The magnificent Town of Ponoka Centennial Quilt (1904 to 2004) is just one of the many amazing quilts and heirlooms that have been graciously provided by several generations of town and county families, individuals, and organizations for the newest historical display at the Fort Ostell Museum. Photo courtesy of the Fort Ostell Museum

Fort Ostell Museum to present historic display of amazing local quilts

Whether we are now parents, grandparents, or children there is no doubt that throughout our busy lives most of us have possessed and treasured a very special quilt or blanket around our homes that will always bring back so many warm and cuddly memories of days gone by. That magnificent piece of colourful material may have featured a vivid splash of nature, a mural of our family and community history, an exciting photo or logo of our favourite sports team or comic book characters, and so many other special tales and occasions that we will never forget.

A new display of historical quilts and heirlooms

In honour of the long and proud history and heritage of our town and county the congenial staff up at the Fort Ostell Museum (FOM) in the Ponoka Lions Centennial Park are creating a delightful collection that will showcase the magnificent historical quilts and heirlooms that have been delicately created by several generations of our local families, individuals, and organizations to mark the countless milestones and progress of our communities. This unique new display will be unveiled at the FOM as a part of their annual Heritage Weekend Tea celebration on Saturday, August 3 from 2 to 4 p.m. and the cost is $5.

The word quilt comes from the Latin word “culcita,” which means stuffed mattress or cushion. No one really knows when the skilled practice and now extremely popular hobby of quilting began, but the earliest evidence was found in the Temple of Osiris at Abydos, Egypt and suggested that the Egyptians wore quilted clothing as many as 5,000 years ago. Back in 13th Century England quilting was used as protective clothing to be worn over armour and chain mail, but later would be fashioned to be used as comfortable bed quilts both over and under mattresses.

As our hardy Pioneer families settled on the rugged Alberta prairies in great numbers at the beginning of the 19th century the ladies of the new districts and settlements would quickly realize that in order to survive the extremely frigid winter conditions something had to be done. As a result they would gather together during their busy daily schedule and using every piece of material available would knit and sew large and fluffy blankets and quilts that would soon have so many uses around those new family homesteads. Their creations were mostly used as extra blankets in jam-packed tiny bedrooms to keep their usually large families warm and cozy, as well as for bundling up the family during long rides wagon or buggy rides across the rugged terrain and to protect the livestock. Our history books tell us that there were also those delightful occasions where those hardy women would find time out of their busy daily schedules to meet together for “quilting bees,” quite often during special events at their homes, church hall, school house, or in town. After countless hours of pristine work and a little visting the superb quilts would be sold or raffled off to support many community projects, or were made available to those who needed a little extra help to keep their families warm and comfortable. During these countless busy quilting sessions over the years so many skills, new ideas were developed and shared together to create these magnificent quilts of all shapes and designs, and that same proud tradition carries on to this day in many households, as well during the extremely popular quilt retreats that are held annually at our Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 66 and at many other locations.

The historical quilts, artifacts, and information required to create this exciting new Fort Ostell Museum collection were graciously made available by several generations of families, individuals, and organizations from throughout the town and county of Ponoka. Here are some of the highlights of this new unique and historical community display, which will remain in place for everyone to enjoy until the end of September.

In the 1940s the Ponoka Legion Ladies’ Auxiliary got together and made a memorable quilt that contained the names of all of our many local boys who served in WWII, which was created for a raffle with the tickets selling for 10 cents each. Mrs. Belle Nelson was the winner, stored it in her cedar chest to honour the soldiers, and when she passed away many years later her son find it with the winning ticket still in place, and then kindly donated the historical quilt to the Fort Ostell Museum.

There is also a very unique quilt in the FOM collection that was put together in 1955 by the local Grand Meadow Women’s Union of Alberta in honour of Alberta’s Golden Anniversary. It was designed by Alma Hageman and all the blocks were made out of sugar sacks and then embroidered by family groups and neighbours, who paid 10 cents for each name on the quilt! In 1980 Peggy Williamson created an amazing quilt that was made out of all of her husband’s old 1950s ties.

Likely the oldest quilt in the new Fort Ostell Museum Quilt collection was made available by the later generations of the Dewhirst family. The amazing “Charm quilt” was fashioned in 1890 out of 2,000 pieces of fabric by Mrs. Arthur Dewhirst, a member of one of the Ponoka district’s earliest pioneers, who arrived here with her family in the late 1800s and settled a homestead in the Eastside District. Also very proudly hanging on the social room wall of our Fort Ostell Museum is a multi-colour Centennial Quilt, which was commissioned by the Town of Ponoka in honour of their 100th Anniversary in 2004. Joanne Comeau was asked to make the quilt, which was based on an oil painting by Alice Fuller, and along the way she would receive kindly assistance from Ponoka High School Art Teacher Mary Lynn Ghitter, retired teacher Roger Stawart, and a host of friends. Everyone is invited to attend the delightful Heritage Weekend Tea and Quilt Show on Saturday, August 3 from 2 to 4 p.m., where they can casually enjoy the wonder and creations of the new quilt display, as well as browse with staff, friends, and neighbours through the long and colorful history, artifacts, and tales of our town and county of Ponoka.

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