Volunteering in the Times of COVID

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

The COVID crisis hit Ontario in early March, and by March 13, the Oshawa Museum made the decision to close our doors to the public. Staff continued to work from home remotely, but essentially all volunteering came to a halt at that time. Museums benefit from volunteers in so many ways, from the volunteers who help at events, being wonderful ambassadors for the site, helping behind the scenes, and being just a wonderful complement to the staff.  To say we miss our volunteers is an understatement; their presence is missed every day.

Not all volunteering stopped, for as restrictions began to lift, we were able to safely accommodate and welcome back our garden volunteers, who have worked throughout the summer to keep the gardens around the museum looking their very best.

But, due to space constraints currently at the Museum, we cannot safely have volunteers on site because social distancing would not be achievable.  So, we started thinking about ways that we can have volunteer engagement and participation, but in a remote capacity. Enter the Audio Transcription Project.

Our archival collection is vast and varied: legal documents, photographs, diaries, newspapers, and a large collection of audio cassettes. Yes, that’s right. Audio Cassettes. In case this technology is a little before your time, we’re talking about these:

This collection features historical talks, oral interviews, and the like.  We saw this collection as a great starting point for creating at-home volunteer opportunities.

Staff began the project, digitizing the cassettes using a handy devise that turns the audio into an MP3. However, what is of great benefit is having a written transcript of the audio file.  This transcript not only is makes searching the content of the audio file simple and quick, it also makes an audio file accessible to those who are hearing impaired, thereby increasing accessibility to the collection.

The project is being facilitated over our Google Drive – volunteers can sign up for which audio file they want to work on, and the MP3s are accessible from that same online folder. In the month of August, when we launched the project, volunteers contributed over fifty hours to this project, and we are so very thankful for the work they are doing!

If you are interested in helping with this project, please email Lisa at membership@oshawamuseum.org


What we’ve learned!

In the 1980s, there was an interview with a Mrs. Mechin, and one of our volunteers has transcribed the audio. Within the interview, Mrs. Mechin, a Robinson descendant, talked about her history of employment:

MRS MECHIN: And, when Burt and I were sleigh riding, I was six and he was seven. And I was fitted the night before, and it was across the fields, there was a hill, a pastor field. And, halfway down the hill, there was a, a wooden fence. A rail fence. And, so we took a notion, we would take our sleigh and go to the top of this hill down. And, of course it went pretty fast, it’s just, just like ice, right? I see, I can see the sun shining on it now, just like diamonds you know. And, I-I sat down, I had long coat on, at the back, and he sat down at the front, he was gonna steer. Of course he sat on my coat, I guess my feet were around him, I don’t know, I can’t remember that but, I ran into the fence, and hurt my hand. So, then I was operated on, had the bone removed and diseased in 1917. That’s why I left Fittings, because my health wasn’t good… So, then I was home three months, or at least I was away three months. And, then I went to Hallett’s store and George [Hazelwood] interviewed me, and I got in the [General] Motors’ office. But, that was before the carriage business was settled up… And, I worked for the manager there… Ms.Keddy, was sick at the time, so I took over her, she used to write letters about the liens on the cars around the carriages… So, I took that job over as well. I did, that was in 1914, and I worked there for three years.

INTERVIEWER: You worked there during the war years?

MRS MECHIN: Well, I worked their four, four years, yeah. Mhmm. 1918

Percy Ibbotson, another Robinson descendant, shares his memories of Robinson House:

INTERVIEWER: We are now in the large north room on the main floor. Percy is going to tell us how he remembers this room.

PERCY: I remember, readily, that when this room was a barber shop, the poles were out in the front, we used to sit in the front steps, and I suppose catering to the traffic down to the beach, people coming and going, especially on the weekend. But, this room was used for some time, for some years, as a barber shop.

INTERVIEWER: And the entrance to the barber shop would be the door on the north side, which we are not using today.

PERCY: Double doors

In 1983, Rev. E. Frazer Lacey gave a presentation about the 150 year history of the congregation of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian, where he shared a story about Rev. Thornton during the 1837 Rebellion:

1837 was the year of the Mackenzie rebel, and Thornton was sympathetic to the cause, to the issue, he was for representative democracy, as he was also for free and open education, he was certainly against the family compact. And so here he was torn, loyalist in terms of British connection, but reformist in his social concern. The rebellion was put down, but Thornton received a real setback, troops of the loyalist cause, took a shot at him one night as he came home from a meeting.

2018 Volunteer of the Year: Patty Davis

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

Last week was National Volunteer Week. Annually, the Oshawa Museum honours the previous year’s Earl Hann Volunteer of the Year. The 2017 recipient was our Costumer, Patty Davis. Patty returned to the museum in 2014 after a hiatus, before which she made all of our children’s costumes and many of our Visitor Host costumes.

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Patty has logged over 150 hours of service over her years at the Museum and has spent countless hours of her own time to make sure the staff at the Oshawa Museum look their best at our events and on tours. She has also assisted Curator, Melissa Cole with exhibit preparation and cataloging clothing in the Henry House storage areas. Patty is an amazing part of our volunteer team who participates in our events as well. You can find her playing croquet at Grandpa Henry’s Picnic, in the parlour as the lady of the house during the Lamplight Tours, walking in the Santa Claus Parades and even lecturing at Museum Tea & Talks.

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Patty is an integral member of our Volunteer Team and there are many things we wouldn’t have been able to do without her help. We look forward to working with Patty for many years to come.

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Thank you Patty, and all of our dedicated volunteers! We couldn’t do it without you!

60 Years of Volunteering, 60 Years of Giving

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

Volunteers have been the driving force of the Oshawa Historical Society and the Oshawa Museum since their inception. The Oshawa and District Historical Society began when citizens of Oshawa became concerned about  preserving one of the historic homes in Lakeview Park.  They realized that in order to do this and to preserve Oshawa’s history that a museum was needed and a historical society should be organized.

The first Society meeting was on Thursday November 7, 1957, and was held in the auditorium of the McLaughlin Public Library — approximately 50 people attended this meeting.  The first president chosen for the Society was Verna Conant who held this position until 1962,  and the first vice-president was M. McIntyre Hood, both in a volunteer capacity.

Early volunteers of the ODHS “lobbied the City to save a 125-year old elm tree in the downtown area – and won!” 1 They also began work involving the restoration of Henry House after a grant for $500 was issued for operating expenses in March 1959.2 Other volunteers on the “Museum Committee set about collecting everything they could that had relevance to Oshawa’s heritage.”3

“In 1964, word got out that the vacant and dilapidated Robinson family home at Lakeview Park was slated for destruction. Again, (volunteer) Society members successfully rallied to save the house. The Robinson House Committee, chaired by Verna Conant, then began the challenging task of raising the $45 000 required for restoration.”4

Throughout the next twenty years longstanding members of the ODHS such as Verna Conant, Earl Hann, Thomas Bouckley and Eric Glenholmes took it upon themselves to celebrate anniversaries of the Houses and ODHS, participate in parades and home shows, organize programming for the Museums and ODHS meetings. In 1985, the ODHS finished restoring Guy House. Volunteers landscaped and helped paint.

At this point, hired staff ran the Museum. Volunteers, continued to focus on events and organization of the ODHS (becoming the Oshawa Historical Society in 1988).5 They also dedicated their time and assistance to interpreting the Houses, demonstrating heritage chores and fundraising.

“The United Nations proclaimed 2001 as the International Year of Volunteers. On April 18 of that year, the museum hosted its first “I Volunteer” Celebration recognizing contributions of the many volunteers who give their time as tour guides, educational program assistants, serving tea, helping out in the archives and filling the roles of Father Christmas or Elder Thomas Henry at special events, just to name a few.

All of the volunteers play a valuable part in the operation of the museum, archives and Historical Society as a whole.”6 After the first event, our Volunteer Recognition Celebration became an annual affair. “In April 2003, the Earl Hann Volunteer-of-the-Year Award was unveiled to recognize volunteers with a certificate and their name on a plaque in the boardroom of Guy House.”7 Since 1957, well over 200 volunteers have donated countless hours of their time to our organization, for which we are forever grateful.

Earl Hann Volunteer of the Year

  1. 2004 – Kay Murray
  2. 2005 – Mary Ellen Cole
  3. 2006 – Kathryn Holden
  4. 2007 – Doris Spencer
  5. 2008 – Jacqueline Frank
  6. 2009 – Melanie Abrey
  7. 2010 – Uwe Schneider
  8. 2011 – Pat Davies
  9. 2012 – Erika Suchan
  10. 2013 – Karen Albrecht
  11. 2014 – Donna Martino
  12. 2015 – Ann Thurn
  13. 2016 – Trish Bruce & Ann Lloyd

National Volunteer Week is April 23-29. Thank you to everyone who has helped to make the Oshawa Museum the organization it is today.


  1.  A History of the Oshawa Historical Society. Oshawa Historical Society. 2008 p.4
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid p.5
  4. Ibid. p.7
  5. Oshawa Historical Society. Historical Information Sheet. Oshawa Museum.
  6. A History of the Oshawa Historical Society. Oshawa Historical Society. 2008 p.20
  7. Ibid. p20

National Volunteer Week: The Roots of our Community

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement & Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

April 11-15 is National Volunteer Week, and during this week, the Oshawa Museum celebrates Canada’s 12.7 million volunteers!

Our volunteers, their thoughtfulness, generosity, kindness towards staff, visitors and respect for their volunteer positions knows no bounds. This year volunteers have tended to the gardens around Henry House and Guy House, helped with collections and archival management, delivered tours and assisted with programs and special events, and so much more.  In addition, we are thankful for the support from co-op students and interns who become a wonderful complement to the staff.

Our high school volunteers are part of a group known as OMY: The Oshawa Museum Youth.  In 2015, the OMY Volunteers helped with our special events and with our Four Corners: One Story project.  What is Four Corners: One Story? Oshawa’s downtown is full of history, and this project helped to raise awareness of it.  In early Spring, OMY volunteers toured through Oshawa’s Downtown, learning about the history with Oshawa Museum staff guiding them.  Volunteers went back to the Museum, found historic photos, and on a further tour, we tried to recreate those photos today.  Five buildings were chosen, a co-op student designed the template, and over the summer, five posters were created with historic information, photos, and current images.  These posters are not only on display at the Museum, but also at Oshawa City facilities, and around Downtown Oshawa.

Throughout 2015 staff at the Museum have worked with 45 youth and adult volunteers who volunteered 886 hours, and our 11 students contributed 743 hours!   We can’t do what we do without the support and enthusiasm from our volunteers. Thank you.

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To learn more about volunteer opportunities at the Oshawa Museum, please visit our website, or call 905-436-7624 x 106.

 

Ten Years of the Earl Hann Volunteer Award

By Jillian Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

2015 marks ten years since the Oshawa Community Museum has been honouring the Earl Hann Volunteer of the Year. All volunteers of the Oshawa Community Museum are eligible for this annual award. The volunteer must have contributed hours between January 1st and December 31st of that calendar year and effectively assist the Museum in accomplishing its mandate. Selected volunteers contribute to the Museum in meaningful ways that demonstrate his/her various abilities and backgrounds. Volunteers are recognized the following year during or just after National Volunteer Week at the Oshawa Historical Society’s Annual General Meeting.

