Volunteer passion fuels the Coldwater Museum

“When people visit, they can imagine and experience life as it once was in rural Ontario,” says a board member of a group that keeps the story alive in Coldwater

If you want to see what a group of dedicated and hardworking volunteers can create, you should visit the Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum.

Unlike other small museums and historic sites that are usually owned by a municipality or other level of government, the Coldwater Museum has been owned and operated by a group of local citizens for over 50 years.

And, according to current chairman of the museum’s board of trustees, Richard Jolliffe, it’s one of the factors contributing to the site’s charm – and success.

“We have a wonderful group of people here; everyone participates because they are dedicated to preserving our local history and love the property,” Jolliffe said. “We are 100% run by volunteers and freelancers. I think it matches the lifestyle and personality of our volunteers.

Jolliffe points out that it’s not just about the current group of committed volunteers. “Many before us laid the foundation for the growth of the museum.”

In the mid-1960s, a group of concerned citizens purchased the 6.5-acre property and original farm from Archibald Woodrow, who emigrated from Scotland with his wife and daughter in the early 1840s. The family’s log home, where Woodrow and his wife raised 10 children, is still on the site.

The intention of the group, from the outset, was to turn the property into a museum and to preserve the history of rural and village life in the region.

Over the years, other historic buildings have been moved onto the property and other structures have been constructed by volunteers. The museum is now an officially designated historic site.

“What makes our museum special are its indoor and outdoor exhibits,” Jolliffe explained. “When people visit us, they can imagine and experience life as it once was in rural Ontario. From the mid-1800s farmhouse that illustrates family life on the farm, to the mid-1900s fire station and jigger on the world’s shortest railroad, to the many exhibits in between, we’re trying to tell how it was back then time.”

Touring the museum with volunteer curator, Patricia Turnour, one quickly sees how discovering and learning about artifacts from the past can create a sense of wonder and, for some, nostalgia.

“We have visitors who enjoy exploring their past, many grandparents who bring their grandchildren, as well as many groups who take advantage of our interpretive programs,” Turnour said. “We have homeschooling groups who enjoy participating in our school program which recreates a typical school day in the late 1800s.”

With all the artifacts, including large farm machinery and vehicles, and historic structures to house it all, there’s a lot of upkeep to do. This is where a special team of volunteers – the “A-Team” – comes in.

“We’re not really called the A team because we’re so special – we’re just old,” jokes Jolliffe, who, as well as being chairman, is an active member of that group.

Team A always has a long list of tasks – from grounds maintenance and upkeep to building new structures and restoring period artifacts.

“It’s something we all love to do – there’s just something about the place,” Jolliffe said. “We feel a strong attachment to the museum. For me, I find it calms me – it’s quiet. I just fell in love with the property.”

He also said he’s learned a lot from his work with the museum over the past 20 or so years – not just about the interesting artefacts of life on a farm, but about working with people and making connections. with his community.

As a craftsman and owner of his own small business, Unique Ironworks, Jolliffe has always been used to working alone. At the museum, he embraced teamwork and openness to others.

“Because we are not dependent on the government, it is really important that we reach out to people. Without the support of local groups and patrons, we would not have thrived as we have for over 50 years.

As a non-profit organization, all revenues are reinvested in the management of the museum. Revenue is generated through fundraising activities, gift shop sales and special events, as well as donations. Admission is by donation only. The museum also receives grants for special projects (such as new sanitary facilities) and to hire summer staff to act as historical interpreters.

“When you visit the museum, you’ll always see something new, thanks in part to our summer staff who develop new themed exhibits each year,” Turnour explained. “They also run guided tours throughout the site, although you are always welcome to take advantage of self-guided tours.”

Museum season opens after the May long weekend and from July 1 is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

This summer, the museum is offering special Community Days every Thursday in July and August. On these days, visitors can enjoy guided tours, lectures by local historians, performances by pioneer schools, crafts and demonstrations. Admission is by donation and everyone is encouraged to bring a lawn chair and enjoy a picnic by the river.

The museum also hosts special events during the summer, including Woodrow Family Farm Day, which takes place on Saturday, July 16. There will be live music, new exhibits to see, a Lions Club BBQ lunch and lots of activities for the kids.

A special feature on July 16 will be the dedication of the newly built bread oven in memory of Kelly Jolliffe, daughter of Richard Jolliffe and his wife Diane, and sister of Lindsay. A new painted barn quilt will also be dedicated to friends and volunteers of the museum, which is prominently displayed on the side of the fire station for all who pass by Route 12 to see. This is part of Simcoe County’s Quilt Trail program. .

For more information about the museum and opportunities to visit or get involved, go to coldwatermuseum.com.