My name is Mary Newton and I am currently the secretary of the Irma Historical Society. The Historical Society started back in 1981, and it was formed by a good group of people interested in saving history. Our first big project was creating a two-volume set of local history books and then we started thinking about opening a museum. During the first few years of our society’s existence, we would take some of our items and put them in a couple of stores downtown to try and get a little more interest.
A few years later, the Saint Mary’s Anglican Church donated their building to us for a museum. That really helped us out and got us started. In 2008, Canadian Natural Resources decided to donate this current property to us. That was a very, very big event for us as it’s allowed us to collect and store a lot more items.
This was the original home of Jean Pare, of cookbook fame, and it was built in 1928. There’s a lot of history in the house as It’s quite old and unique since they had power back then. Mr. Elford (Jean’s father) had a power plant here in Irma and a car dealership downtown. We also had enough money donated to us that we could move the little church over to the grounds and we’ve got photos of the actual movement of the building.
As time went on, we were able to raise enough money to finish the new building which is north of the house. We got word that a gentleman in the area was a big lamp collector so we now have his collection in the building. Another donation from an estate brought enough money that we could add a portion that is specific to agriculture, so we have some agricultural stuff and also a 4-H corner. It’s just grown by leaps and bounds over the years!
A lot of people that come to the museum are fascinated that it was Jean Pare’s birthplace. There is a neat story from Jean Pare’s mother related to the house. Most people have no idea where the name for Jean Pare’s cookbooks comes from. In the early days, people that couldn’t earn a living rode on the trains from town to town. Mrs. Elford would offer a plate of food out on her front deck for the men that hopped off the train. She always said to her children, “Oh, there’s company coming.” And that’s how Jean Pare decided to call her books Company’s Coming.
Jean Pare’s dad came to Irma in about 1922 and he had a car dealership in town. During that time, he built this house. Some people say it was an Eaton house, but Jean Pare insists that Mr. Elford built it. It was unique at that time because he built a garage onto the house that is part of the basement. Mr. Elford also owned the power plant in Irma at one time.
Jean Pare moved from Irma to Viking, and then to Vermilion, but she never forgot Irma. After starting a catering company in Vermillion, she went on to publishing her popular cookbooks. She came back every year and met with us girls that she went to school with, and we’d have a little coffee party at one of our houses. We even had her out to the museum a few times.
We have a lot of items that are from the early 1900s, like chaps for riding horses. We even have an old sheep shearing outfit. We didn’t want to lose a lot of this stuff and by adding it to the museum, we can preserve it for the future. Children love it and they’re always so fascinated with what we show them. How to learn about history than doing it with some of us oldies that are still here? We believe that’s a real benefit and we love to do it.