Jenna Hauck/ Progress file Frank Van den Dorpel tries unsuccessfully to start a 1910 International Harvester gasoline engine during the Atchelitz Threshermen’s Association (ATA) open house back in March.

Atchelitz Threshermen’s Association celebrating best year ever

Membership skyrockets along public interest and project planning

Another year is in the books for the Atchelitz Threshermen’s Association, and it was one of the best ever, says ATA president Ray Ramey.

They had more new and returning guests through their gates than in years past, and upgraded the Pioneer building with a concrete floor. That was made possible through a Canada 150 grant worth $50,000, replacing the original dirt floor that their collection of trailers and historic machines have been sitting on for decades. The upgrade also allowed them to make the entire building wheelchair accessible, opening up a whole new world of discovery for everyone.

“This has been one of our most phenomenal years,” Ramey says.

One of the most exciting developments though, is the sharp increase in membership. That’s because it is the members who bring the association to life, Ramey says. This year, about 30 new members brought their numbers up to about 110. That’s 30 more people who can enjoy being a part of the “great atmosphere of the place,” Ramey says.

The ATA has a few acres of land, tucked between Atchelitz Creek and Chilliwack Heritage Park. They’ve been there since 1984, as safekeepers of the city’s past through the collection, preservation, operation and exhibition of artifacts related to the history of Chilliwack and farming in the area. By strolling through the Pioneer building, you can easily imagine milk trucks making their daily deliveries to houses along Spadina Avenue, and horses pulling tractors to work the land in Ryder Lake.

There’s also the original Canora building that houses the Canora engine, and about 30 different buildings, each with their own unique look and feel.

Ramey says the entire ATA site owes its being to its past members, who had the foresight to form an association and start preserving history when they did. It wasn’t long after that, that technology really started to change the way things are done on farms, and in machinery in general. Now, new generations of those founding members are able to visit the site and reminisce about their loved ones.

There are stories, photographs and items from Chilliwack’s past that augment the Chilliwack Museum collection, with a focus on farming. But there’s also a living and breathing operation at the heart of the ATA site. Members are at the site daily, working with tools and equipment there, often as retirees or hobbyists. The uptake in members could be because people are downsizing, Ramey says, or because people are realizing the value in honouring the past.

Either way, it’s brought extra excitement to the site lately, and got the membership thinking about future plans. They are working closely with the British Columbia Museum Association, and hoping to bring in portable interactive exhibits from other museums — a great bonus for the local students who make regular trips to the museum site.

Ramey loves the way the ATA site brings different generations together, whether it’s older mechanics sharing their knowledge with the newer, younger members, or volunteers at the museum leading children through the site.

One of the other big goals for the new year is going to be opening up for Sundays, when people are more likely to have free time to amble around. Open hours are completely reliant on their membership roster — there are no paid positions within the ATA, and member hours hit about 7,000 this year with about 15,000 visitors.

They also have hopes to get their steam engine running — a rare but worthy venture that is estimated to cost about $80,000. They’ll be applying for grants, and have a donation board on site. Donations will also help with upgrades to Granma’s Grill, upgrades to the machine sheds roof, and some cement flooring for the machine sheds.

To learn more about the Atchelitz Threshermen’s Association, visit them online at www.atchelitz.ca.

READ MORE: Turn back time at Chilliwack Threshermen’s site

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