The Council of Heritage Organizations in Ottawa began as a meeting of heritage groups under the aegis of the City of Ottawa’s Department of Culture and Recreation. It met informally from 1988 to 1990, before being established as the Heritage Council of Ottawa in the fall of 1990. The organization incorporated provincially in 1992, and became The Council of Heritage Organizations in Ottawa.
CHOO|COPO’s early activities included advocating municipally and advertising on behalf of its members and heritage groups within Ottawa and the Ottawa region. This was done primarily through the creation and distribution of a bilingual heritage bulletin.
In 1995, then President Gordon Cullingham and a talented group of Board members launched Colonel By Day, in collaboration with all member groups and the Bytown Museum. CHOO|COPO’s members embraced the event from the start.
In 1996, CHOO|COPO moved into its first offices at the Routhier Community Centre. A part-time Manager was hired to oversee the organization’s activities.
Between 1997 and 2001, the organization continued to grow and thrive, offering superior services to members and the general public in Ottawa. Distribution of the heritage bulletin “Heritage Happenings” grew to include over 2000 copies, with demand far exceeding supply. The annual Colonel By Day celebration continued to grow, becoming established as a summer tradition for Ottawa families and residents.
Following Ottawa’s amalgamation in 2001 and the single-tier municipality we know today, Ottawa’s local community and city museums became a first-priority for CHOO|COPO.
In 2002, the Board of Directors undertook a Strategic Planning exercise to articulate a compelling future vision for the preservation of Ottawa’s heritage.
In 2003, CHOO|COPO played an important role in the development of the Ottawa 20|20 Arts and Heritage Plan.
In 2004, Margaret (Meg) Hamilton was hired to act as Manager for the organization, overseeing CHOO|COPO’s activities and spearheading outreach and advocacy initiatives. In that year, CHOO|COPO’s membership database received a substantial overhaul, and the newsletter was made available online for the first time as a downloadable PDF.
In April of 2005, City Council approved a recommendation to establish a Steering Committee for Museums Sustainability comprised of 4 Councillors and four community members, including CHOO|COPO’s Meg Hamilton, to assist and direct staff in the preparation of a final Museums Sustainability Plan that not only reflected the needs of the community, the financial constraints being experiences by the City, but Ottawa’s desire to preserve and promote its own story, as a world-class city. The resulting Museum Sustainability Plan (MSP) recommended the following initiatives:
- Funding to individual museums to enhance capacity to improve museum facilities, research, programming, exhibits, publications and visitor services in support of the Greater Ottawa Story;
- Development of the Heritage Gateway “concept” to create a focal point for local heritage organizations and initiatives including City Archives, Heritage Organizations, Built Heritage, Heritage Events and Commemorations, Community and city-owned museums and Historically significant sites among others;
- Formalization and creation of the Ottawa Museum Network (comprised of museum directors from the community and city operated museums) to market, fundraise and coordinate cross-museum services;
- Development of a Virtual Heritage Gateway (later became Ottawagraphy) to provide a website to tell the Ottawa Story at a higher and more culturally diverse level.
The plan also recommended investment to: Meet provincial museum standards to become eligible for funding as Community Museums Operating Grant (CMOG) requiring that museums have full-time staff, policies and procedures, and strategic plans.
Over the course of 2005, CHOO|COPO led a vigorous and unified campaign for City Council to adopt the MSP. CHOO|COPO consulted with elected officials and communities, mobilized members and provided a strong and unified voice for Ottawa’s heritage community. In September of 2005, after an intense summer of deliberations and debate, the MSP was unanimously approved by all Councilors. CHOO|COPO was awarded an Award of Excellence by the Ontario Museums Association and recognition from leading national organizations such as the Canadian Museums Association followed.
The Museum Sustainability Plan invested $2.4 million in operating funding and $3.9 million in a capital investment to Ottawa’s 10 museums, over four years beginning in 2006. This gave local museums an extraordinary boost, stability and capacity to leverage other sources of funding.
