High River museum director takes a walk through the town's history

Museum of the Highwood director Irene Kerr gave CBC Daybreak Alberta host Russell Bowers a glimpse of the southern Alberta town's history in advance of the museum's annual historic homes tour on Saturday.

The southern Alberta town was, at one time, bigger than Calgary

On the right, Museum of the Highwood director Irene Kerr stands in front of Maggie's, which is a filming location for Heartland. On the left is a room filled with memorabilia and facts about novelist W.O. Mitchell. (Russell Bowers/CBC)

More than 80 per cent of the Museum of the Highwood's archives were destroyed when High River flooded in 2013, just three years after a devastating fire damaged the building.

But, like High River itself, the museum is resilient, and has become a hub for not only local history, but the film and TV productions — both past and present — that have filmed in the small Alberta town.

Museum of the Highwood director Irene Kerr gave CBC Daybreak Alberta host Russell Bowers a glimpse of the southern Alberta town's history in advance of the museum's annual historic homes tour on Saturday.

Items from the television show Fargo are on display. Parts of the show were filmed in High River. (Russell Bowers/CBC)

Kerr — who is a third-generation Calgarian and worked at the Glenbow Museum before moving to High River — said one of her favourite things about being a museum curator is discovering the characters that inhabited the town. And she's not the only one who delighted in the local personalities.

"W.O. Mitchell wrote about them in his books," she said. "When he first moved here, he'd go to the post office and call it mining his trap line … he'd meet all these old characters and they'd make their way into his books."

At one time, Kerr said, High River was actually bigger than Calgary, due to its spot on the historic Macleod Trail.

And the town's western heritage never really went away, making it the ideal setting for Mitchell's stories.

The novelist lived in High River for more than two decades, and is buried in the town's cemetery.

W.O. Mitchell's characters aren't the only ones that have inhabited the town.

Unforgiven, Superman III, and more recently, Tin Star, Fargo, and Heartland have all filmed there. 

Maggie's Diner from Heartland is actually a log building annexed to one of the town's first stores — Bradley's Men's Wear and Leather Works, which was built in 1900.

"Tourists from all over the world make the pilgrimage," said Kerr. "It probably still smells like leather in there."

The museum is open year-round, seven days a week, and admission is free.

With files from Daybreak Alberta