Thank You, Volunteers

Thank You, Volunteers

By Mel Toth

The Cranbrook History Centre is more than just a collection of artefacts and train cars; we are a community that is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of our history as well as providing education and engagement. From Ed Talks to archives, paleontology to the model railway exhibit, we’re here to create a space where people can learn and interact with their national and local history. We couldn’t do that without the help and dedication of our incredible volunteers.

Three of our model railroad volunteers help set up the Christmas train


We receive emails, phone calls, and in-person visits from folks inquiring about pieces of local history – a name to search for, a specific train car, the history of their own home in Cranbrook, maybe even research for a book or article. Our archive volunteers help answer these inquiries by conducting research via our online collections database and digitized newspaper collection, as well as in-person at the museum. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, we don’t allow the public into the archive at the moment, but our volunteer archivists will come in to research in person whatever is not yet digitized and available online. Over 100 hours of research for community members has been completed this year by volunteers! In addition to this archival detective work, they also help edit and organize files, process donations, and keep our digitized archives organized and up-to-date.

One of our archivists, Cathy Pretty, started volunteering at the museum because she had a special interest herself in researching local history. “The many hours of volunteer work that go into preserving history is astounding,” she says, calling it “an eye-opener”. Cathy’s work in the archives includes entering information about donations into the database, editing and reorganizing existing files, and digitizing archival records, a “never-ending” and essential task.  

Another archivist, Ken Rines, has joined our team more recently; after taking one of our train tours, he began reading up and learning about the history of the Canadian Pacific Railway and Cranbrook. Ken used to work for the CPR as a conductor himself, and although he has recently retired, he’s still interested in learning more about its history. He’s been giving us the gift of his time and helping out in the archives, where he’s been gathering information and learning how to use our archives computer system.


Working on the new stand for the Christmas train!

Our model railroad has been an ongoing project. It was reopened to the public in 2015 after it was relocated to the new museum building (you can find more information on the history of our model railroad here Cranbrook History Centre – Model Railway). Our model railroad volunteers have continued to ensure that the exhibit is running smoothly and always looking sharp for visitors. They come in on Wednesdays (and sometimes on other days to fix up a train that has derailed!) and spend the afternoon tending to the exhibit so that the public can enjoy this beautiful illustration of train travel in the mountains. They’ve also been working on a special project this holiday season – the Christmas train!

One of our model railway volunteers, Peter Siegenthaler, has been volunteering his time to work on the model railroad since 2010, before the model railroad exhibit opened to the public at the current museum. Of his time here, he says that “the best part (of working on the model railroad) is the fellowship of people who share the same interests.” He also says that the team has some “very skilled modelers and craftsmen” included in their number, and that they’ve all been able to learn and benefit from each other’s skills. In the words of another model railroad volunteer, Ken Moan, with enough dedication, “model railroading allows a person to develop their skills to whatever level they like.” Ken, who has always had an interest in trains and modeling, has been volunteering with the model railroad group for several years; his time here, he says, has allowed him to pursue these interests.


Our board is the driving force behind the scenes, providing direction and objectives for the Cranbrook History Centre and supporting staff as they work to achieve new goals and projects. Wayne Stetski, who joined the board this year, considers its core mission to “take proper care of our most important heritage assets” as well as “[to invite] the public to get more involved in the Centre.” Our board members oversee the less-visible but very important functions of the museum, ensuring that we are working in line with our mandate and providing the best possible experience to our patrons. “This is a great group of people on the board,” Wayne says, and adds that “being on the board is a great opportunity to become more knowledgeable about the important resources the Centre protects and shares with the community and with visitors to Cranbrook”.

Protecting the trains from environmental damage with tarps



Our volunteer Joanne helping with Junior Paleontology in 2020

In addition to the volunteers who work on the board and in the archives and model railroad, we’ve also had volunteers who have helped run educational programs (such as the Junior Paleontology Program), provided much-needed assistance with maintenance projects, and helped protect our historic train cars from the elements.  The Cranbrook Lions Club has given us many hours of their time this year, helping with major construction projects in the museum and our railway cleanup project this fall.

The museum requires a lot of love and attention to make sure it is properly maintained and accessible to visitors. The building and trains require maintenance and upkeep, the programs require people to run them, and all the valuable resources in our archives require dedicated researchers to locate, organize, and digitize them. There are many specialized areas of work and interest at the history centre, and we are so fortunate that we have a community of volunteers to make sure that everything is upkept, updated, and made accessible to all of you.

The Lion’s Club members who regularly volunteer for us

Thank you so much to everyone who has donated their time to the Cranbrook History Centre. You are at the centre of our community here, and we appreciate every minute of your time and all the heart and effort you’ve put into making sure we keep the legacy alive.