When a Saskatchewan village held a summer party to crack open a time capsule sealed in a cairn 50 years ago, they expected it would contain centennial coins, newspapers, letters from the children at the community’s former school and mementoes of rural Canadian life in the 1960s.
But when all they found was a stubby beer bottle and a broken glass jar containing some old county documents, disappointed residents of Alvena wondered who was to blame.
“The buildup was there because we sort of started talking about this last year,” said Elaine Stadnyk, who was a teenager when materials were collected for the capsule in 1968.
“It was a big disappointment.”
Alvena Mayor Ernie Sawitsky explained the cairn containing the capsule was built beside lakefront facilities that were constructed with funding to mark Canada’s centennial the year before.
Sawitsky said there was supposed to be a compartment inside the cairn, and all you had to do was remove the right stone to get at the capsule, which he said the builder informed him years before contained money, a local paper, a copy of the Western Producer and other items.
But the day before the big party in July, when Sawitsky and the man who built the cairn set to work to chip out the stone to make sure everything would go smoothly, the elderly builder couldn’t remember which stone was the right one.
“We tried with chisel and hammer, trying to find the secret rock. It got to a point where I had to bring in my backhoe and start smashing down the cairn,” Sawitsky said.
“We finally found a jar which contained some paperwork. It was in regards to who was on council in 1967 with the Village of Alvena and the R.M. of Fish Creek. And we thought, we’re just going to keep going, we’re bound to find the capsule itself.”
“We dismantled the entire cairn, just to find out it’s made of solid cement and rocks.”
There was no compartment – the glass jar was embedded in concrete and was cracked during the dismantling. A short-neck beer bottle of undetermined brand, also stuck in concrete, survived the smashing. And that was it.
Bad news travels fast in a village, but some of the people who came to the party were former residents like Stadnyk who drove there that day and hadn’t heard. The area’s MP had been invited. Some remembered collecting items at school for the capsule, but couldn’t remember what they were and hoped to see them.
The capsule and its contents were supposed to be on display.
“We were hoping that it never got placed in the cairn. We were hoping that maybe the day of the festival somebody would walk in with the box and say, ‘Hey, here it is!’ But nothing happened. Nobody came forward,” Sawitsky said.
Ben Maruschak built the cairn. At 84, he confessed his memory isn’t as sharp as it once was, but he thinks people may be remembering better things in the capsule than were actually put there.
Maruschak said he was on the committee to construct the lakefront facilities, and agreed to build the cairn because he’d built others, including one in honour of former prime minister John Diefenbaker in Wakaw, Sask.
Maruschak said he doesn’t remember what went into the time capsule. But he doubts anyone could have tampered with it because you couldn’t tell which stone it was behind.
“I think the speculation today what was in it is probably people that had nothing to do with it,” Maruschak said. “There’s very few people that are alive today that were a part of that project. Maybe two or three.
“I don’t know where this missing capsule has come from. It’s a good story.”
Stadnyk said her father was on the committee that built the lakefront buildings and that something from her family supposedly went into the capsule. But he wouldn’t tell her what it was, and he died in 1979.
“All my dad said to me was, ‘You’ll have to wait and see,’” she said.
Sawitsky said the cairn will be rebuilt with a new time capsule that they’ll open every 25 years.
“We decided that 50 is a little bit too long,” Sawitsky said.
-By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton