Engaging Volunteers at Home

By Dylan C., MMC Intern

As a result of the pandemic, volunteers have not been able to return in person to the Oshawa Museum. By not being able to come into the museum, they lose the social aspect of their volunteer experience which is the biggest motivator for some.  The museum has been looking for ways to keep their volunteers engaged at home. One proposed way of keeping volunteers engaged is through the audio transcription of oral histories. But if audio transcription is going to be one of the main ways to keep volunteers engaged from home during this pandemic, then the question becomes how do we incorporate and infuse that process with a social component? One theory of mine includes hosting online discussions through zoom or other web-based programs, where volunteers can discuss what they have learned from completing the transcription. They can talk about the process of transcribing itself or discuss the history that they have learned from hearing the voices of the past.

The first transcription I worked on was an oral history from a gentleman named Wardy Pankhurst who was a life long resident of Oshawa that was born in the early 1900s. (We’ve written at length about the Pankhurst family on the blog – read through past articles HERE) I learned very quickly that I could barely understand what he was talking about between the poor audio quality and the lack of knowledge that I had in regards to Oshawa’s past. It wasn’t until I did a bit of digging myself when I began to understand what were the places and people he was referencing. For example, he is hard to hear, understandably being an elderly man born at the turn of the century, coupled with the fact he refers to places and people as if it is common knowledge, which of course would have been if you were alive during his time or if you are well versed in Oshawa history. The first word or rather name that he kept bringing up when referencing to his work past was Malleable. I could not make out what he was trying to say, so I had to ask my dad to see if he could hear because at first, I could not even distinguish what word he was trying to say. After deciphering the word “malleable,” I then still found myself in the dark. After a quick google search I found out that he was referring to the Ontario Malleable Steel Company and then all of a sudden, the entire context of what he was talking about came to fruition. It connected his tales about working for the McLaughlin’s, to travelling south of the border to Detroit then coming back to Oshawa to sell his services to the highest bidder. Doing this research to simply understand the story he was trying to tell gave me the idea that audio transcription can be more than simply turning speech into text. It could be a rewarding experience that turns social transcribers into an amateur research team that seeks to learn more about the history of Oshawa.

The second part of this is that you could turn the finished and researched transcriptions into mini history resources if you will, that have hyperlinks incorporated in them so if someone wants to read the transcription and has questions about certain topics discussed they could simply click on the highlighted word that takes them to a web page on the subject.

This mixture of independent work with a social meeting aspect may help to keep volunteers engaged even if they are restricted to their own homes. However, it is impossible to replace the in-person social aspects of volunteering but this idea gives some food for thought and perhaps gives us an avenue to engage and stay connected during these unprecedented times.


To hear Ward’s memories as relayed by him, take a listen to our video podcast:


The audio transcription 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.

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

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.