Earl Hann, after whom our Volunteer of the Year Award is named for.  Earl was a charter member of the Oshawa Historical Society and an active participant in the museum and Society until he passed away in 2004.
Earl Hann, after whom our Volunteer of the Year Award is named for. Earl was a charter member of the Oshawa Historical Society and an active participant in the museum and Society until he passed away in 2004.

Throughout the years we have recognized volunteers in many facets of work, from archives assistants, bakers, gardeners, programmers and curatorial assistants. Most of our volunteers have stayed on with the Museum and continue to volunteer for us today.

The first recipient of the Earl Hann Volunteer of the Year award was Kay Murray, in 2004. Kay is a long time member of the Oshawa Historical Society and worked tirelessly to bring our Victorian teas to fruition. Kay took the lead on food preparation and organization of the teas. She also found the time to work in the garden and with our children’s programs. Kay has been involved with the OCM since 2001.

Tedd Hann, Kay Murray, and Angela Siebarth, awarding the first Earl Hann Volunteer of the Year Award
Tedd Hann, Kay Murray, and Angela Siebarth, awarding the first Earl Hann Volunteer of the Year Award

2005 recognized Mary Ellen Cole. Mary Ellen has been volunteering at the Museum since 2003. She, along with Kay Murray, spearheaded our Victorian Tea efforts. Some of you might also know what an amazing baker Mary Ellen is. She has been baking for the Victorian teas for almost as long as I have been working at the OCM! Tea guests and staff are always grateful for her efforts, especially when they include gingerbread! On top of this, Mary Ellen was one of the Museum’s first at-home volunteers. After the teas, Mary Ellen would wash, dry and starch all of the linens used at the teas. This was quite an undertaking, particularly when our teas were being held weekly. Mary Ellen continues to bake and support the museum today.

Tedd Hann and Mary Ellen Cole
Tedd Hann and Mary Ellen Cole

In 2006, the Museum chose to recognize Kathryn Holden as the volunteer of the Year. Kathryn began volunteering in 2005 and was also the top hour earner that year, with 160 hours of her time being donated. Kathryn spent enormous amounts of time helping me with kids programs and was a key member of the growing Victorian tea team. Kathryn has also spent the last 10 years delivering tours to the public and for numerous school and group tours. In fact, as of August 2014, Kathryn has ceased volunteering for the Museum and is now an employed Visitor Host!

Kay Murray, Kathryn Holden, and Angela Siebarth
Kay Murray, Kathryn Holden, and Angela Siebarth

Another longtime Oshawa Historical Society member was chosen as the Volunteer of the Year in 2007. Doris Spencer joined the OHS in 1981 – before Guy House was restored! Doris was part of the OHS Social Committee. She and a small group of ladies provided tea, coffee, sandwiches and snacks for years at the Historical Society meetings, until this was phased out in the mid-2000s. Afterwards Doris would help out at Museum special events serving refreshments. She always had a smile on her face and loved chatting with visitors. Sadly Doris passed away in August of 2014, but we will always be grateful for the time she donated to the Museum.

Jillian Passmore and Doris Spencer
Jillian Passmore and Doris Spencer

Throughout 2008, Jacquie Frank spent many hours in Henry House meticulously documenting every item that was on display in each room. After this, with great care she hand-washed each piece of ceramic and glass dishware. Jacquie also spent one day a week in the Henry House gardens helping to weed and identify numerous species of flora. She even generously donated a number of cuttings from her own plants. Jacquie Frank had all of the qualities that organizations look for in volunteers, including commitment and dedication and interest in our cause and it was for this that she was the 2008 recipient of the Volunteer of the Year Award.

Tedd Hann, Jillian Passmore, and Jacquie Frank
Tedd Hann, Jillian Passmore, and Jacquie Frank

In 2009, we honoured Melanie Abrey. Melanie volunteered at the Museum since late 2008. She was very dedicated and frequently came in 2 – 3 times a week. Melanie was a great help to our Curator, Melissa; helping her clean, catalogue and photograph artifacts. She has assisted Jennifer and Tara in the archives and even tried out kids programming! Along with being our Volunteer of the Year award recipient, Melanie was also our 2009 top hour earner with 179 hours.

Melanie Abrey
Melanie Abrey

2010’s recipient for the Earl Hann Volunteer of the Year award was Uwe Schneider. Uwe came to know the Museum and its staff a few years ago when he brought his grandsons to our kids summer programs. After a few years his grandsons were too old to participate, but Uwe still wanted to continue his relationship with the Museum in terms of volunteering. He spent many hours working outside if Guy House to help us keep the gardens in tip top shape. He has brought his grandsons back to help and show them the value of volunteering and always had a wonderful spirit while here. Unfortunately Uwe had to stop volunteering because his health was deteriorating, but he was our most enthusiastic and loyal volunteer in 2010!

Pat has been a loyal and enthusiastic volunteer for the Oshawa Community Archives since starting with the museum in 2010. She was familiar with the Oshawa Museum, having been a member of the Historical Society since 1997, and her interest in history has made her the ideal volunteer in the archives. Pat has been very helpful to Jennifer, assisting with scrapbook organization, digitization, transcriptions of documents, and filing various archival sources; she even accompanied Jennifer on a road trip to the Archives of Ontario when Jenn was researching the history of Henry House. Her enthusiasm, congenial nature, and sheer dedication, contributing 103 and a quarter hours in 2010 and 92 and a half hours in 2011, is why Pat was awarded the 2011 Earl Hann Volunteer of the Year Award.

Pat Davies and Lisa Terech
Pat Davies and Lisa Terech

When it comes to a dedicated museum volunteer, many people think about someone who is often seen around the houses, out in the garden, at meetings and training sessions. But the 2012 Earl Hann Volunteer of the Year was most comfortable out of the spotlight, often helping from where we needed it the most – at home. Erika Suchan helped to officially launch our “at-home” volunteer sector 7 years ago. In four years she amassed 162 hours of service, averaging 40.5 hours per year and 3.4 hours per month. Erika supports us by laundering tablecloths, napkins and children’s costumes after teas, birthday parties and special events. This was especially helpful when we didn’t have a washer or dryer at the museum.

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Erika Suchan, Jillian Passmore, and Erika’s granddaughter Emily

Karen Albrecht has been a volunteer at the Museum since 2011 helping with Museum programming, and she has consistently donated her time since then.  By early 2014, she had donated 133.5 hours to the Museum, stopping only because she was attending Trent University and became an occasional Visitor Host at the Museum! Through the years, she has donned a costume for our Victorian Teas, wielded glue guns helping with crafts, provided an extra set of hands and eyes for our children’s birthday parties, and other programming in between.  Always with a smile on her face, she has been a dedicated programming volunteer and was awarded the 2013 Earl Hann Volunteer of the Year award.

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Karen Albrecht

Finally, over the past year, Donna Martino has been a valuable asset to the volunteer program here at the Oshawa Community Museum. She has donated in total 165.5 hours, since beginning in 2012 and while she only has been volunteering with us for three years, in that time Donna has demonstrated a true passion for the Museum, through her continual support of our programs and her dedication to her role as a volunteer. The choice for Donna as a recipient for the 2014 Earl Hann Volunteer of the Year award is in large part due to Donna’s work with Melissa Cole, Curator at the Museum. Donna has great attention to detail when working with the collection; this in combination with her reliable and consistency for hours has been a wonderful help throughout 2014. In addition, to her work with the collection, Donna has also been one of our “go-to” volunteer bakers, by donating baked goods for our teas and offering to bake whatever is needed, whether it be scones or sweets.

Donna Martino
Donna Martino

Those who can, do. Those who can do more, volunteer.
~Author Unknown

Thank you to all of our dedicated volunteers for your hard work and enthusiasm for preserving and promoting Oshawa’s heritage!