In 1931, Shaunavon’s Grand Coteau Museum was established in order to preserve a part of history before it disappeared.
Why is the museum called the Grand Coteau?
Inspiration for the name of the museum came from the name Grand Coteau of the Missouri River. From the Cypress Hills onward, the land gradually slopes so that all the rivers empty into the Missouri River. One of the explorers of the early West, probably La Verendrye, named the slope of land the Grand Coteau, which means the Great Slope.
The first paragraph of this letter; written by B.W. Wallace of the Grand Coteau Museum on August 21, 1933 to Francis Kermode, Esq. Director of the Provincial Museum of Natural History in Victoria, B.C.; mentions the Missouri Plateau, “locally known as the Grand Coteau: hence the name.” (See also Coteau du Missouri - Wikipedia)
A Brief History
Early volunteers including Judge S.A. Hutcheson (chair), Joseph C. Hossie (vice-chair), Elliott Neese, W.A. Mitchell, Robert L. Sanburn, Jack F. Hughes, Chas. F. Holmes, Dr. Harry V. Morgan, B.W. Wallace, J. Russell Martin, Stanley Coxon, Frank O. Bransted, and Horace M. Underhill each contributed to the museum’s collection in various fields of interest (bird, insect, and animal life; geology, paleontology, and natural resources; “curios” and botany; police and pioneer life). This extensive natural history and historic collection was housed in a former two room school house (Cottage School) located on the north side of the Shaunavon Public School grounds.
A large group of volunteers kept the museum active until 1936, after which time Frank Bransted remained the sole volunteer willing to tour visitors through the collection. In 1957, interest was again active and a revival of the museum was undertaken. The school board sold the building to the Town of Shaunavon for the costly sum of $1.00. The building was moved to its present site on Centre Street with assistance from the Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Shaunavon and the Shawnee Club.
The building was renovated and its operation turned over to a management committee with representation from the Town of Shaunavon, Chamber of Commerce, various local school boards, the Shawnee Club, and two members at large. The committee began their work in July of 1959 and the museum was officially re-opened in 1963 in time for the Town of Shaunavon’s 50th Anniversary.
Since 1963, ideas were already expressed to incorporate a library and the need for more space was becoming an issue. In 1973, preliminary plans were initiated to provide more space, particularly to house heritage artifacts. A comprehensive cataloguing system was also a part of the new plans and in June of 1976, a more extensive cataloguing system was instituted. In 1977, the Grand Coteau Management Committee presented a proposal to the Town Council to have the museum enlarged to include an art gallery and a branch of the regional library. The plan received approval and the new municipal facility was opened on July 12, 1980 under the guidance of a Board of Directors with one staff person hired as Curator.
Today, the Grand Coteau Heritage & Cultural Centre includes the Shaunavon Branch of the Chinook Regional Library, an art gallery, natural history and heritage museums as well as a community meeting space. The Centre is open year round and the volunteer board along with three staff members - Director of Culture, Collections Manager and Program Coordinator - continue to provide visitors with a variety of cultural experiences. The cataloguing system has again been updated and computerized, school tours and research have become an integral part of the operations as well as a number of other projects in order to reflect the growing interest in heritage. The Centre also serves as the Tourist Information Centre for the Town of Shaunavon.
Early History of Grand Coteau Museum Here
The Shaunavon Standard, May 15, 1957
In view of the fact that there is a movement in town to re-establish the museum, a summary of its history is being printed. To many people in Shaunavon it is old news, but there are some newcomers who would, perhaps, enjoy an article on so newsworthy a feature of the Town of Shaunavon.
August 3, 1931, was the date the Shaunavon Canadian Club met at the court house and organized the Grand Coteau Museum committee. Inspiration for the name of the museum had come from the name Grand Coteau of the Missouri River. From the Cypress Hills onward, the land gradually slopes so that all the rivers empty into the Missouri River. One of the explorers of the early West, probably La Verendrye, named the slope of land the Grand Coteau, which means the Great Slope.
President of the committee was His Honour, the late Judge S. A. Hutcheson; vice-president, J. C. Hossie; secretary, the late Bruce J. Ennis; the curator, H. F. Hughes, now of Dawson Creek.
In addition to the executive officers, convenors were appointed to deal with the various branches of work. The departments and convenors were: historical places and names, Stan Coxon; bird, animal land insect life, Chas. F. Holmes; plant life, J. R. Martin; Indian antiquities, H. F. Hughes; pioneer antiquities, F. O. Bransted; geology, J. C. Hossie; war relics, the late B. W. Wallace; and natural resources, the late George Barr.
Included with the above group of officers were the following men who were interested in the project.: E. Neese, Chas. Guiguet, R. L. Sanburn, the late H. M. Underhill, L. Guiguet, Dr. G. H. Lee, Ven. Archdeacon Wells-Johnson, J. W. Tait and George Selby.
The nucleus of the museum, consisting of several birds, insects, curios and relics was exhibited in the window of Hugh Stevenson Ltd. store.
To add to this nucleus two expeditions in search of material were made. The first expedition to Val Marie yielded a considerable amount of geological specimens but very few articles for the other departments. Found in the Pierre Shale, which is classified as belonging to the Cretaceous period, were rocks and fossils of the Inoceramus, Scaphite, Baculites and Placenticeras groups. The second expedition yielded more material for the other departments and several natural history specimens.
The collection of stuffed animals and birds were all done by W. Steffan and H. F. Hughes, together with the help of Chas. Guiguet (now curator of the B.C. Museum at Victoria), Geo. Bransted and other local boys interested in taxidermy.
