“Nobody thought I would get it,” says Sheila Willis of Smith, referring to her nomination for the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.
However, they were wrong. Willis learned last week she has been chosen to receive the award, at a ceremony in Edmonton on Oct. 25.
The good news arrived by way of a letter from the AHRF, saying (among other things) she was chosen due to her “exemplary contribution to the preservation and presentation of Alberta’s heritage.”
Willis is developing a reputation in the northern part of the province for her research into history, and ‘presenting’ it via her mobile app called ‘History Check.’ Using that application, travellers around the north county have easy access to all sorts of historical points of interest, in a growing database that enhances the travel experience for folks interested in that sort of thing.
One thing leads to another, and more recently Willis’s historical investigations have resulted in the acquisition of artifacts connected to Mirror Landing. This was the thriving, pre-railway settlement at the confluence of the Lesser Slave and Athabasca Rivers. On a recent trip to Vancouver Island (sponsored by Vanderwell Contractors, via the Smith Community Development Council), Willis was invited to dig into family collections connected to Mirror Landing. She’s now in possession of artifacts that were in the Mirror Landing household of C.H. Hult, a Swedish immigrant businessman, who lived there with his wife Signe and their daughter Birgit.
“I have 97 piece of silverware!” says Willis. “And a steamer trunk shipped from Sweden.”
And much more, including embroidered pillowcases, a doll and books.
The recent Vancouver Island trip included a visit to the granddaughter of ‘Peace River’ Jim Cornwall. Looking through a trunk, Willis says she found documents supporting stories she’d heard about the northern transportation magnate. One being that he was conversant in four Indigenous languages!
So what happens now?
His granddaughter and her husband will probably be coming to this area,” Willis says. She hopes they’ll bring the trunk of Cornwall documents. They’ll be gone through, sorted out and (she hopes) “dispersed to appropriate museums and archives.”
As for the Hult family artifacts, Willis has a couple of things in mind. One is to display some of them at the M.D. office (“under discussion”). The other is to hold an event in Slave Lake and show them off.
“In October we want to have a dinner,” she says. “Bring all these things and spread them out for people to look at. And give a talk.”
In the meantime, Willis will be doing more research into the Hult family, hoping to unearth further archival info. She’s also planning to write an article on her finds for a magazine catering to Swedish-Canadians.
Examples of some of the Mirror Landing artifacts Sheila Willis brought back from the West Coast.