Name: Ruth Murgatroyd
Employer: York Sunbury Historical Society
Job Title: Executive Director
What are the regular tasks for your job?
I am the only permanent full-time employee for the York Sunbury Historical Society. My office is in the Fredericton Region Museum and I oversee all the operations of both the Society and Museum. I work with a large team of volunteers and, when possible, with interns, summer students and contract staff.
I consider myself a professional grant chaser but I do everything from sweeping the floors to planning and facilitating programs. I oversee exhibit projects and publications, manage staff, research and I manage the collection. I work with the Board of Directors to create planning documents and I type a lot of reports! Every day is different.
What is the best part of your job?
There are too many best parts of my job to list here but one of my favourite things is the building in which I work. My office is in the Officers’ Quarters in Fredericton; a large stone historic building. My office is one of a few insulated and heated rooms making it a challenge during the winter months but so worth it. Every day when I walk up to the large stone arches to go to work, I feel like the luckiest person in the world. When I step inside, it’s like I set my foot back in time every day.
Aside from that, I’m greeted every day by the Coleman Frog and I work with great volunteers, students and community partners on some of the most interesting project imaginable. For example, this year, I will be spending a lot of time in the trench exhibit working on World War I commemorations projects ... I’m so excited!
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Every job comes with challenges; you just have to figure out if you can live with them. One of the challenges of my job is that I spend a considerable part of the year working largely by myself. From September (when my summer students leave) until May (when my summer students are hired) I spend a large part of my work day by myself. The winter months are the most difficult because I have fewer visitors and the building is very cold. However, it is a very productive time for me. I write a lot of grant applications and research a lot of reports. I archive, plan out the next summer and people come and go. As the museum grows, so does the off-season activity and lately we have more volunteers and interns after our summer students leave.
I love the summer months because of the full staff of summer students and the constant activity.
How did you get interested in history?
My Grampy inspired my love for history. Some of my earliest memories are of him telling me stories about his childhood growing up in rural New Brunswick. I would ask him about his mother, grandmother, the brother he lost in the Battle of Hong Kong.
I grew up and started to research my family tree and then I wondered how the names in the tree fit into the history of the province. Eventually, I went to university and studied Canadian history and one summer I was hired at the local museum — the same museum that I work in now.
My Grampy passed away before I could finish my history degree but I appreciate him for inspiring my love for history.
My mother inspired my love for museums by dragging me to so many during my childhood. She also visited every antique store and flea market; my childhood home was mostly furnished in antiques. I gained an appreciation for dovetail joints and square headed nails from an early age.
What advice would you give to students who are interested in a similar job?
If you are interested in a similar job you should be involved in your local historical society — go to their programs and participate in the preservation of your heritage. Museums and heritage institutions are always looking for volunteers.
Student summer jobs are great for both the institution and the student! I have had several summer students who continued their studies in post-secondary museum programs. Now, they work in museums, heritage parks and archives across the country.
A Bachelor of Arts degree in history is a huge help. I use the research and writing skills that I gained during my studies every day.