UNITY — Small communities across Saskatchewan often marvel at the notion of where they and organizations within that community would be without volunteers. Unity and District Heritage Museum is such an organization. The decades-old historic venue holds great community pride and is viable only because of volunteer commitment.
UDHM has been a part of Unity for almost half a century. It is a popular venue for getting an up-close view of the community’s history and learning about Unity and the area’s historical background. The volunteer committee provides their direction to enlist volunteers in all the work that needs doing to keep this place of pride in the condition everyone is accustomed to. It takes a village.
The UDHM has 20 members on the board in 2023, with four executive members included. Years ago, there were over 30 members, but some have moved on for varied reasons, but each contributed and left a legacy at the museum that is noted in the UDHM history book.
Museum spokesperson, Chris Martin, tells the Unity-Wilkie Press-Herald and SASKTODAY.ca that when they add up the names and hours of volunteers who helped at the end of the year 2022, there were 70 with more than 3,000 hours dedicated to ongoing work at the museum.
“For a rural town, we are incredibly lucky to have such a large number of volunteers. Each volunteer has a skill or desire they wish to share at the museum, with the amount of time they wish to give. Maintenance is a big job as well as repairs. Old buildings and equipment always need TLC. A lot depends on the funds available or what is done at UDHM.”
The Adanac Hall is the most used building, and it is heated for use all year round. The office is the second busiest building and the third, used during the spring, summer and fall is the shop. Martin said this is also where most of the utility expenses are incurred.
It is not just museum inventory, showing artifacts, buildings and maintenance that require museum committee and volunteer help, there are fundraisers to manage to help pay for expenses.
The weekly winter Sunday brunches are the main fundraiser and could not be managed without the commitment of volunteers who set up, cook, serve and clean up. These brunches are earmarked for hall upkeep and expenses, which would not be possible without volunteer assistance.
Events held at the museum also require volunteer help and the Family Day fun day held in February had more than 10 volunteers help with organizing and hosting. The UDHM says this is one of the events that benefits from outside community help as the Unity Fire Department were on site as well as the recreation department.
The UDHM says hosting events on-site helps keep people engaged with all there is to offer and they become vested in the ongoing “pride of ownership,” and want to commit to the longevity of the museum either by supporting events, fundraisers or by helping out when and where they can.
The museum is a popular place for family gatherings, picnics, photo locations, anniversaries, reunions and even weddings. Volunteers work all season long to ensure the grounds are maintained.
It takes many volunteers to run the annual Canada Day festivities at the museum grounds. Building sitters are required for tours, that Martin says it takes about 30 people to man for the entire day. Throughout the July 1 festivities, volunteers prepare and serve a pancake breakfast and display machinery at the shop, some show vehicles and tractors while more volunteers run the popular speeder throughout the day for rides.
A minimum of two volunteers run the clay oven, baking bread, while another three volunteers manage the horse-drawn wagon rides. Volunteers help run the ecumenical church service and some help with the ceremonial flag raising and opening ceremonies and those who commit to the big tasks of tent raising for the special occasion.
The UDHM again says they are proud and grateful service clubs and other organizations step forward with tasks for the day, once again showing a vested interest in this location. Each year the Unity Fire Department, Lions Club, RCMP and Legion help make July 1 a memorable experience for all who attend.
Martin notes that several volunteers don many hats throughout the day to ensure all jobs are taken care and they hope everyone knows their deep appreciation for their commitment to museum activities and goals.
Volunteers at the shop are never bored, as depending on the projects they are working on, there is repair, upkeep, cleaning, organizing, woodworking, welding and multiple other tasks that benefit from their skill and knowledge. At times they are even involved with searching for needed parts or driving to get them.
“As far as volunteers we are in fairly good shape, but like other organizations, as volunteers age, they grow tired and would like younger members to get involved and learn the ropes before this is not an option,” Martin adds.
UDHM committee members look forward to new ideas from new members that help keep Unity’s museum going.
While volunteers are key to the successful operation of history’s home in Unity, money is always a factor. The museum is a non-profit organization and the need for fundraising and grant application takes the help of both committee and volunteers to organize and arrange.
The volunteer committee also has to carefully review the projects that need significant funds to complete so they know how much they are needing to fundraise or seek donations for. Some tasks get put on hold and others need to be done as quickly as possible. It’s all part of the discussion at monthly meetings.
Community businesses, organizations, groups and even some individuals in the past have come and taken on a task offering hands-on labour with often sponsorship or donation to the project. One project that comes to mind was Delta Co-op, some years ago, taking on funding and rebuilding the wooden boardwalk.
“Museum committee members, volunteers and the town of Unity have helped Unity and District Heritage Museum become the attraction it is today over the 43 years since it opened,” Martin says.
“It houses stories, artifacts, priceless treasures and archives of those who came to this area to live and build a future. The past always tells the future of those who once were here, for them to learn and build on those who came before. That is what a museum is, a place for people to visit, learn and appreciate.”