Prince Albert Historical Society members in 1932 at the opening of the Heritage Museum.

Volunteers Contribute to Growth of Historical Society

By: Jackie Lay April, 2023

It is thanks to volunteers that the Prince Albert Historical Society has been operating for so long and become one of the oldest historical societies in Western Canada.

“I cannot say enough good things about the volunteers here at the Prince Albert Historical Society (PAHS) because they have made my job easier,” says Michelle Taylor, curator and manager.

A group of volunteers first established the historical society in 1886. In 1890, a fire destroyed the collections and the building. In 1923, the second inception of PAHS was led by a group of interested citizens that recognized the need to preserve and share the area’s history. The society now operates four museums in three locations within Prince Albert. The museums capture the history of the Prince Albert area and include themes related to education, policing, as well as Indigenous and settler history.

For over 60 years, the PAHS volunteers ran the society and museums. They sat on the board, set up the exhibitions, did all the administration, building maintenance, acquired the funding and archived materials. But now thanks to the hiring of Taylor in 2009, they get to do more of the fun stuff, such as archiving, preparing the collections, helping with community presentations, leading guided tours and volunteering at special events. “The volunteers don’t have to think of everything now. They can just come in and do,” she says.

In her role as a full-time curator and manager, she has been able to expand the number of exhibitions and hire more staff. As a result, the museum can open more often throughout the year.

Another result of the PAHS volunteer’s contributions are the Bill Smiley Archives, which now contain over 12,000 photographs, 300,000 negatives, and 20,000 documents.

One of those devoted volunteers is Shirley Swain who enters the written collections into the archival database. As a 12-year volunteer, she continues to contribute her time because she enjoys the work and likes spending time with the other volunteers at the society.

“The other day, myself and another volunteer were looking at a photo of a house demolished in 1939, and it was interesting trying to figure out where it was in town. I also entered a letter, from the early 1920s, from Grey Owl. I really like being around the other volunteers and discussing the local history we see.”

That continued dedication is evident. Last year, 33 volunteers donated over 3,300 hours of their time.

Taylor says because so many of the volunteers have had long-time involvement with PAHS, she was able to learn how to run the society from them. “I had very little experience when I started and they taught me so much. They even taught me how to write grant applications.”

Thanks to how much work the volunteers do and the money saved, funds instead go toward the exhibitions, such as the recently launched Kistapinânihk/ Omaniciye Makoca/Tł’ogh tëlë “The Gathering Place” exhibit, which celebrates the Indigenous history of Prince Albert and area.

“With the number of volunteer hours contributed to the society, we have been able to grow the collection and public face of the society. It couldn’t have been done without the volunteers’ commitment.”

The Prince Albert Historical Society is supported annually through SaskCulture’s Museum Grant Program, thanks to funding from Sask Lotteries Trust Fund.