John Wilson thought March 13 was going to be just a regular Wednesday at the West Hants Historical Society’s museum. It was anything but.
The membership had organized a retirement party for the long-time volunteer.
As members surprised Wilson with a cake, Wilson joked “I’m going to torment you guys forever.”
Wilson, who has been volunteering with the society for about 25 years, was surprised by the gesture and was almost at a loss for words.
Wilson has served three terms (roughly 10 years) as president of the society, with his latest term just ending.
“You guys got me all flustered here. I don’t know what to do,” he said as fellow history buffs thanked him for his dedication to preserving and protecting the region’s history.
“Thank you for putting up with me for all this time. Three times I’ve been president of this operation. I’m a slow learner,” he said with a chuckle, as other members teased him.
Wilson has always been fascinated by history, but when it came time to research his own family tree, he became hooked. That was about 25 years ago.
“I think doing the geneaology of my family and also meeting with John Duncanson... who had written all the books on the townships, and Larry Loomer. Those were the two people who got me into this,” said Wilson in an interview.
Kel Hancock, the incoming WHHS president, has been a member of the society for 15 years and more actively involved for the past three. He said Wilson’s commitment to preserving history and to the museum is second to none.
“It’s been incredible; it’s been selfless, devoted. He's been a mentor to a lot of people,” said Hancock in an interview at the museum.
“I think he really shepherded the historical society into the 21st century.”
Whether greeting visitors and taking them on tours, serving as a liaison with other cultural and heritage groups as well as government organizations, assisting with research projects, or tackling the daily operations of the museum and society, Hancock said Wilson is always willing to go the extra mile.
“John understands how to put together a team and utilize the skills and talents that people bring to the table and is a calm, practical, and compassionate guy,” Hancock said in a prepared statement. “His leadership and guidance has steered the WHHS boldly and confidently into the 21st century and put the museum on par with some of the best in Atlantic Canada.”
Pam Atwell, the museum’s curator, has known and worked alongside Wilson for about seven years. She describes him as ‘a rockstar,’ which causes Wilson to shake his head and chuckle.
He has “a love of the area, a fantastic knowledge base and a willingness to help anyone. If someone comes in with a research question, even if he doesn’t know the answer, he will not give up until he finds the answer for that person. He has a passion for it.”
Atwell said Wilson has been instrumental with keeping the society going, and while he’s stepping down as president, she’s looking forward to him still providing guidance.
“I think without John, this place would not be here today. He was the driving force behind it for many, many years. I think we all just owe him a big thank you.”
Hancock said he looks forward to continuing to work with Wilson, who is only stepping back from the role of president.
“He’s promised that he’s not going anywhere. He better not because we all need John to continue to mentor us and still provide that advisory leadership,” said Hancock.
Did you know?
- The first meeting of the West Hants Historical Society was held on April 13, 1973. Roland E. Meuse was elected the president. The society became official later that year, on Sept. 25.
- One of the historical society’s first accomplishments was a successful campaign to open the blockhouse at Fort Edward. The blockhouse officially opened on June 1, 1978.
- The historical society opened its first museum in 1984 in a portion of the Nova Scotia Power Corporation building on Water Street in Windsor but they quickly outgrew the location.
- In 1991, the former Methodist church on King Street was acquired by the Independent Order of Oddfellows, who still use the building as a meeting space, and was purchased by the historical society.
- The museum boasts more than 1,000 artifacts and has approximately 175 members.
If you go
What: West Hants Historical Society museum
Where: 281 King St., Windsor
When: Open limited hours on Wednesdays during the winter; open throughout the summer months.
Info: Call 902-798-4706 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.