Arthur Beswick filmed the museum’s opening in 1966 and will allow the museum to use footage in its programs.

Preserving farming’s past in Langley

Museum anniversary preparations unearth a historical film.

The history of the B.C. Farm Museum can truthfully said to be frozen in time.

At least it’s grand opening was. The museum was part of a documentary film made in 1966 that made its way to the National Archives in Ottawa and was frozen. Old films are put into cold storage to prevent their decomposition over time.

Arthur Beswick made the 70-minute documentary on the 1966 events for the centennial of the union of the B.C. mainland and Vancouver Island.

“This is the first actual film I ever made,” Beswick said.

The film included star Raymond Burr on the courthouse steps in New Westminster re-enacting the announcement of the unification, the annual cabinet meeting at the Fort Langley National Historic Site, lots of dignitaries and the farm museum.

Beswick’s wife had the film shown at Government House in Victoria. Arthur was flown to London for a showing with the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Robert Bellinger, whose profession was provisioning and was well acquainted with agriculture.

“A museum such as this gives people a feeling of belonging to the past as well as the present,” Bellinger said.

He said, at the museum opening, it is important to remember the past because it is the foundation upon which the future is built.

“Man is rooted in his past and evidence of continuity makes for good citizenship,” Bellinger added.

The premier of B.C. at the time, the well-known WAC Bennett was also present.

“This was the first agricultural centre,” Bennett told the Langley crowd.

He also congratulated those with the museum for being willing to put in the hard work and not simply expecting government to do it.

“We enjoy helping people to help themselves,” he said. “…Not only is our economy in British Columbia in wonderful shape but our finances are in wonderful shape, but please do not come with your needs to Victoria.”

Someone at Government House sent the film to the National Archives, unbeknownst to the Beswicks.

Soon Arthur was off to Africa and other projects. He spent decades travelling the world making films.

Several months ago Beswick got to wondering where his first film got to and about the same time, museum volunteer Hilary Ruffini found a reference to the opening and the film in the B.C. Archives.

Ruffini contacted the National Archives only to find out that old films are kept in a frozen state but that the filmmaker had recently contacted the archives as well and the film had been thawed and digitized.

The museum obtained the rights to use the film and paid the $40 to obtain a copy. Beswick said he would allow other community groups to do the same.

“We will certainly use it in-house,” said museum president Todd Davidson.

It will be incorporated into the interactive display program being developed at the museum and unveiled in 2017 for the Canada 150 celebrations.

In preparation for the anniversary, volunteers also went through five decades of museum records. Davidson noted that they came across a consultant’s report from 1980 that said “Too much work was being done by too few people with too little money,” which elicited laughter from the anniversary banquet crowd.

That lack of resources became even more true after the federal government stopped providing a small amount of funding for staff in the 1990. Since then, volunteers have handled every task.

Shirley Ohl, 88, and her late husband, Werner (known as Ollie), used to come out to the museum from their home in Coquitlam for more than a decade in the 1980s and ’90s. They had actually stopped by the museum to see if someone could help them with a vintage tractor purchased at auction.

“We came in and an hour later, we both went out with memberships,” she said.

The volunteers were praised by the politicians and dignitaries who spoke at the anniversary dinner.

“This is such an incredible community with people who give so much back to it,” Fort Langley-Aldergrove MLA Rich Coleman said.

Township Mayor Jack Froese noted that the museum is important to keep the agricultural history of the province and that kids who visit the seed room there don’t understand the role of agriculture in their lives.

“They don’t know where their food comes from,” he noted.

John Aldag, before he was the MP for Cloverdale-Langley City, was in charge of the Fort Langley National Historic Site.

“Fort Langley has this amazing pocket of history,” he said.

Aldag grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan. When he was at the historic site, his parents visited and went on and on, not about his workplace, but the farm museum across the street.

“We spent most of the day there,” he said his parents gushed.

B.C. Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon lauded the volunteers and the countless hours they’ve spent restoring and exhibiting the artifacts.

She’s a rancher in the Interior and is working with neighbours to preserve local history.

“So actually this is undercover,” she joked. “I’m on a spy mission.”

Langley-Aldergrove MP Mark Warawa toured the facility last year.

“Fifty years ago, I was 16,” he commented. “It brings back great memories.”

He told the crowd his visit has given him an idea about what he’s doing after retiring from politics. Warawa said he looks forward to being one of those who restores and preserves the equipment.

“I want to be a volunteer,” he said.

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