'It's very sad': Burnaby Historical Society disbanding due to dwindling membership

For 61 years, locals have worked to preserve the city's history

After 61 years of preserving and promoting the city’s heritage, the Burnaby Historical Society is disbanding.

In 1957, columnist Barry Mather and cartoonist Fraser Wilson, both of the Vancouver Sun, joined forces with the editor of the New Westminster-based newspaper The Columbian, Roy Long, to create the society.

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They felt more could be done to recognize local history and quickly got to work.

Since then, the society has catalogued and uploaded old photos online, created the Burnaby Village Museum and refurbished the carousel and train that now live there.

Roger Whitehouse, now a board member, joined the society when he retired 15 years ago. The U.K.-born Burnaby resident said he was keen to get involved as soon as he was able.

“I think most people, when you live in a community, you want to find out a little bit about the history of the community, what's happened in the past and what's brought it on to what it is today,” he said. “I've got a general interest in history and that's what made me want to learn more by being with those people who are looking at the history all the time.”

Whitehouse said the rescue and restoration of Interurban tram #1223 is among its greatest accomplishments. 

“This tram was going to be wrecked, just burned and demolished,” he said.

The train took people throughout the Lower Mainland from 1913 to 1958 along the now defunct B.C. Electric line.

The nearby C.W. Parker carousel at Burnaby Village Museum was also refurbished by the society. 

An effort to catalogue, preserve and eventually post online a collection of historical photographs now showcases Burnaby’s story for the world to see, Whitehouse said. That effort was spearheaded by the late Pixie McGeachie, a local author and longtime society member. 

But over the years, the society’s numbers have dwindled. The group once boasted a membership of more than 100 but now has only 14, Whitehouse said.

“We’re not attracting young people; That’s basically the problem,” he said.

People can get much of the information they need about local history online and are less inclined to attend montly meetings in person, Whitehouse said.

“It's very sad, I think,” he said. “That's the way things are, and I don't know how you combat that.”

The Burnaby Historical Society is disbanding in a process Whitehouse expects to be complete by the end of the year. A scholarship for history students will be taken over by Simon Fraser University, he said.

The City of Burnaby has taken over stewardship of the carousel and tram.

“The few people we have left feel we've done as much as we can with the society in terms of bringing things to life again from the past. We've basically done ourselves out of a job,” Whitehouse said.

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