Discovering Manitoba

The Sam Waller Museum at the Pas

A photo of Sam among his many collectiblesA lifelong collector, Sam Waller called himself a “pack rat” and referred to his museum as a “clutter–torium”. Following in the tradition of the Victorian-era collector of oddities and curiosities, he amassed an astounding and eclectic array of unusual items over his lifetime. But more than a mere collector, Sam was also a dedicated and knowledgeable naturalist, a taxidermist, and a serious museum curator and teacher.

As a teacher, first in northern Ontario and then at various Aboriginal schools in central Manitoba, Sam used items from his growing collection as visual aids to overcome language barriers in the classroom. In 1958, upon retiring from teaching, he opened his “Little Northern Museum”, sometimes referred to as “The Biggest Little Museum in the World” in The Pas. He intended that his Museum “give the young the opportunity to see visions and the old to dream again their dreams.” When he left teaching, Sam acquired a pair of small bunkhouses from The Pas Lumber Company and joined them together on a Gordon Avenue property to house his first “Little Northern Museum”.

The new attraction was popular with both locals and visitors, with over 5,000 names recorded in the guest book in the first eight months of operation. Sam lived on-site, so the museum was often open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Occasionally hung on the front door while he lived there was a sign reading “Attendant in Garden”. It’s part of the exhibit, evidence of Sam’s dedication to the museum and its visitors,

Sam’s ever-expanding collection soon outgrew this modest setting, and in 1970, as a provincial centennial project, the local rotary club constructed a larger building to house the museum and its live-in curator. Sam was a hospitable guide – a veritable fount of knowledge who even prepared tea and biscuits for his favorite guests.

By the time he passed away, in 1978, the Town of The Pas had taken over administration of the museum. Since that time the museum has continued to grow and evolve under the direction of a number of staff, the most notable of whom was Paul Thistle, a long-serving curator who oversaw the renovation of The Pas Court House and Community Building, constructed in 1916, into a purpose-designed, climate controlled museum building.

Today, as a community museum, the collection is focused primarily on artifacts and archival materials that are significant to the local region. The collection not only includes the strange and bizarre, but is also a unique and important record of the natural and cultural history of The Pas and surrounding area.

The permanent collection, based on the extensive and varied collection of Sam Waller, contains over 70,000 items, including natural history specimens, human history artifacts, books and library materials, photographs and negatives, fine art pieces and the archives of the Town of The Pas.

While our founder collected from the four corners of the world, the museum now limits new accessions to those items that are pertinent to the history of the community and region.

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