Skip to content

Collingwood Historical Society’s future uncertain: president

The non-profit, which was founded in 1976, will be completing a strategic planning exercise this fall to determine the future of the organization
Penny Skelton is the current president of the Collingwood & District Historical Society.

If you have an interest in Collingwood’s history, the Collingwood & District Historical Society wants to hear from you before it’s too late.

Due to declining membership, the society is looking to commission a strategic plan this fall which will determine the path forward for the non-profit. Based on the outcome of the exercise, the society’s board will be deciding whether to keep things status quo, to change the organization’s format, or to pack it all up after 48 years.

“It’s in trouble, on many fronts,” the society’s president Penny Skelton told CollingwoodToday this week. “If (people) value the organization, somebody has to step up.”

“We don’t need people to walk in, give opinions and walk away. We need a form of buy-in in some way,” she said.

The Collingwood & District Historical Society was founded in 1976. It is a volunteer-based non-profit organization with affiliate status in the Ontario Historical Society and membership in Heritage Canada. Membership fees collected by the society are used to pay for space at the Collingwood Leisure Time Club for their seven yearly meetings, and an honorarium for the guest speaker that month, which runs about $1,400 per year. Skelton notes that many of the speakers don’t accept the fee.

Pre-COVID, Skelton estimates the society boasted 100 to 125 paid members. These days, their membership has dwindled, down to about 20 members. One of the challenges Skelton sees is the aging population of those interested in preserving local history.

The board that oversees the society has also seen its numbers decrease, from eight board members pre-COVID to two now.

“Functionally, we can’t even call a board meeting because we don’t have quorum,” said Skelton.

As of now, Skelton said she’s looking to hire a planner to complete a strategic plan for the organization this fall, and will be looking for public input to inform that process. She said all options are on the table for how the society should proceed, whether the organization’s current format and purpose should continue or be amended.

She said options under consideration will include adjusting the number of annual meetings, whether it makes sense to continue with a speaker format, or if the society should partner with the town or museum.

“I think history and accuracy are important. Does the historical society morph into something more tangible? Maybe that’s a direction the historical society should look at; more project-based?” she ponders.

“At the end of that process, there still has to be a board or a different model. In the end, somebody has to run it.”

Skelton notes that there are many clubs in the area that are dealing with a similar situation of smaller numbers post-COVID, and also notes that this isn’t the first time in its history that the society has been more sparsely attended, and then rebounds.

“Bruce (Mackison, past president) worked very hard to bring people in,” Skelton said.

The society could use more board members, specifically who may have expertise in technology and communications. She clarifies that she doesn’t fault any previous member who resigned, but would like to see an influx of new members, from a variety of age groups, who all share a passion for local history to breathe some new life into the organization.

Skelton recalls that she was present for the society’s very first meeting back in 1976 as the student representative.

“I don’t want to be there at the end too,” said Skelton, with a laugh. “But I’m also not doing it alone.”

“If I could get 50 people out to a strategic planning session, I would be over the moon,” she said.

For more information on the Collingwood & District Historical Society, click here.

Reader Feedback

Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen is an experienced journalist working for Village Media since 2018, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
Read more