Finding Bresaylor: Museum Shares Métis Story

By: Andréa Ledding April, 2021

The community of Bresaylor and the Bresaylor Heritage Museum story is a Métis story: a story of successes and tremendous challenges as families living there build a new life, from the ground up. This past year, the museum explored new ways to build awareness of, and increase accessibility to, the community’s rich heritage.

The Bresaylor Heritage Museum, located in Paynton, Saskatchewan, features artifacts from the original “Bresaylor settlement” formed in 1882. The settlement’s name was a combination of three of the first families' names ­ Bremner, Sayers and Taylor. Its history precedes its founding in 1882, with connections to the Red River Settlement in Manitoba. By 1901, most families in the area identified as Métis, with a mother­tongue of Cree. Yet, only a generation later, many families were denying their Indigenous roots to avoid the racism that came with the colonization of the West.

In 2020, the museum began a project, known as “Finding Bresaylor”, to help reclaim the rich culture and identity of the community, particularly the heritage that may have been lost. As settlers flooded west, many Indigenous peoples, both First Nations and Métis, were displaced, and their heritage often ignored in settler communities. This new project provided an opportunity to build a more inclusive story, and create an online presence for the museum.

Since many descendants of the Bresaylor settlement still live in the area, and many others travel home to visit, the Bresayor Heritage Museum often provides a physical connection to the community’s proud Métis history. An online presence has become an important way to extend its accessibility to others.

The current pandemic has forced many museums to think of new ways to showcase their collections. While the current public health restrictions have limited in­person options, the COVID culture has created a huge interest in history online. The museum board, with several new members, feels these times call for a more accessible museum by utilizing the Internet. It is hoped that by creating both a web page and social media presence, the rich and amazing history of Bresaylor can be discovered by a much larger community. There is evidence that the museum will be of interest to people world­wide.

The Bresaylor Heritage Museum has come a long way from its origins. “Little Joe” Sayers, who descends from the original settlers, operated the house as an informal museum, making his intention clear for the collection to be available to the public after his passing. When he died in 1982, the Bresaylor Heritage Museum Association formed within a year to take responsibility for the building and the collection.

The Bresaylor Heritage Museum continues to function today on the original site, thanks to decades of work by Velma Foster. As the museum’s long­term curator, Foster’s dedication and artistic talent has allowed the museum to continue and flourish.

Foster and the museum board hope to have a website up and running in 2022 where visitors world­wide can view artifacts, share stories and connect with one of Canada’s early Métis settlements. The board members say the site will explore further collections of Bresaylor’s history, introduce Bresaylor’s stories to a world­wide audience, and spur on support, relationships and understandings for all those seeking an awareness into early Métis life in Saskatchewan.

This project received support through SaskCulture’s Métis Cultural Development Fund thanks to funding from Sask Lotteries.