When the third wave of COVID-19 hit Ontario in early March, hearts sank among the small group of volunteers planning the Paris Museum’s Annual General Meeting. They had been hoping to host an in-person AGM on April 18, 2021. After five-and-a-half months of lockdowns, the museum needed a boost. Their last hope expired on March 17 when Ontario Premier Doug Ford imposed an emergency stay-at-home order, extending till late May. That left two choices: postpone the AGM indefinitely or try to hold it online, which would pose possibly technical and practical challenges for PMHS, as this had never been done before.
Under the leadership of President Ursula O’Brien, the board of directors chose to hold the meeting online.
Ursula and then-secretary Carol Goar got to work preparing a package that contained all the documents PMHS members would need:
- a cover letter explaining that health restrictions prevented PMHS from holding its AGM in person
- an agenda
- minutes of the 2020 annual meeting which had to be approved
- a financial report for 2020 which likewise had to be approved
- a draft budget for 2021 requiring members’ consent
- a summary of the museum’s activities and achievements in 2020
- a ballot to vote for the next board of directors and signal approval or disapproval for proposed changes with a stamped, pre-addressed envelope to make it easier for members to submit their vote ahead of the meeting
The members’ packages were mailed out or hand-delivered on April 15th and 16th. An email was sent before the meeting with instructions on how to use ZOOM, the video conferencing software that the museum was using to allow interactive communication among members.
As the date of the AGM approached, there were still doubts about the attendance and the number of ballots that would be sent in and still worries about technical glitches. But everything went remarkably well thanks to Stephanie Pile and her Zoom expertise. Eighteen members joined the ZOOM meeting and 21 ballots were mailed in.
Ursula welcomed everyone and officially opened the Paris Museum’s 49th Annual General on April 18 at 2:10. The business portion of the meeting was quickly dispatched, leaving plenty of time for the President’s Report, the election and a video presentation by the Curator.
Ursula summarized how the museum had survived — and adapted — during the first two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic and assured members that its hard-working volunteers would press ahead through the third wave. She closed her report with a heartfelt tribute to three dedicated members — Dale Robb, Eric Gibson and Mary Cassar — who had passed away since the last AGM.
Then came the election, ably handled by Brant Councillor Steve Howes, who generously spent the better part of his afternoon at the AGM.
He acknowledged and thanked the two board members — Stephanie Pile and Andrea Nechita — who were stepping down. Stephanie Pile has been with the museum for a number of years serving mainly as Vice President. Stephanie will continue as a consultant for the museum board and continue working at Woodlands Cultural Centre. Andrea Nechita has also been with the museum for a long time and is now pursuing a part-time teaching career along with her position at Woodlands Cultural Centre.
Steve Howes sought and received the membership’s approval for the re-election of three board members — Ursula O’Brien, Carol Goar and Jim Graber — whose terms had expired. Then he introduced the four new members nominated to the board of directors: Tina Lyon, Patti Gladding, Judy Moore and Miranda Siklenka. By a vote of 39 to zero, they were all elected.
The highlight of the meeting was a virtual walking tour of the museum, including the storage area, which most members seldom see, led by Tina Lyon the museum’s curator. She focused on the changes that had been made while the museum was closed, the archives where artifacts are catalogued and stored, and the research room. Thanks to Tina’s effective narration and her team’s skilful filming, the members watched an enjoyable 15-minute video.
With a final thanks and farewell from Ursula, it was time to adjourn but most of the ZOOM participants weren’t ready to leave.
Councillor Howes offered to stay and take questions about local development issues. A lively discussion followed about the sale of the beautiful Penmarvian Estate on Grand River Street North, the redevelopment of the Walker Press Building on Yeo Street and the struggle to maintain Paris’s small-town charm as newcomers pour in and developers buy up large tracts of land for housing.
It was one of the most interesting and informative Annual General Meetings the museum has held in recent years, defying the skeptics and giving the newly-elected board a model of ingenuity and co-operation.