Red Deer has a cultural gem hidden in Heritage Square – the Norwegian Laft Hus, a small log house home to hundreds of traditional artefacts.
Founded by Betty Wulff in 1981, the collection encompasses traditional clothing, home furnishings, tapestries, classes, programs and recipes, all stored in a quaint, traditional log house museum.
“My passion is that we are open for the public. It’s actually a condition for being on City land, is we have to be open to the public and share our culture with the public, and I think that’s the most important thing,” said Julie Macrae, president of the Norwegian Laft Hus Society.
Macrae began volunteering with the Norwegian Laft Hus Society in 1998, and has been with the group ever since. She coordinates classes, public programs, oversees summer students and generally manages the Laft Hus.
“People can come in and ask for a tour, our summer students are happy to do that. We’re one of Red Deer’s best kept secrets and we’re trying to change that,” said Macrae.
Upon entering, a visitor will see a beautifully quaint cabin, complete with traditional artwork, tapestries, costumes, tools, trolls and kitchen supplies. There is an interactive centre, many information guides and of course, friendly faces to answer questions about the museum and its contents.
Many programs are offered to the public at the museum, including painting, stitching, baking, a paper craft technique called ‘paper quilling’ and Norwegian language classes.
“A lot of us ladies meet here and we do crafts for our annual craft and bake sale. We always have a table of ladies doing rosemaling painting, which is a traditional way of painting in Norway. There are different designs, depending on what area you’re from – it’s the same with the bunads – traditional Norwegian costumes,” said Macrae.
“We also usually have a table of ladies doing the hardanger embroidery, which is very Norwegian. Once a month, we take turns cooking and learning new Norwegian recipes. We have a meal once a month. Sometimes we have carvings – wood carvings or chip carvings. We also do classes with Norwegian language and knitting – all types of different things.”
As a registered charity, the Norwegian Laft Hus runs on donations and a few public grants through the City which helps facilitate the summer student program. All others at the museum are volunteers. Only every three years, the Laft Hus Society has access to hold a casino, and needs to stretch those gained resources over another three years.
“We sure would like it if people wanted to donate. We’re trying to find more funding, and that’s a big problem for us. Grants are getting fewer and harder to find.”
Right now, the Society is looking for corporations, businesses or individual patrons to connect with in order to keep the museum operational. Artefacts are donated by public members and are always welcome.
“One of the dreams of Betty Wulff is to have an international village. There’s still hope for that to happen. If we could find a piece of land, west of town or something where all the different ethnic groups could build their own buildings and share their culture. If that happens, Betty wants another building called a ‘stubur’ which is a Norwegian storage house. We are getting crowded with the small building here, and that would be really nice.”
Macrae is hoping to see more people in the museum, either for tours, on Wednesdays for crafts or for other activity nights. The museum is located in Heritage Square, in Recreation Park on 47 Ave. and is a fun family attraction to supplement an afternoon in the downtown park.