By Erika Mathieu
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Coyote Flats Prairie Tractor Museum, just minutes from the Picture Butte townsite. A project which began in 1982 as a passion project; a space to restore old farm equipment, but has since evolved into including an impressive collection of farming equipment and vintage tractors in working condition, as well as an entire village of buildings showcasing several buildings, shops, and homesteads dated back to the early 1900s. The museum became certified by the Alberta Museum Society in 2009.
If you have ever visited Heritage Park in Calgary or the Fort Steele historical site in B.C., you will know how wonderful it is to experience a bit of life from a bygone era. Coyote Flats is a similarly well-kept historical site, flush with expertly curated details that honour the parts of southern Alberta’s heritage.
So what’s so odd about Coyote Flats? It is kind of hard to pinpoint, but for me, it lies in its status as a diamond in the rough. To call this spot a hidden gem would be an understatement: the fact of the matter is, most people don’t even know this little bit of neatly preserved history exists at all, let alone just a 25-minute drive from the city. Admittedly, I have lived in Lethbridge for 12 years and was not aware of this incredible spot until this year.
It wasn’t until I began reporting for Sunny South News that I even heard the name Coyote Flats, an unassuming and fascinating place surrounded by corn fields and the comforting vastness of the prairies.
The amount of work and care that has gone into its upkeep and restoration is remarkable, particularly because so much of the work done at the site is volunteered time. The site has an impressive collection of antiques displayed in the spacious Kleeman Hall, but also within the village’s many buildings which capture the items in the context they were designed to be used. Fine china is set at the dining table of the Eaton Catalogue house, tin packages with vintage graphics line the pantry in the retro kitchen, and there is a comforting absence of the near-constant digital technology which permeates present-day homes. We normally see antiques juxtaposed with objects of modernity, but in the posh Eaton house, the objects feel contemporary; they are only among other old things. The entire Pioneer Village looks like a film set; an immersive space to explore and discover, in a similar way, travelling allows us to expand our understanding of somewhere or someone else.
I visited Coyote Flats Pioneer Village several times this summer for Harvest Days, which had the village buzzing with action and excitement, but also alone, with no other visitors around. Initially, I couldn’t articulate why it felt both sentimental and intriguing.
For me, it was a combination of the element of exclusivity, as we had the whole village to ourselves. More importantly, visitors can learn about cultural differences and feel far away without leaving the county.
This element of “somewhere else-ness” is something people seek out all the time as a form of escapism, but also as a way to experience something beyond the scope of their own lens. This is perhaps my favourite part of writing Odd-Berta, there is a sense of being transported “elsewhere,” right in our own backyard.
For more information on the village, hall rentals, and upcoming events visit coyoteflats.org, or better yet, plan a drive out and see for yourself!
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