Monday, July 22, 2013

Internal Conflict: 25 years of LGBT Advocacy in the United Church

My latest post can be seen over at  The post looks at the conflicted history of the United Church of Canada's policies relating to same-sex marriage, ordination, and sexual orientation.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Heritage Hide'n'Seek GeoTour

Parks Canada recently announced a Northern Ontario heritage GeoTour that combines geocaching and the history of the Northern Ontario region.  Details on the GeoTour were a bit difficult to locate initially, as the links provided in my local paper didn't direct users to the correct site and the parks website has a number of geolocation based programs.

The Hide'n'Seek program includes 16 geocaches located as far south as Algonquin Park, as far north as the James Bay coast, and as far west as Fort Frances.  Given the vast distance between the geocahes it is fairly unlikely that too many people will visit all of them.  However, there are various clusters located around Thunder Bay, Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury and the Hwy 17 corridor which might be great stopping points for anyone traveling across the province. 

The historical details of the GeoTour are well written and often involve visits to Parks Canada sites and local landmarks.  For example, the Sault Ste. Marie Commerce cache includes a visit to the Francis Clergue plaque, the Nicolas Perrot plaque, and the Ermatinger House.  Each stop includes a description of the historical context and explanation of the impact of person or location of the development of trade and commerce in Sault Ste Marie.  Given that this GeoTour was created by Parks Canada it's not surprising that locations of many of the geocaches encourage participants to visit parks or local heritage sites.

Overall, the GeoTour seems like a neat way to encourage the general public to interact with history in a new way.  The tour is educational, includes a number of interesting landmarks, and makes use of the growing abundance of smartphones.  The only potential downside to the tour is that there are significant distances between many of the caches.  It would be nice to see more caches developed throughout the region so that local participants could take advantage of more of the GeoTour without having to drive thousands of kilometers. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Volunteers and Heritage Events

It's Gathering and and Conference planning season again.  For the third year in a row my work is planning a large Gathering and Conference for a summer long weekend.  This year's Gathering is occurring on the long weekend in August and I am substantially more involved in the planning and implementation of the Gathering.  

Events and outreach activities are a fairly common occurrence for heritage organizations.  Events are one of the many ways in which heritage groups encourage first time visitors and promote themselves within a community.  It also fairly common that heritage groups rely heavily on volunteers and donations in-kind when planning an event.

The planning experience so far this year has inspired a lot of thoughts about the importance of having an involved volunteer based and community connections.  Even large heritage organizations utilize volunteers as in day to day activities and special events.  Many hands make for light work. 

Volunteers are wonderful.  They also require planning and coordination.   Every volunteer comes from a unique background and has individual interests and skills sets.  A good volunteer coordinator will establish tasks for a volunteer that are suitable to their interests and skill sets.  I've been lucky in my volunteer experiences.  While volunteering for the Dufferin Country Museum and Archives, the Red Cross, and the Canadian Museum of Nature I was given tasks that suited my interests and room to expand my skill set.  All of these organizations were also extremely flexible in working with my schedule and supporting me in my initial foray into public history.

Having organized volunteers for specific events has contributed to me having a huge respect for individuals who work full-time as volunteer coordinators or in an outreach role.  Scheduling volunteers, providing the right amount of guidance and training, and dealing with unexpected volunteer problems requires patience, flexibility, and a huge amount of planning.

What about volunteers for one off events?  A few things I've learned from the past events we have organized, include:
  • Having an orientation session prior to the event can be extremely helpful in avoiding day of chaos. 
  • One off volunteers tend to be a bit less reliable than regular volunteers. Having more volunteers than you think you'll need usually helps mitigate this.
  • Assign someone to be in charge of the volunteers the day of the event.  Have a central place for the volunteers to meet and take breaks. 
  • Treat your volunteers well (free food always helps) and they will be more willing to help out again in the future.