on a Victor Victrola VV XXV Schoolhouse Model.
All of this is now possible thanks to the help of local sponsors and a grant from the Town of Westlock which went towards hiring a videographer to film several pieces to help bring attention to the collection.
“It’s a whole other dimension for the visitor experience,” said museum supervisor Karen Letts.
The museum had Don Scott of Scott Moving Pictures film 10 videos of some of the more treasured pieces in the collection, offering the public an opportunity to see and hear the machines in action, on video, for the first time, in what could be several decades for many of the machines. The video now plays in that section of the museum to add a little something extra to the experience.
The videos can also be found on YouTube.
“Additionally, the videos serve an interpretive purpose: with interesting pieces of information about the machines and records incorporated into the videos, visitors will receive new insights into the history and value of various models,” said Skuban.
“We knew we needed some sound in here because these are sound machines and it’s so very quiet in here,” said Letts.
The highlighted machines were chosen for their age, rarity and uniqueness. Some of the models are the only examples known to exist, as is the case of the nickel-plated Edison Opera model, said Letts.
Captivating people with history and the past is the mandate of the museum and bringing people in with new features such as this will help the museum grow and thrive, said Letts.
“We want to encourage people to come visit their community museum and bring friends and family when they come to town to showcase it as well. This collection is amazing. Anytime anyone walks in here, their jaws just drop and their eyes go big.”