Behind the Scenes with the Collections and Conservation Summer Student

Post by Kim Cielos, Collections and Conservation Assistant – Young Canada Works Summer Student 

It has been an exciting summer as the Collections and Conservation Assistant summer student at the Manitoba Museum.   This is not my first job in a museum; previously I had summer positions at the Transcona Museum as a Collections and Research Assistant and at the Winnipeg Art Gallery as a Collection Inventory Assistant. This is however, the first time I have had the chance to undertake conservation-related duties.  I work closely with Cindy Colford and Carolyn Sirett who are two amazing people that guided me throughout the summer teaching me about conservation work. Perhaps it’s destiny, but coincidentally, both Cindy and Carolyn have studied (and Cindy was a professor in the Collections Conservation and Management Program) at Fleming College in Peterborough, Ontario where I will be going this going fall. Though I will be taking the Museum Management and Curatorship Program and not the Conservation program, there are some aspects where these two programs intertwine with each other. Thus, not only did I get to experience things before learning them in my program at Fleming, but I got to do, in my opinion, some pretty neat stuff.

Thursday morning cleaning!
© Manitoba Museum

Every morning, my routine would be to do a gallery check, looking for any burnt out lights, conditions of the artifacts, as well as tracking relative humidity and temperature. Every week however, I would have to clean the Nonsuch, a replica 17th Century ship that sailed into Hudson Bay in search of furs for England and was significant in establishing large scale trading in western Canada. This ship is an important part of Canadian history and is an artifact itself which needs to be maintained and cared for. Instead of the traditional broom and mop, I would put on a backpack vacuum (which looks a little bit like a ghostbuster), to clean the ship.

There are perks to working in a museum – not only do you get to see artifacts up close and personal, which is really exciting for a history nerd, but sometimes there are super cool specimens that you wouldn’t normally get to see – like a moonrock that was loaned from NASA!   Another aspect of museum work is that sometimes you have to travel to deliver or retrieve an artifact that is being loaned – this can mean a summer road trip!   In July, Carolyn and I couriered the Red Cross quilt that was being loaned to the Moosehorn Heritage Museum which is a two hour drive north-west of Winnipeg.  You can read more about the quilt that was recently acquired by the Museum in Nancy Anderson’s blog.  The quilt has been on display at the Moosehorn Heritage Museum for the summer and will come back to the Manitoba Museum in the fall.


Helping to clean the HBC coat of arms.
© Manitoba Museum

I have only touched a tip of the iceberg with what I have done this summer. I have done other conservation tasks like polishing silver medals from WWII and taking photographs of artifacts before and after their treatment, helping to clean a cast iron coat of arms from the HBC Museum Collection, as well as making new custom boxes for artifacts to go into storage.  From the collections side, I helped with cataloging artifacts and entering information into the collections management database, and labelling specimens from the zoology collections with their catalouge numbers.

Before and after treatment of WWII medal. It’s a very satisfying seeing how much cleaner it becomes.
© Manitoba Museum

The people at the Manitoba Museum were wonderful and helpful in creating an educational and fun experience here. Not only did I get to see the interesting aspects of conservation and collections, but my time here helped me broaden my knowledge about the different roles and career options that are possible in the museum field. I may be going into a general museum studies program, but I feel better prepared for the conservation-related tasks that may come along after my summer at the Manitoba Museum.