Old is new at recently-opened museum

Coombs couple work to keep local history alive

Sharon Cox-Gustavson and Dale Donaldson have worked hard to create a sense of history at their recently-opened Coombs Museum. (Below) Cox-Gustavson shows off her facility to students.

If you have some time to spare and feel like immersing yourself in a bygone era, you might want to visit the fledgling Coombs Museum.

Sharon Cox-Gustavson, along with Marlene Stahely have been gathering photos and documents on the history of Coombs over the past 12 years and thanks to a generous donation of free rent by Dale Donaldson, owner of the Coombs General Store, the museum opened its doors in August.

Located in an historic house that is attached to the Coombs General Store, the museum is operated solely by volunteers.

And while the exhibits at the quaint museum may be modest, the history behind them is rich and Cox-Gustavson, who has worked tirelessly to bring Coombs’ past to the public, is more than happy to share her knowledge of the area.

“I enjoy all of this. Our family had a dairy farm here. I grew up here and went to school in Coombs and I have a lot of memories,” she said.

Cox-Gustavson moved away from Coombs for a time to pursue her teaching career, but when she retired and moved back 12 years ago she started gathering historical documents on the area in an effort to support French Creek School which the school board was planning on closing.

“Marlene and I rallied hard to save the school and started collecting pictures,” she said. “That’s part of it. We were passionate because of our memories growing up here.”

Now under the umbrella of the Arrowsmith Community Enhancement Society (ACES) the museum is up and running, providing a social awareness of the community’s history in preparation for the Coombs centennial celebration taking place on the May long weekend in 2012.

The historic house is a perfect place to display the photos, memorabilia and artifacts, which illustrate and chronicle the lives of the early settlers of Coombs and Cox-Gustavson is an enthusiastic guide.

She has a story for many of the photos adorning the walls and is very knowledgeable about the lives of early settlers.

Back in the day, Cox-Gustavson said Coombs was a real train village with lots of logging and farming.

She said the land was donated for a Salvation Army settlement when the railroad was built in the early 1900 s and Bert Topliffe, one of the eldest living members from that colony of families has provided a wonderful supply of Coombs history from him and his wife Grace.

Cox-Gustavson has also been a generous donor providing an antique bedroom set that once furnished a tourist chalet at the east end of Cameron Lake.  The 10-bedroom structure was built in 1910 by the CPR and Cox-Gustavson worked in the lodge as a teenager.  She said when the property was sold and the building removed she used a whole month’s worth of her teaching salary to purchase a headboard and dresser.

“The furniture from England came around the horn of South America because the Panama Canal wasn’t finished.  When I worked at the lodge in the 1960s, there were only two headboards left. When I was about 23 years old and I heard the lodge was being dismantled I asked if I could buy the furniture for $300,” she recalled.

Have an item or photo collecting dust? The museum is requesting family stories, pictures and local historical artifacts. For further information, donations or volunteer time you can contact Cox-Gustavson at 250-248-6655. The museum is open daily from noon until 4 p.m. and is located beside the Coombs General Store.


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