The focus of this blog series is the staff of the Oshawa Museum and their role at the site. What does it mean to the archivist or curator at a community museum? What goes on behind the scenes in the Programming office? What is Executive Director Laura Suchan’s favourite memory of the Museum?
Join us and see what happens behind the doors of Guy House.
What do you do at the Oshawa Museum?
Hi my name is Melissa Cole and I am the Curator at the Oshawa Museum. This is not the first position I held here at the museum. In 2000 I was an intern in the archives with the previous archivist, Tammy Robinson. Shortly after the internship finished a job opportunity became available in the programming department which is where I worked until I became Curator in 2002. My main duties as Curator is to oversee the care of the three dimensional artifacts in the collection from our smallest artifact, a bead from the Grandview Archaeology Collection, to our largest artifacts, the museum buildings, Guy, Henry and Robinson. I also research, develop and install exhibits, write grants and oversee the administration of the collection. A lot of what I do takes place behind the scenes.
Why did you choose this career?
I love learning about the past and discovering where we have come from. As a child I was fortunate that my parents took me to various museums throughout Ontario and was able to spend time with family in England and Wales where we visited castles and historic sites. One particular visit that stands out the most was a visit to a museum called Llancaich Fawr Manor. I was chosen from the crowd and put in a costume that represented the time period of the home. I was that child that wondered what was behind the closed doors – I wanted to see behind the scenes and that is exactly what I get to do now!
What is your favourite part of your job?
There are many aspects of my job that I love. I love my job because each day is different, one day I am installing an exhibition and the next I am meeting with paranormal investigators. Another aspect of my job that I love is discovering the stories behind the artifacts in our collection and being transported back in time. Who knew a broom could have such a remarkable story.
What do you find most challenging?
Balancing all my projects which have varying degrees of importance. There is only so much time in a day and I find it challenging at times to tend to the administration duties while trying to give the truly important things, such as the collection, the time and effort that it deserves.
How did you get into the museum field?
I have a degree in Anthropology from Trent University. In my first year, I will be honest, I wasn’t sure where my anthropology degree was going to lead me. I initially wanted to teach. During one of our lectures a Professor came out to discuss a joint program between Trent University and Sir Sandford Fleming College called Museum Management and Curatorship. I knew at that moment that is what I wanted to do. I was ecstatic! I basically chased Professor Harrison around for four years of university, I know it sounds silly but I kinda did! I immediately set up an appointment with her to find out more about the program. I must have made an impression over the years because she actually contacted me at home during the summer of ‘99 to inform me that I had been accepted into the program.
What is your earliest memory of the Oshawa Museum?
I grew up in Oshawa; I am the Curator of my hometown’s history! I remember coming to the museum on a class trip in grade three, it was then known as the Sydenham Museum. Although my fondest memories of the museum are associated with Lakeview Park (where the buildings stand) – I spent a lot of time at this park as a child with my dad during the summer we would walk the path and I would ask every time if I could play at the park. Out of the three buildings, Henry House is the one I remember most because I wanted to live there – it also stands beside the park where I played! Today my office window looks over the lake and the park that I have fond memories of and Henry House does feel like my home away from home.