Museum volunteers a rich source of historical knowledge

Matt Gardner
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Prince Albert Historical Society volunteer Joyce Trach (left) polishes a vintage silver sports trophy at the P.A. Historical Museum on Thursday as curator Michelle Taylor observes. The museum will be open to the public free of charge from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Thursday until the end of March, with volunteers available to provide tours and answer questions.

The Prince Albert Historical Museum is a treasure trove for local history buffs -- some of whom have taken that interest to the next level.

With the museum open to the public again this winter every Thursday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., the talents and knowledge of its volunteers from the P.A. Historical Society have returned to the fore.

“We’re making the museums more available to the public by providing an afternoon open free of charge … so that people who don’t have time to come in in the summer can come in in the winter and have a look at what we have here and see our volunteers at work,” curator Michelle Taylor said.

“In the summer you don’t see our volunteers,” she noted. “You see our summer students. But in the winter all our volunteers are here, so you see what really happens to make our exhibits what they are.”

Volunteers are all drawn from the Historical Society membership base.

Some are interested in the history of Prince Albert in general, while others have a particular fascination with artifacts or archival material such as documents and photographs.

In some cases, the connection to local history is more personal -- a connection volunteers often share with visitors.

“Most people are just very interested in the history of Prince Albert and, if they’re older, remembering what Prince Albert was when they were a child,” Taylor said.

“Most of this stuff, many of our volunteers have grown up with, and so they remember and can tell stories about some of the artifacts that are here.”

Providing guided tours is the most visible task of volunteers, who lead visitors through the museum and explain the various artifacts and materials on display.

Yet volunteer duties vary widely, encompassing everything from data entry to accession of artifacts.

“There’s a whole range of things that people can do,” Historical Society board member and volunteer Connie Gerwing said.

“If you like working with artifacts, there’s tons of stuff. If you like working with photographs, there’s tons of stuff. If you like working with textiles and clothing … that’s all (some people) do as a volunteer is work with textiles and clothing. So there are lots of different jobs.”

Despite the breadth of their historical knowledge, volunteers acting as tour guides can still often find themselves learning new things about the past when someone asks a particularly difficult question.

In the winter all our volunteers are here, so you see what really happens to make our exhibits what they are. Michelle Taylor

“If we don’t (know), we have to ask questions ourselves,” board member and volunteer Fred Payton said.

Depending on the weather, the museum typically attracts anywhere between three to 15 visitors on a typical Thursday afternoon in winter.

During the down time between visitors, volunteers busy themselves with other tasks.

On this particular Thursday, Gerwing, Payton and fellow volunteer Joyce Trach could be seen polishing vintage silver sports trophies in preparation for an exhibit that will accompany the Prince Albert 2014 Saskatchewan Winter Games.

“We’ll have a special sports display showcasing Prince Albert sports, summer and winter, from past to present … It’ll be starting to (be) put together this weekend,” Taylor said.

For one week during the winter games, the museum will open its doors to the public every afternoon from Monday to Friday between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

With such a highly publicized exhibit detailing the history of local sports, relevant artifacts such as the trophies must be in top condition and handled with the appropriate care beforehand.

“You don’t ‘clean’ silver, because every time you clean silver, you diminish the silver,” Payton noted. “So you polish it.”

Aside from polishing the trophies, the volunteers also filled out documents for the accession of the artifacts, which will also be displayed in the virtual museum.

“The virtual museum will really not be worth much if we just put a picture in and we don’t describe it appropriately,” Payton said. “So that’s why we’re doing this miserable job,” he joked.

The historical museum will remain open to the public every Thursday afternoon until the end of March, after which volunteers will begin preparing for a summer exhibit on the First World War.

But Taylor noted that staff members are flexible when it comes to winter visits.

“If you can’t make it on a Thursday, feel free to call the historical museum, make an appointment and you can come and see the museum anyway,” she said.

“We’re not going to turn anyone away who wants to see the museum.”

Organizations: P.A. Historical Society

Geographic location: Prince Albert 2014 Saskatchewan

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Recent comments

  • Shirley
    January 24, 2014 - 14:45

    would like your phone number as I may know someone who would like to donate something to the museum