|Karen Brown stands by her favourite model made by her father, Bud Johnston.|
The last thing Karen Brown said to me as we wrapped up our conversation outside the Heritage Models Museum in River Hebert was, “If this place closes, the models go back to the family. What am I going to do with them?”
She certainly isn’t prepared to put them all on display in her front yard, as her father did when she was a teenager. It’s not that Karen doesn’t appreciate them or the history of the place where she grew up; it’s just that her late father built 40 models and they take up so much room, a special building was erected for displaying them.
That building is now 25 years old and Reginald “Bud” Johnston has been gone ten years this month and not as many tourists stop at the Heritage Models Museum to check out this unique depiction of the history of River Hebert.
“It’s hard to get people off the highway,” Karen said during a tour of the models. “Lots of people go to Joggins but that’s a different group of people going to the fossil cliffs.”
Bud Johnston began building 1/12 scale models of River Hebert landmarks like the original school, the co-op creamery, the Palace theatre, and the King Seaman Homestead after he retired. Fascinated by railroads, Bud’s first model was a train and after he set it up on in the front yard of his home, people stopped to look at it. As he added more models, more people stopped. These front yard models became so popular, there was an opening every spring on the Father’s Day weekend when Bud would unveil his latest creation, built over the winter, and invite the family connected with it.
“I guess once he saw people stopping and looking at stuff on the front lawn, he thought he could make things of the area so people could see what used to be here back in the day,” Karen said. “He was always interested in the history of the area.”
The nineties were the height of the models’ popularity. With the support of the community, the museum was built in 1992 after the weather took its toll on the models set up outside and Bud realized he was spending much of his time repairing them.
Unfortunately, that community support has waned as those who remember the original buildings, and those who remember the models when they were new, have moved or passed away. For locals, it’s hard to maintain interest in the same models over 25 years while strangers passing through may not care about the history of a small hamlet in Cumberland County.
Facing financial uncertainty due to the lack of visitors, the museum is hosting an antique car show and shine, on Sunday, August 13, as a fundraiser.
“It’s the same for all organizations, like the church groups and the curling club,” admitted Karen about the museum’s struggle to stay open. “We’re all going after the same fundraising dollars.”
But Karen holds out hope River Hebert and its history still matters enough to others that her father’s legacy will outlive her as well.
|Museum manager Norma Shaw is flanked by summer students Sarah and Natalie|
|Every one of Bud's models is as detailed as the inside of the River Hebert garage.|