In the chapel at the Hemstock Assisted Living Residence, with the light shining through stained glass windows, the Blackfoot Forgotten Echoes Society (BFES), a group dedicated to preserving history in the Blackfoot area, announced it would disband after 36 years.
The group took the remaining $24,000 in its bank account and divided it between the Blackfoot Seniors Centre, the Streamstown Cemetery, the Durness Community Centre and the St. Luke’s Northminster Cemetery. The group originally formed in 1979 with the goal of compiling a history of the Blackfoot area and telling the stories of the families who lived there. The 800-page tome was released in 1982.
“It’s bittersweet,” BFES president Janet Ulan said. “It was such a gratifying task to undertake, we learned so much. It’s wonderful to be part of history and recording that history.”
When the BFES began its mission, none of the members had ever put a book together, let alone something as ambitious as what they had in mind.
“We were so green it was just absolutely amazing what we did,” Ulan said. “It was a giant undertaking at the time when we got started. Little did we know what it would entail.”
The project took three years, with half that time spent on gathering personal stories alone. Due to the technological limitations of the time, the books had to be assembled manually. This meant enlisting typists and proofreaders, mocking up the pages by hand and cutting out and placing photographs and captions.
The finished product contains oral histories, photographs, sketches and prints of old maps, newspapers and government documents. The feature that Ulan says sets their book apart is the inclusion of the purser’s list from the SS Lake Manitoba from 1903, which lists the names, ages and occupations of the original Barr Colonists. The opening pages bare remarks from former premier Peter Lougheed and MLA Bud Miller.
See “Historical society,” Page 22
Four thousand copies of the book were originally printed. They were available for purchase and distributed to churches, museums and libraries.
“At the book launch we were expecting maybe under 100 people, and all of a sudden 300 people showed up,” Ulan said. “It was just phenomenal.”
The BFES spent the intervening years selling the books they had printed and trying to find a person or a group who would be interested in creating a second edition.
“For the last 30 years (we were) basically just hoping and wishing and trying to recruit people to do another book,” Ulan said. “But nobody wanted to take on the responsibility of doing an update and that’s why we decided that we’d better dissolve while there’s still a few of us left from the original community.”
Over the last 10 years, Ulan says they’ only sold one or two books annually. And now, with only four of the original 33 members remaining, the BFES is calling it quits.
In the chapel, two of those members, Ulan and BFES treasurer Vivienne Popowich, make remarks and hand out cheques to the four not-for-profit groups in attendance.
“The Forgotten Echoes Society is gone but never forgotten,” Popowich said.