The village received 500 coal-oil lamps from a private collection decades ago, and the rest, as they say, is history
DONALADA, Alta. — People interested in old oil lamps might want to put Donalda, Alta., on their list of places to visit.
Situated on the banks of Meeting Creek and the Donalda Badlands east of Ponoka in central Alberta, the community owns more than 1,100 antique lamps. The flagship of the collection is the 42-foot-tall world record lamp standing near the centre of town.
Donalda was founded in 1911 and was first named Eidswold by the Norwegian settlers and later named Donalda after a niece of a Canadian Northern Railway official when the railway came through.
In the early days, merchandise was floated down the Battle River and brought to the local store by horse and wagon.
In 1924, the Donalda Creamery was established by Woodland Dairy to serve some 300 farmers in a wide area around the village. In the early days, farmers could send in their grocery list with the cream cans and the groceries would be delivered in the returning cream cans.
The plant provided power to local residences and later became a co-operative. In 1987, the Donalda creamery closed but at one time it was one of five independent creameries in Alberta. The creamery was noted for its award-winning Donalda Maid Butter.
“The Donalda and District Museum was established in 1979,” said manager Tessa Dubitz.
“We received 500 coal-oil lamps of all different types from the private collection of local residents Don and Beth Lawson. The village built the museum, and our goal is to preserve and display our lamps and other historical artifacts for future generations. Later, the World’s Largest Lamp was built and officially lit on July 1, 2000. Every evening at dusk, it lights up the sky.
“We now have about 1,100 coal-oil lamps from the late 1800s and early 1900s with a few dating back to the 1500s. Later this year, we are expecting another 300 to 400 lamps from a collector in Montreal, who has graciously donated his collection to the museum. Now the challenge will be finding the space to display this new collection.”
The lamp museum isn’t the only thing that tourists can visit while in Donalda.
“We also manage and give tours of our art gallery in the old Imperial Bank of Canada building, the Canadian Railway Station and the Donalda Co-op Creamery, which we are currently raising funds to renovate.”
Built in 1928, the bank was originally the Bank of Montreal and became the Imperial Bank of Canada in 1932. It remained open until 1997 and has now been converted into the Donalda Gallery of the Arts.
Dubitz recently studied historical theatre costume design at Olds College’s Calgary campus. She is pleased the museum is displaying their collection of 1940s dresses in the art gallery along with art from the Bashaw, Alta., art club.
“Dresses in the ’40s had buttons down the side with definitely no zippers. You were considered a harlot if you had a zipper down the back. In the ’50s and ’60s zippers were down the side,” she said.
Across the street from Donalda’s big lamp is the Coulee Trading Company and the Coulee Tea House. Dan Knudtson, a retired farmer, bought the old gas station and renovated the garage to display his collection of oil company artifacts and to sell antiques, collectables and country home décor.
Next door, Amanda Clark and Chantelle Knudson serve homemade pie and ice cream along with many other goodies in their Coulee Tea House and gift shop.
Donalda also hosts a Friday night WillowCanyon drive-in movie situated at the former ski hill.
“It’s all part of our community’s effort to invite visitors to our village,” Dubitz said.