Volunteers: The Backbone of the Museum

By Maurice Tougas

(Featured in our July/August 2023 Issue of From the Hangar Newsletter)

There may not be a museum anywhere in Alberta more dependent upon the kindness of volunteers than the Alberta Aviation Museum. In fact, it’s safe to say that without hours of volunteer help, the museum would have been grounded long ago.

An Alberta Aviation Museum Volunteer on the tail wing of an aircraft
“Volunteers are the backbone of the museum,” says Bill Wilson, the museum’s new volunteer coordinator. “Without them, we wouldn’t have half the programs we run. We wouldn’t be able to operate.”

The numbers tell the story: last year, the museum’s 94 volunteers contributed more than 14,000 hours of their time for the betterment of the museum and its visitors.

The museum has five areas that require volunteer help: restoration, archives, public programs, library and communications.

While finding volunteers in some areas may be a challenge, one area where there is no shortage of volunteers is in restoration.

“There’s a ton of people there,” Wilson says. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, you’ll find 20 or so volunteers restoring the vintage aircraft, building displays and other vital chores, even keeping the facility neat and tidy for visitors – they recently had a crew that cleaned the facility from top to bottom, says Wilson. You don’t need experience with aircraft, he says, just a willingness to do some work.

Volunteer fixing up an aircraft model
Other areas, on the other hand, always need new people.

“We do need people to help with tours, or just to walk around the facility and tell people what they’re looking at,” a position called a docent. “Visitors really seem to like that.”

“It would be nice to see a few more for programming,” Wilson says.”We have these really awesome Theory of Flight programs. We only have two staff members dedicated to that,” and sometimes there might be school groups of 15 to as many as 65 kids, so help is always wanted.

Potential volunteers go through a simple process to determine the best areas for their skills.

The application is on the website. The applicant is screened so Bill can help determine the best match for their skills. An interview is set up, reference checks are done, and new volunteers get a handbook. For docents, there is a lot to learn, but newbies will be paired up with established volunteers when they first start out.

The museum doesn’t ask a lot from volunteers, just one day a month minimum. And in return, the museum hosts volunteer appreciation barbecues and a Christmas dinner.

volunteers at a Christmas dinner
Right now, there is a pressing need for volunteers in programming, which includes the Theory of Flight program and the simulator lab instructors. If you have good communication skills and are comfortable talking in front of groups of people, programming might be right for you.

Interested? You can check out all the volunteer possibilities here!