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"It's about proving to myself that I have the strength to overcome myself."
- Julie Anderson  


John Kinnear photo
Topanno's Macaroni Counter
Looking Back - John KinnearIt has been fifteen years since the Coleman Museum officially dedicated its new display area in the old school auditorium. I remember well how impressed I was back then by its innovative mini-display store fronts from the “boom town” era.  The auditorium is now an important part of the museum’s operation and its open area allows them to rotate new theme displays on a regular basis.
The word is this December they will be presenting yet another facet of the Pass’ fascinating story when they look back in time over the seventy five year history of the Coleman High School.  A high school that now serves as an institution with different lessons to teach. Lessons on our remarkable history carefully and systematically interpreted with themed displays that cover every aspect of the past of the Pass.
It is always interesting and fun to revisit the classroom displays and learn (or in my case re-learn) about different aspects of the social history of the Crowsnest Pass. My favourite room is on the west side where two remarkable displays can be found. There you can see Angelo Topanno’s macaroni counter, a ten foot long, quarter cut oak and glass display counter that houses 31 different compartments of pastas.  It is fun to imagine customers standing in front of it when it was the centerpiece of Angelo’s’ store and selecting a pound of this and a pound of that.
Angelo Toppano immigrated to Coleman in 1913 from the province of Udine, Italy. He was a dinky driver at Coleman’s International Mine until 1941 when he and his wife became sole owners of Topanno’s Meat and Groceries.
Across the room from the counter lies probably one of the finest blacksmith collections I have ever seen. Paul Baratelli’s tools and forge take us back to the era when the blacksmith was the genie of repairmen. It was so much more than shoeing horses back then. These guys repaired everything made of iron, fabricated home made parts and were indispensible at the mines. A sharp air pick tool was very important to a contract miner and they regularly dropped off their “picks” for sharpening.
Paul also came from Northern Italy and immigrated to Canada in 1900. He worked for the CPR at Michel and blacksmithed at mines and logging camps all throughout southern B.C. and the Northwest states. He spent some time in Corbin where his two sons were born before moving to Blairmore to work for West Canadian Collieries and opened his own shop.
 This room, like most rooms at the museum, is a step back in time with great care given to detailing and displaying everything that was typical of that era.
There are displays relating to coal mining, old weddings, complete with the original dresses and photos, a dentist's shop, the famous Gushul collection of photographs, an old classroom setup and even an ancient hairdresser's shop. 
If you've never seen what the original "hair perming" set up was you have got to check this one out.  The device looks like it is right out of "Frankenstein's Revenge" and I can't for the life of me imagine any woman allowing themselves to be hooked up to it.
In my recent wanderings through the museum I came across the old school principal's office, now a store room and archive work area.  In my younger days that room was just about as scary as any I can recall and being sent there was in our young minds, equivalent to a death sentence.  I recalled being in there on one occasion with a goofball classmate named "Renato Bradotti".  Renato was always one to take a dare and when a fellow classmate (me!) suggested he pull his hand away as the strap came down, he of course did.  Unfortunately the school principal, Horace Allen, didn't see the humour in clobbering his own knee with that old razor strop.  Consequently Renato and I (who he readily named as an accomplice) received a strapping that still makes me wince on recall.
Prominently displayed in the entranceway you will find the old school bell which saw service from 1912 to 1971.  It is set up on mounts such that with a small push it will ring that oh so familiar toll that called me to school for so many years.  Michelle at the museum says it is always a shock to kids when they give it a shove as the bell can be quite loud.
A recent closer examination of it revealed some significant nicks on its outside rim.  On seeing these nicks another school related memory came to mind, one which likely accounts for those unusual markings.  The memory is of a grand old Scottish New Year's Eve celebration many years ago at my granny's house across the street from the old Central School.  New Year’s Eve being what it was back then ,the men folk were given to a simple form of fireworks in order to "bring in the New Year"  This usually involved firing off everything from 12 gauge shot guns to old retired Lee Enfield 303 army rifles at precisely 12 o'clock as the fire siren sounded.  Suffice to say my old Uncle Scotty Fleming decided to ring that school bell across the street a few times with his trusty 30-06.  I suppose you could say he brought in the New Year in a "nick of chime".
So if you have never been there or it has been a while since you have, why not drop by and let Chris and Michelle guide you through their extraordinary collection of Pass memorabilia. Now would be a good time to take out or renew your membership with them as they can use all the help they can get. You might even want to contemplate joining the board and becoming part of the team dedicated to maintaining and displaying the social history of the Pass. And when you drop by make sure you give that old school bell a shove. It drives Michelle nuts.
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   Volume 81 - Issue 47   email:   $1.00   
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