Westmorland Historical Society – Beginnings
The Westmorland Historical Society was founded in 1960 as a county-level associate of the New Brunswick Historical Society. Its mandate was to collect, preserve and make available a very wide variety of materials illustrative of the history and material culture of Westmorland County. (The Statement of Purpose listed thirty-four separate categories, ranging from old newspapers to aboriginal relics.) It also undertook to “disseminate historical information” through publications, public lectures and the marking of historic sites and buildings.
For the first few years, it concentrated on gathering materials, presenting papers at regular meetings and organizing field trips to places of historical interest throughout the county. From the beginning, one of its long-term goals was to acquire a museum. This was accomplished in 1967 with the opening of Keillor House as the ‘Westmorland Centennial Museum’, so named because it was in large measure funded as a Centennial Project in celebration of Canada’s one-hundredth birthday. Besides creating a museum, the project involved restoring a historic house as an authentic setting in which to display the artifacts as living history.
Westmorland Historical Society – Today
The success of Keillor House encouraged the acquisition and restoration of four other historic buildings in Dorchester: the Bell Inn, the St. James Presbyterian Church (converted into a first-rate textile museum) and the Payzant & Card Building (formerly the Weldon Hotel).
The concentration of restoration projects in Dorchester, the dissolution of the county system and the growth of heritage societies in other centres in Westmorland County shifted the Society’s focus to the shiretown and its main emphasis to museum management and the maintenance of its historic properties. To sustain and improve them, we regularly put on a number of special events, most notably the Haunted House Tour and the Victorian Christmas Dinner, that have not only become an important part of local community life but also gained a reputation of being among the best of their kind in the province.
In keeping up with the taste of the times, the Society no longer prepares papers for its regular meetings or sponsors public lectures except for its annual general meeting, but it continues to “disseminate historical information” in its Newsletter, publications and website. To carry out this task, two research associates are engaged and others are welcome to join them. The Society also offers supervised access to its Graydon Milton Library and Genealogy Centre, presents workshops with experts in such topics as antique furniture, costumes and traditional textiles and offers hands-on learning opportunities through activities such as “Keillor Hearth Cooking”, ‘Needle and Thread for the Bed’ and the annual Heritage Fair.