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Bay Roberts museum, gallery shines spotlight on heritage

A replica of what you'd see around the cash register of a general store decades ago.
A replica of what you'd see around the cash register of a general store decades ago.

BAY ROBERTS, NL — The Road to Yesterday Museum and Christopher Pratt Gallery show no signs of letting up when it comes to promoting the history and culture of the Bay Roberts area.

Situated inside the old Western Union Cable Building that the non-profit Bay Roberts Heritage Society took over and managed to secure funds to fix up, the museum and gallery serve a complementary purpose. The gallery opened in 1999, with the museum to follow a year later.

The museum, as its name alludes to, allows visitors to take a walk through the businesses that occupied Bay Roberts many decades ago. You'll find a general store, forge, seamstress shop, print shop, cooperage for making barrels, clothing store and other sites.

"We laid it out to follow our theme," explained Eric Jerrett, chair of the local heritage society. "We've got a whole lot of stuff packed into a small space."

Volunteers and summer students have largely looked after research for the museum and all exhibits have been tinkered with over the years, incorporating new artifacts the museum obtains.

The Christopher Pratt Gallery features several pieces created by the famous Newfoundland painter.

The gallery, which has temperature and humidity control, got its start thanks to a considerable donation of Pratt's work from the artist himself. For years, it also relied on an agreement with the provincial art gallery (now a part of The Rooms in St. John's) to rotate pieces from its collection for display in Bay Roberts. All art reflects the culture of Newfoundland and Labrador in some fashion.

This year, the gallery finds itself relying on other resources to display pieces new to its walls. Between donations and loans from artists and private collectors, the gallery managed to cover the walls of two rooms featuring artists other than Pratt. This summer the gallery has artwork new to its walls by Mary Pratt, George Noseworthy and Gary Kennedy, amongst others.

"Every summer you come in here, you're going to see some old work that you saw before, but you're also going to see some new work you haven't seen yet," said Jerrett. "It's working out quite well."

Medical items

Within the museum this year, some recently acquired surgical tools once used by Dr. William Fraser will be displayed for the first time. Fraser worked in the Bay Roberts area for over 25 years and was the first doctor outside of St. John's to use anesthesia in Newfoundland.

"Two years ago, I guess it was his great-great niece or something, she said, 'Would you be interested in taking that in your museum?' I said, 'Absolutely. This is Bay Roberts history.'"

Jerrett said the museum regularly receives offers from the public to take items of interest.

"As people come in, we see if we can accommodate them, so our exhibits are changing — some minute changes — all the time," he said. "But then as we move along, we try to upgrade other things."

In the room dedicated to military history, new transparent displays are affixed to the windows featuring images of local veterans and others who contributed to war efforts. Jerrett said the museum's war memorabilia collection has grown considerably over the years.

The fact the museum receives so many compliments from visitors is encouraging for Jerrett, who adds he's heard multiple people refer to it as the best community museum they've ever visited. However, he would love more residents to drop by and check out what the museum and gallery have to offer.

"There's some people in Bay Roberts that have never been in the building," Jerrett added.

Among the most enthusiastic visitors he's come across are children, who tend to find artifacts and displays showcasing the old way of life fascinating.

"We've had cases where kids have been in as part of a class — whether it be Brownies, Girl Guides or whatever — and came back later with their parents or grandparents, because they wanted to come back again. We've had kids come back three or four times to go through it again."

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