Increased budgets however brought on new responsibilities, which proved a challenge for organizations that were primarily volunteer-led. Issues related to conservation, business practices, audits, governance and curation became critical. CHOO|COPO sensed a new role.
In 2006, CHOO|COPO moved into new offices at 280 Metcalfe Street. The new location being closer to City Hall and several members, better suited the needs of the growing organization.
In 2008, CHOO|COPO grew to include two full time professional staff, adding the position of a Communications & Training Coordinator. In recognition of the environmental impact presented by the creation and distribution of a printed newsletter, CHOO|COPO chose to move to an electronic format. The change also allowed CHOO|COPO to publish more frequently, and thus This Week in Heritage became the primary means of dissemination of heritage information. Also in 2008, CHOO|COPO’s Colonel By Day became an integral element of the Rideau Canal Festival.
In recognition of the need for communication and collaboration between heritage groups in Ottawa, in 2010, CHOO|COPO developed the Peer Exchange program, a discussion series aimed at promoting shared experience and expertise between Ottawa’s heritage professionals.
In 2011, CHOO|COPO was awarded a multi-year grant by the Department of Canadian Heritage to undertake a major capacity building training program, Strengthening the Business Foundations. The program was designed in close consultation with, and with strong support from, rural and urban heritage groups to address key gaps in their business practices.
In 2012, the organization defined a new Strategic Plan. This vital process and resulting plan was presented to the community and accepted at CHOO|COPO’s AGM. The Strategic Plan focuses on three main goals/objectives meant to guide CHOO|COPO over 2012-2015:
- A Leader for Heritage in the Community
- A Hub of Learning and Connection
- A Model of Excellence in Leadership, Planning and Partnership
Without a doubt, 2013 was a pivotal year of growth and transition for CHOO|COPO. The year saw the departure of longtime Executive Director Meg Hamilton and Board President Carolyn Cook. Despite the dissolution of the Rideau Canal Festival CHOO|COPO managed to not only maintain but grow Colonel By Day with the support of its key partners, Parks Canada and the Bytown Museum. In 2013, CHOO|COPO also held its first Gathering of the Council event as an initiative to directly attain the objectives of the 2012-2015 Strategic Plan, by ensuring close consultation and involvement of our members in advancing the organization’s priorities. Later, at the 2013 AGM, CHOO|COPO’s Bylaws were ratified to ensure that the Gathering of the Council is an annual requirement.
In 2014, Catherine Lindquist took the helm of CHOO|COPO as its new Executive Director and hired Kelly Reid as Communications and Outreach Manager. This enthusiastic and industrious duo are methodically modernizing many antiquated aspects of CHOO|COPO (even for a heritage organization!). This includes office/systems changes and our greatly improved new corporate website and Colonel By Day (now Bytown Days) website, which better showcase and serve our members. And with the required resources, Ottawagraphy will be redesigned and reactivated to become an essential repository and resource, capturing the heritage of Canada’s Capital by through a content rich timeline with engaging virtual exhibits.
Also being revitalized and refreshed with an on-theme focus in 2015 are CHOO|COPO’s major events: Heritage Day, Bytown Days (including the 20th Annual Colonel By Day!), AGM and The Gathering of Council.
And raising the bar in our delivery of training and development, is our bilingual Emerging Cultural Professionals Conference – the first of its kind in the Capital.
Catherine is also building partnerships and pursuing additional funding opportunities for our programs and events. Our greatest gap however, remains the need for increased operating funds to retain a much needed events manager. The Board of Directors is also reactivating its working committees and securing new members with specialized expertise (e.g., in accounting and law).
Looking ahead, CHOO|COPO is pursuing opportunities to engage with member groups (by category) and individually -to better serve their needs. And, opportunities for its members to engage in Ottawa 2017 initiatives to mark the 150th Anniversary of Confederation.
The years ahead are all about partnerships, creativity, advocacy and engagement. We want everyone to feel involved and proud of Ottawa’s unique history and heritage community.