On December 5, 1947, a small group of local citizens interested in the early history of Medicine Hat met in the home of the City’s mayor, Mr. Hector Lang. Those present included Mr. and Mrs. Lang, Mrs. M. Miller, Mr. T. Bassett, Mr. A. McColeman, Mr. and Mrs. T. Murray, Mr. and Mrs. T. Hargrave and Mrs. Michael. A motion to form the Historical Society was proposed and carried. At the next meeting, on January 29, 1949, an executive was elected:
Chairman: Hector Lang
Vice-Chairman: Tom Murray
Secretary: Hope Michael
Treasurer: Mort Fulton
Provincial Representative: Heather Murray
Members joined and paid annual dues of $1 per year. Volunteers started compiling historical information on the early settlers and progress of the Medicine Hat district. As the public began donating artifacts and documents, it became evident that a museum was needed.
At the meeting on September 9 of that year, a “Committee on Museums” was established with May Laidlaw as Committee Head. Two months later, on November 18, 1949, a motion was passed to build or acquire an old-timer’s cabin to house the artifacts that were accumulating. A small “pioneer cabin” was constructed in Riverside Park using logs from the Cypress Hills. This first museum opened in 1951. Donations of $25 per pioneer family ensured their name and year of arrival was branded on outer logs of the museum. Volunteer Historical Society members ran the museum. The site in the park offered little room for expansion and the museum was closed in 1954.
A Museum Society was incorporated to undertake the next step. Relocated to the junction of Highways No. 1 and 3 and expanded to three times the original size, the log structure was re-opened in 1957. However, the building was not heated, had no facilities and was very difficult to keep clean. In 1964, the Society applied for centennial funds to build a new brick building on the same site. The log building was demolished with only the engraved logs saved for an interior display. The new Medicine Hat and District Museum opened in 1967.
The City of Medicine Hat, through the Museum and Art Gallery Foundation, took over the operation of the building. Significant additions to the Museum were made in 1972, in 1978 (the National Exhibition Centre) and in 1988, when the existing building was also renovated and a separate archives established.
In 1998 the Museum and Art Gallery became a department of Cultural Development within the City of Medicine Hat and discussions began regarding relocation of the facilities. A fund-raising campaign culminated in the opening of the Esplanade, a combined arts and heritage centre, in 2005. The Historical Society of Medicine Hat and District continues today to support the museum and the preservation of the history of our corner of Alberta.
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