An amusing story is told in connection with the stuffed buffalo on display. The late Dr. Lee obtained the buffalo carcass from the Wainwright Park in Alberta. Professional taxidermy on such a huge animal would cost the committee more than it could afford. Fortunately Dr. Lee remembered that Mr. Steffan, who had stuffed a large number of animals, required an appendix operation. Barter was very much in evidence those days, so the doctor and the taxidermist reach an agreement. Dr. Lee would consider the debt paid if Mr. Steffan would stuff the buffalo.
Every phase of development of the ‘Old West’ is shown in the Grand Coteau Museum. Some of the representative articles are an old spinning wheel, a collection of flintlocks, frontier pistols, bayonet rifles, photos of Fort Walsh, preserved reptiles, Indian work ranging from pemmican to intricate beadwork, and stuffed animals of every description.
Oddly amidst all this, there lies an old sextant donated by a long-forgotten sailor. Unusual as it is, it attracts the attention of all children who tour through the old building.
School children often tour the museum. Mr. Bransted guides them around telling them various stories connected with the exhibit items. One very interesting story he tells is of the North West Mounted Police, now the RCMP. The youngest son of the famous English novelist, Charles Dickens, served in the NWMP for eleven years. He was awarded a medal for bravery. The medal, which Mr. Bransted succeeded in obtaining for Grand Coteau Museum, was claimed by the Mounted Police in Regina and is at present in their museum there.
Anyone who desires to see the museum has but to ask Mr. Bransted to guide them through whenever it is convenient for him. In the past two weeks he has guided ten classes of children, ranging from grade two to grade nine, through the museum.
Grand Coteau Museum is a noteworthy feature of Shaunavon. It is a place of delightful discoveries for the young people and a place of nostalgic memories for the older folk.
The Shaunavon Standard, September 8, 1943
Perhaps the most outstanding exhibit in the museum is the buffalo which is in good state of preservation. Frank Steffan, who had some training in taxidermy, rendered much valuable work at the museum in its early days. With the assistance of some local boys, Mr. Steffan mounted the buffalo and that was no easy task. It took about two months to thoroughly scrape the hide and bone of all tissue and big quantities of paper were boiled to make a paper mache for the simulated body.
Nearly all of the birds and small animals in the museum were mounted by a group of local boys instructed and assisted by H.F. Hughes. The appearance of the museum is a credit largely to Mr. Hughes who was a tireless worker in gathering and arranging exhibits in the early days.
The boys who did most of the work were Charles Guiguet, George Bransted, Lawrence Binkley and Walter Poisson, all of whom have scattered to pursue their life’s work. Work for the museum was to hold the beginning of Charles Guiguet’s career. He was later engaged by the National Museum of Ottawa to do field work in B.C. and left it only to enlist in RCAF.
Buffalo Now Mounted and on Show at Museum
The Shaunavon Standard, March 2, 1933
Towering nearly 6 feet in height, and mounted in a lifelike posture, the buffalo obtained from the Wainwright herd in November is now mounted and on exhibition at the Grand Coteau Centre. A splendid piece of workmanship, has been done by Frank Steffan, taxidermist in charge of the work, aided by Jack Hughes, curator, and if for no other reason, a trip to the museum to see the buffalo is recommended.
It is interesting to note that it took approximately 2 months and a half to tan the hide, and 350 pounds of salt and alum were used in tanning solution.
The origin of the Michel Pablo bison herd (the one in Wainwright Park) is briefly as follows: In the spring of 1873, Walking Coyote, a Pend d’Oreille Indian, captured four buffalo calves (two males and two females) from the wild herds on Milk River, near the present site of the town of Buffalo, Montana.
The following spring, Walking Coyote took the four calves to the St. Ignatius mission in the centre of the Flathead reservation. When the heifers were four years old, each had a calf; from that time on they increased slowly year by year until they numbered thirteen head and their Indian owner decided to dispose of them.
C.A. Allard, who was then ranching on the reservation, succeeded in interesting his fellow rancher, Michel Pablo, in entering into partnership, and together they bought ten of Walking Coyote’s herd as a speculation, paying $250 a head for them. At the time of Mr. Allard’s death in 1896, the herd numbered about 300, and these were divided equally between Michel Pablo and his former partner’s estate. The remaining 150, owned by Pablo, remained on range until 1906 when, in the early part of that year, the Canadian government obtained an option on this herd and made a deal with Pablo to purchase the entire herd (which was supposed to number 300 head) for the sum of $250 for each buffalo, delivered at the railroad at Ravalli, Mont., where they were crated by Canadian officials and shipped to central Alberta (Wainwright), a distance of 1,200 miles. The whole transaction was much larger than anticipated. Instead of 300 the buffalo numbered 709. Three years were required to ship them, 1906, 1907, 1908, and the sum of $200,000 was involved. The herd numbers several thousand at the present time.
Museum Notes - THE BUFFALO!
The Shaunavon Standard, January 25, 1934 - Student News
The buffalo is one of the most interesting of the museum exhibits not only because it’s the largest exhibit but also because it was mounted by the local museum officials. The buffalo is a descendant of one of the 709 buffaloes which were brought into Wainwright National Park from Montana in 1907. By 1925 there were 12,000 of them so 1634 animals were sent to Wood Buffalo Park, south of Great Slave Lake. The museum buffalo was an exceptionally fine animal, standing about 4 feet high at the shoulder and weighing about 1200 pounds. An unusual feature of these animals is the thickness of the skin around the hump, it being an inch and half thick.
- Harold Eckert and Jack Mitchell