How do I form a new historical society?

Forming a New Historical Society

In many areas of the province of Ontario growth and change have enveloped villages and towns, changing their character in many ways. Suddenly the residents realize how little is left of the landscape, streetscape, buildings and artifacts that made up their community. From this realization comes the concern of an individual or a group of citizens that an organized and concerted effort must be made to preserve the history and culture of the area. Often the most logical means of accomplishing this task is the formation of an historical society. The challenge that an historical society faces in a modern community is a formidable one; however, the scope of activities is limitless, and the appeal to members of all ages, backgrounds and interests can be universal.

Preparing For An Introductory Meeting

To discuss the idea of forming an historical society, a date for an exploratory meeting should be selected and advertised as widely as possible in the community and the surrounding area. Two people should be selected to act as chairperson and as secretary for the introductory meeting so that there is some structure to the meeting. An agenda should be prepared for the meeting so that a framework exists in which to work. The agenda might include:

  • introduction of all those attending
  • brief outline of concerns of those organizing the meeting
  • guest speaker (from a neighbouring society, The Ontario Historical Society, or the Ministry of Culture and Communications, Regional Services Branch, describing the steps necessary to form a society
  • discussion about goals and objectives
  • geographical area to be covered
  • a question and answer period
  • a discussion of the way to proceed for the development of this particular society (if sufficient interest is generated by the group present).

The Introductory Meeting

The secretary should record the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all those attending and keep minutes of the meeting. If the decision is made to proceed with forming a society, a steering committee, consisting of a chairperson, secretary and publicity co-ordinator (and perhaps others) should be selected for an interim period until the group formally organizes. The chair should select an appropriate date, time and place for the next meeting in consultation with those attending. Everyone present should be encouraged to bring at least one guest to the next meeting.

Immediately following the meeting the publicity co-ordinator should prepare a news release about the meeting and forward it to all local papers (if reporters were not present).

The News Release

A news release should be prepared well in advance of the next meeting and taken in person (if possible) to the local newspapers, radio and TV stations and other local media. This news release, like all other news releases, will be the image of the new society in the community. It should be clear, concise, brief, to the point and answer the questions who? what? where? when? why?. It should also contain the name and telephone number of someone to contact for further information.

The Founding Meeting

Several goals should be achieved at the founding meeting. They include:

  1. choice of a name for the society*
  2. election of officers
  3. appointment of a committee to prepare the constitution and by-laws
  4. discussion of the advantages and responsibilities of incorporation
  5. membership costs, benefits and responsibilities
  6. schedule of meetings - both public meetings and executive meetings.

*The name of the organization should be chosen with care to ensure that it reflects the interests of the group and the geographical area to be served. If the group decides to become incorporated, and at some later date wants to change the name, the members will find that this can be a costly and time consuming process.

Election of Officers

The election of officers may be spontaneous, with nominations coming from those attending the meeting, or a nomination report may be prepared in advance and presented at the meeting. In either case, consider filling the following positions:

Honourary President(s) 
President Vice President(s) 
Secretary - Recording and Corresponding 

How many committees will be needed to carry out the work of the new organization? Consider the following: Membership, Programmes, Publicity, Social, Fund Raising. Are there others?

Community Support

Successful organizations and institutions must have the support of the community, whether it is a geographical community or a community of interest, to grow and prosper. From the very beginning it is important to communicate regularly with your community through the media, newsletters and outreach programmes. The programmes should complement your goals and objectives while appealing to the broadest possible audience.

Public Profile

A new organization has the challenge of projecting a positive profile to the community. Everyone will be interested in observing how you prepare your publicity, how you organize your programmes and how you conduct your affairs. This places an added responsibility on all those assuming leadership to ensure that every aspect of the society's activities is interesting, of a high quality and very professional, in order to attract and hold the interest of the community. 

Where can I get a copy of the Annual Affiliate Report Form?

Affiliated Societies of the Ontario Historical Society must complete, on an annual basis, an Annual Return. This form is in addition to the required documentation submitted to the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services (Form 1 Schedule A). To complete the Annual Return Form, you have two choices:

1. You may now submit your Annual Return Form online - click here to get started!


2. Download the OHS Annual Return Form (PDF) and submit by mail.

This download requires Adobe Reader or another PDF viewer.  Download Adobe Reader free.

A Word format (.doc) of this Return Form can also be e-mailed on request by emailing Membership Coordinator Christina Perfetto at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .





34 Parkview Avenue
Willowdale, Ontario, M2N 3Y2

P. 416-226-9011 | F. 416-226-2740

Toll-free: 1-866-955-2755
E.  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Make a donation in
support of the
Ontario Historical