Weymouth committee looking for New France artifacts - in your barn?

Committee looking for help and support from community

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier jriley@digbycourier.ca
Published on January 24, 2014

Hal Theriault and Rod Lefort are looking forward to opening an interpretive centre for Electric City in the Fairmiles Building in Weymouth this summer.

©Jonathan Riley

The committee behind a New France interpretive centre in Weymouth are asking people to check their attics and barns for items and information that could help them interpret and display the history of Electric City.

New France, about 30 km back in the woods southeast of Weymouth, was the site of the Stehelin family settlement, known as Electric City, founded in the 1890s.

They had electricity 30 years before the other communities in the area. Today nothing remains but the foundations of the buildings.

The Stehelin Electric City Committee, working under the Weymouth Waterfront Development Commission is hoping people have stories about life at the settlement, records or photographs that could be copied, or even artifacts to lend or donate to the centre.

 “We’re hoping people will take a look through their barns and attics,” said Hal Theriault. “We know these things are out there, in storage, gathering dust, things that will help tell the story of New France.

“We want the community involved and this is one important way they can help.”

Theriault said he could imagine people have china, old fly rods or furniture that would help visitors understand and imagine life in Electric City.

He said any photos, whether of the Weymouth area from 1890 to 1920, or of individuals connected with New France, or of the site itself, would be welcome.

The committee has already had several talks with Paul Stehelin, great grandson of Jean Jacques who built the original homestead in New France in 1892.

He helped Theriault with research for the two plays Theriault has written about the people of Electric City and Stehelin has offered to share his extensive records and artifacts from the settlement.

“We are very fortunate to have the cooperation and endorsement from the Stehelins,” said Theriault. “Certainly he has an expertise about the site that is simply invaluable.”

The committee has already made significant improvements to the Fairmiles Building (where the old library was) on the east of the bridge in Weymouth.

They have installed new insulation, windows and a heating system.

“We’ve basically fixed it up so the building is in good shape,” said Lefort.

The plan is to have a New France Electric City Exhibition and Interpretive Centre in that building this summer. A video they made last fall will serve as an introduction and they hope to have trained costumed interpreters in the centre to tell the Electric City story and answer questions.

The exhibition centre may eventually also involve interactive displays for all ages.

“Perhaps young visitors can throw a switch that makes a model dynamo provide power to the settlement’s lights or operate a miniature sawmill,” said Theriault. “Visitors could learns games or songs popular in New France, or watch a scene from one of our plays, or dress up in period costume and have their picture taken against an Electric City backdrop.”

The provincial recently designated 86 ha around the New France site as a provincial park reserve – meaning it is set aside for some kind of park in the future.

Eventually SECC hopes to provide guided tours there but that would require work to the roads and the site, in cooperation with other interested user groups.

“These tours are years down the road,” said Theriault, “But they remain an important objective for SECC.”

Theriault and Lefort are hoping community partners and volunteers join in on the project.

“The Electric City story appeals across generations and stratas of society, and, we strongly believe, the Centre can become a major attraction in our village, developing into an important contributor to the local economy by creating a few much-needed jobs,” said Lefort. “We need community involvement and guidance to assure the Electric City Interpretative Center will be successful and able to offer our visitors an outstanding experience.”