The door is open so we walk inside. We see no one but someone has heard us come in.
“Hello?” we hear coming from the room to our right. We head in that direction and walk into what was once a classroom but now serves as an exhibit room in the Caroline Wheels of Time Museum.
At first glance we see no source of the voice and we’re wondering if we have disturbed the ghosts who may call this old school home. While we may not see the ghosts, they have seen us. “Hello,” the voice says one more time. Finally we look up. There, perched on top of a step ladder, is not a ghost but a man. Paintbrush in hand, he is putting some final touches on a mural which dominates one of the walls of the room we now find ourselves standing in. We ask about the price of admission and he responds with “Free. Of course, if you want to put something in our donation bin we would really appreciate it since these places cost money to operate and maintain.” As he climbs down from the ladder, he introduces himself as John. Not only is he a talented artist and semi-retired geologist, but he is going to be our host and tour guide as we take in all the Wheels of Time Museum has to offer.
We’ve driven by this museum in Caroline, AB many times as we have gone up and down Highway 22, a.k.a The Cowboy Trail. Often tempted to stop, we’ve never managed to time it right — either the museum has been closed or we had someplace else we needed to be. It happens all too often. Today, however, our visit to the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site took less time than expected so we’ve arrived at the Wheels of Time a couple of hours before closing. That should give us plenty of time to check things our, right?
John proves immediately to be both a knowledgeable and personable host. As we move from room to room and exhibit to exhibit he easily weaves between facts and stories, one anecdote leading to another. Stopping to tell us where fact ends and legend begins since “Not everyone can tell, you know?” he reminds us.
After touring the old Caroline school, which now serves as the main museum building and office, we move to Big Bend School and teacherage, the former town office and fire hall, the trappers cabin, and a pioneer home. Each building is outfitted in a manner befitting the finest of prairie museums.
With our tour complete, we return to the main building to purchase some ice cream. John finds a bowl and dishes out some ice cream for Tucker the Dog, who eagerly digs in. John has made a friend for life.
We carry on a discussion about other museums we have visited or want to visit, with John mentioning some of his other side projects. Having lived in Caroline for more than 50 years, he is well acquainted with the history of the area. Our love of one-room schoolhouses causes him to mention Shilo School which is not far away. We’re sure to make a detour there on the way home.
While John is only completing his first summer of work at the museum, he has already had plenty of experiences dealing with the public. He tells us of the different visitors he has had tour over the last few months and how each tour offers something unique. He does it for the love of the history and it shows. I highly encourage you to check out his work at Scrawny Johnny’s Paintings and Musings.
With only one week left in the season for the museum, we’re really glad we got a chance to stop here and meet John. As we drive away, we know we’ve mentally added another item to our “hidden gem” list. Who knew such a great stop would be waiting in small Caroline, Alberta?