Skip to content

Exhibit tells Elizabethan story

A monumental part of Humboldt's history is the story being told at the Humboldt and District Museum and Gallery (HDMG). The Sisters of St.
Among the artifacts donated by the Sisters of St. Elizabeth to the Humboldt and District Museum and Gallery's collection were 19 Imhoff paintings, created in 1930 for a chapel for the Sisters. Last week, a few paintings were moved by museum staff from storage into the HDMG for display as part of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth temporary exhibit.

A monumental part of Humboldt's history is the story being told at the Humboldt and District Museum and Gallery (HDMG).
The Sisters of St. Elizabeth were the founders of health care in Humboldt and the surrounding area, and have remained a huge part of the community. They are celebrating their 100th anniversary in Humboldt this month.
So it is extremely fitting that, through artifacts, photos and records, the story of the Sisters is being told at the HDMG so that the whole community can understand the impact that they have had.
Jennifer Hoesgen, curator at the HDMG, has been actively working on a temporary exhibit of the Sisters' history with the Sisters of St. Elizabeth since January.
"The museum board has always known that the story of the Elizabethans is a huge component to the history of Humboldt," Hoesgen noted, adding that the museum has a permanent display of some of that history as part of a hospital and early health care exhibit on their second floor.
"We were really excited when we were invited by the Elizabethans to talk about the transfer of artifacts from their collection to the city's (collection)," Hoesgen said.
All the artifacts in the Elizabethan exhibit are now part of the HDMG's permanent collection, but this is not the first time most of them have been in a museum.
The Sisters had many of the items in their own museum at their convent. They were the curators of this museum and meticulously wrote down the history of their order here, and cared for their artifacts.
"They have been very, very diligent in documenting their own history," said Hoesgen, and showed reverence for the work of the Sisters before them by establishing "a wonderful museum in the basement of the convent."
With the Sisters' blessing, hundreds of artifacts were moved from the convent to the HDMG collection over the past few months.
The wealth of information and artifacts available for this exhibit actually created a bit of a challenge in creating it, Hoesgen indicated.
"Because their 100-year history is so extensive... and they have such an expansive collection... the challenge was how do you portray their story within the physical confines of an exhibit," Hoesgen said.
Hoesgen worked very closely with five Sisters, members of their museum committee, on this exhibit, looking closely at what pieces really told their story, and considering what artifacts people 100 years from now are going to look to in order to understand what the first century in Humboldt was like for the Sisters.
This is their exhibit, Hoesgen stressed. It is the story of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth, told by the Sisters themselves.
"All the text for the exhibit comes from their voice," she said.
It was the Sisters who decided which of their stories to tell, as well.
"They came up with three main themes for the exhibit," Hoesgen noted.
The first is the story of when the Sisters came to establish health care in the Humboldt area.
The exhibit tells the tale of three Sisters, who travelled from Klagenfurt, Austria to arrive in Muenster, Saskatchewan in 1911. They were there at the invitation of Fr. Bruno Doerfler, and coming from a place like Austria, were shocked by the lack of development in the area.
Yet, the day after their arrival, despite their shock, the Sisters made the two-hour trip from Muenster to Humboldt, to search for a site for a hospital.
This section of the exhibit details the waves of Sisters who followed the first, and the building of the first St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Humboldt.
The second theme addressed in the exhibit is the expansion of the Sisters into other parts of the province. They established hospitals in Macklin, Rosthern, Scott and Cudworth, and did a variety of other mission work beyond health care, including teaching.
The third theme of the exhibit focuses on the religious life of the Sisters.
"This is the heart of it," Hoesgen said of the exhibit.
It is this section which attempts to explain the dedication, the service and the deep faith of the Sisters.
"When we read what the early Sisters went through to establish here, their faith is what kept them here," Hoesgen said.
The Sisters of St. Elizabeth today really wanted to share this information about their faith and life in their community, which is something the community at large doesn't usually see, Hoesgen added.
Through photos and artifacts, the private life of the Sisters in their convent is unveiled, from their prayer life, to recreational activities to the chores they had to perform.
Part of the display are pieces of needlework they did for recreation, as well as a cord-making machine. One of the samplers that's part of the exhibit dates back to 1883.
Photos also show the Sisters in their private lives, singing, talking and even playing volleyball.
One interesting piece that's on display is a duty board. All of the things that had to be completed are listed on this board, in German, and wooden pieces with initials or numbers painted on them indicate which Sister was in charge of that duty that week. Some of those duties included prayer, reading, table waiter, organist, night duty and treasurer.
A part of the exhibit called "A Day in the Life" explores what the Sisters did every day, and some of the challenges they faced, some due to the misconceptions of the public.
For example, Hoesgen said, quoting a story she read in a draft of the Sisters' history book, the Sisters would always eat in a private dining room, not in public, so no one outside their community ever saw them eating.
One Sister spent days in a home, nursing a patient, and did not get fed. Finally, she had to ask for food, surprising the lady of the house, because she thought the Sisters did not eat, as she had never seen one do so.
This portion of the exhibit also talks about their profession of nursing as an extension of their religious life.
"They have given us a lot of objects around that," Hoesgen noted.
The original altar used by the Sisters when they first arrived in Humboldt is one of those objects on display, along with a "Cloister" sign taken from the convent.
A wedding dress worn by one of the Sisters is also part of the exhibit.
When someone became a Sister, they would enter the chapel for the ceremony wearing a wedding dress, as a Bride of Christ. Later, she would return in the habit of a Sister of St. Elizabeth.
Ceremonial rings, crowns and even locks of hair are also part of the display, along with prayer books and Bibles, one of which was printed in 1770.
"I am extremely honoured to be a part of this (exhibit)," Hoesgen said. "This collection will be something that people (researching the Sisters of St. Elizabeth) will come to Humboldt to find 100 years from now."
The exhibit will be ready for the public this week, with an open house planned for the afternoon of May 15. The Sisters will be launching their history book at the HDMG on May 17.
The exhibit will be up for all of May and June.