Three cheers for Ingenium’s volunteers

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Ingenium - Canada's Museums of Science and Innovation
Ingenium volunteer coordinator Cédric St-Amour speaks with volunteer Paul Hughes.

It’s National Volunteer Week 2018, and here at Ingenium we have so much to celebrate! Over the coming week, the Ingenium Channel will be profiling just a few of our amazing volunteers. Today, we take a bird’s-eye view of volunteers at Ingenium – and why they mean so much.

The old proverb, “Many hands make light work” seems especially fitting in the context of volunteerism at Ingenium.

At each of our three museums – the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum – volunteers play a vital part of day-to-day operations.

“Ingenium currently has 320 active volunteers,” says Cédric St-Amour, the volunteer coordinator for all three museums under the Ingenium umbrella. “Those 320 volunteers have logged nearly 24,000 volunteer hours in the last fiscal year.”

Due to the diversity of Ingenium’s three museums, volunteer duties are extremely varied. There are behind-the-scenes tasks – such as administrative work, photography, research, writing, handling artifacts, and conservation – and front-line tasks, such as welcoming guests, assisting with craft sessions and workshops, and even handling animals.

“A volunteer’s time is precious,” emphasizes St-Amour. “I want to ensure that each volunteer finds a role that’s meaningful to them. At the end of the day, every volunteer should leave thinking, ‘I made a difference today.’ That’s what it’s all about.”

While many volunteer positions don’t require previous experience, some tasks are highly specialized – and attract volunteers with unique skill sets. A prime example is Project North Star, which consists of a group of volunteers with the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Project North Star began back in 2003, when a group of aviation enthusiasts approached the museum and offered their help to restore the only surviving military Canadair C54-GM (North Star) on a volunteer basis.

Project North Star

Jim Riddoch (L), Bill Tate, and John Tasseron work on Project North Star.

“This aircraft had sat outside for 35 years, and was slowly eroding from the elements,” explains St-Amour. “The objective is to bring the aircraft back to its original condition – just like when it rolled off the assembly line in 1948.”

St-Amour credits the incredible dedication of the project’s volunteer team – who have collectively given 4,866 hours over the past fiscal year alone – to preserving this historically-significant aircraft. He anticipates Project North Star will continue their work for several more years before restoration is complete.

“You simply can’t put a price on the value of the volunteers’ contribution,” says St-Amour, adding that many of the volunteers have a professional background in aviation – such as aircraft engineers and mechanics. “A lot of people who have had some pretty cool careers are now giving back to the community through this project.”

On the museum floor at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, 89 volunteer interpreters have given nearly 5,000 volunteer hours over the past fiscal year. A large number of these volunteers are retired military personnel or private pilots, and help bring the museum’s aircraft to life for visitors through their first-hand, personal accounts of flying.

Over at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, volunteer numbers are starting to ramp up again, following the museum’s reopening last November.

“Volunteers are very happy to be back on the exhibition floor since the museum rose up from the ashes,” says St-Amour, referring to the museum’s complete rebuild over the past four years.

Exploratek

Trevor Charlebois (left) and Justin Pilo volunteer at Exploratek.

Many of these volunteers are high school students and retired teachers, he says, adding that a growing segment is people with learning disabilities. Their work – which is often in the ZOOOM Children’s Innovation Zone or in Exploratek, the museum’s tinkering space – offers concrete tasks with a sense of purpose.

At the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, volunteers are the backbone of many special events – including Baconpalooza, the Ice Cream Festival, and the Sheep Shearing Festival. Earlier this month, volunteers contributed 171 hours for the museum’s Easter festivities – which included an animal station, crafts, cake service, and greeting visitors.

St-Amour also notes that a significant number of Ingenium’s volunteers are new immigrants in Canada.

“Many people will tell me, ‘I think volunteering at a national museum is a great way to integrate into this new culture – and become Canadian,’” says St-Amour.

As for the man who coordinates it all, it’s clear that his work is truly a labour of love.

“Working with all of these great people is absolutely the best part of my job; the energy I get from that is so inspiring and positive,” says St-Amour, who has served as volunteer coordinator for 16 years. “That’s part of the paycheque for me; it’s cheesy, but it’s true.

“People don’t have to volunteer here; there are a million places looking for volunteers. But they choose to volunteer here – and I will never take that for granted.”

By the numbers – Ingenium volunteers in fiscal year 2017-18

23,946 – Total volunteer hours worked at all three museums

16,744 – Volunteer hours contributed at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum

6,585 – Volunteer hours contributed at the Canada Science and Technology Museum

617 – Volunteer hours contributed at the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum

320 – Number of active volunteers

Author(s)
Profile picture for user Sonia Mendes
Sonia Mendes

Sonia Mendes is the English Writer/Editor for Ingenium. She loves digging behind the scenes to tell the quirky, colourful stories of museum life and all things related to science and innovation.