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The Decision to Digitize

Posted on: April 12th, 2017 by

About once a week I’m asked if everything we have at the Archives is available online. In the digital age, this is a fair question. There are many positive outcomes when digitizing certain archival records including increased user access, keyword searching, as well as the potential preservation advantages. There is no doubt that digitization does, and will, continue to play an important role in the archival community. However, digitization is not as simple as scanning every document and publishing it online. Careful thought with regards to resource allocation, security, and record management needs to be considered before an archivist or institution makes the decision to digitize.

Photograph shows unidentified man posing with early biplane, reportedly first airplane in Chilliwack. Plane was brought to the Chilliwack Fair, ca. 1912 or 1913. [PP501061]

Photograph shows unidentified man posing with early biplane, reportedly first airplane in Chilliwack. Plane was brought to the Chilliwack Fair, ca. 1912 or 1913. [PP501061]

Digitizing is extremely expensive. According to the United States National Historical Publications and Records Commission, “a total cost of $1 – $3 [$1.33 – $4 CAD] per scan is reasonable for homogenous textual collections in good condition.” Considering that an average bankers box contains approximately 2500 sheets of paper, the average cost per bankers box is roughly $3,325 to $10,000 CAD. What’s more, as a community archives many of the records donated to the Chilliwack Museum and Archives come in various sizes, media types, and conditions. As a result, the total cost to scan one bankers box of records is significantly higher.

In addition to the financial costs, scanning can be very time intensive. While digitizing the Hubert H. Humphrey Papers the Minnesota Historical Society found that the average time spent per sheet of paper equaled 1.38 minutes. Furthermore, the process of digitizing includes more than scanning. In general, scanning is only about one-third of the time spent digitizing a record. By comparison, Yale University estimates that processing one bankers box—or roughly 2500 pages of paper using standard traditional methods—takes from 1.1 days for government records to 3.5 days for personal papers. By prioritizing digitization, limited staff and volunteer time is taken away from other areas of the institution’s need.

Chilliwack Progress Press Photograph: "Kayaker Gerry Storch at third annual B.C. Kayak and Canoe Club international slalom on Chilliwack River," April 7, 1961. [1999.029.008.012]

Chilliwack Progress Press Photograph: “Kayaker Gerry Storch at third annual B.C. Kayak and Canoe Club international slalom on Chilliwack River,” April 7, 1961. [1999.029.008.012]

One of the advantages of digital records is that it allows users greater ability to access and share information. Therefore, greater security measures and precautions are needed to guarantee the authenticity of a digital record. Before scanning, the material needs to be vetted to ensure the absence of personal or sensitive information. When capturing and migrating records to new digital formats, the archivist needs to be aware of the potential loss of content, context, and arrangement. Digital preservation requires expensive servers and records need to be periodically checked to ensure that the files have not been corrupted. Finally, the Archivist needs to ensure the future ability to read and access an electronic record as software programs and storage formats are updated and replaced.

In short, everything we have at the Archives is not available online. However, that is not to say that digitization should not be attempted or considered. Despite the many challenges to digitizing records, the benefits often outweigh the costs. At the Chilliwack Museum and Archives there are approximately 12,423 photographic images available from our website, 471 other archival records digitized to some degree, and the entire Chilliwack Progress Newspaper digitized and keyword searchable from 1891 to 2007.

New Archivist applies history to real life, loves the whitewater

Posted on: February 23rd, 2017 by

February 15th was the first day on the job for our new Archivist, Tristan Evans. Tristan originally hails from Prince George, B.C., but has lived in California for many years. He brings to Chilliwack unique professional experience in the Archives field, as well as a track-record of applying the study of history to practical situations in diverse communities. Executive Director Matthew Francis recently had the opportunity to speak with Tristan, so we can all get to know him better. 

Tristan – you are originally from British Columbia, but have spent most of your life in California. How did you enjoy living, studying, and working in beautiful California?

If you are ‘into’ the outdoors, Northern California is an excellent place to live.  Within a two hour drive you have access to world class whitewater, mountain biking, hiking trails, backcountry skiing, and ocean surfing.  I loved the year-round activities that Northern California provided.

New Archivist Tristan Evans is an avid white-water sports enthusiast.

New Archivist Tristan Evans is an avid white-water sports enthusiast.

I was fortunate to complete my undergraduate degree at the University of California, Davis and my graduate degree at California State University, Sacramento.  Both of these schools have excellent history departments with courses that I found both challenging and rewarding.  At Davis, I also had the opportunity to study abroad for one year at the University of Legon, Accra, Ghana.  During this experience I really enjoyed working with the local Ga-Adangbe community as I did a case study on the impact of colonization within their community.

University of Ghana, Legon, courtesy of www.legonconnect.com

University of Ghana, Legon, courtesy of www.legonconnect.com

What I found most stimulating about working in Northern California is the diversity of the jobs and institutions within the history field.  Sacramento is home to the California State Archives, the Center for Sacramento History, several volunteer archives, and the special collections of the California State Library, Sacramento State University, and Sacramento City Library.  Furthermore, there are several Cultural Resource Management and Historic Preservation firms from small to large.  I always found it very interesting interacting with different professionals in the same field that had such different experiences.

 You have a background History, Cultural Resource Management, and a Master’s degree in Public History – what is “Public History,” and how did you get interested in the work of Archives?

 In short, Public History is any form of history that is applied outside of the classroom.  A synonym for Public History that I prefer to use is Applied History.  It is also sometimes referred to as community history.  Areas of Public History include but are not limited to: Museum Studies, Cultural Resource Management, Historic Preservation, Archives, Oral History, History and Memory, and many more topics.

My interest in Archives is actually very different than most Archivists.  When I started the Public History program I thought I would follow a career in Cultural Resource Management (i.e. evaluating the built environment for evaluation on National, State, and Local Registers of Historic Places) and only took my first Archives class to help expand my research knowledge.  However, after taking the class and processing my first collection at the Center for Sacramento History, I quickly learned that I really enjoyed the field and working with original documents.

 That collaborative spirit will serve you well as you work with our Museum and Archives team, as well as providing Archives services to the people here in Chilliwack! Tristan, you have Archives experience working in the California State Archives. What kinds of things did you do there?

California State Archives Logo

 I worked as a Processing Assistant at the California State Archives.  In this capacity, I processed three different collections of various sizes and wrote finding aids for each collection using archival standards.  The first collection I processed was the California Assembly Agriculture Committee records.  Next, I worked on the Tim Leslie Papers.  This collection was unique in that it had over 200 audio-visual records in the form audio tapes, video tapes, and compact discs.  However, the collection I most enjoyed working on was my third collection, the California Department of Social Welfare Records.  To date, this is the second largest processed collection at the California State Archives followed only by the Governor Earl Warren Papers.  Records from this collection stretched from 1903 to 1979.  Because of the many departmental changes throughout the years, the collection consisted of two record groups, several sub-record groups, some sub-sub record groups, almost 200 different series, multiple sub-series, and even some sub-sub series.  It was an extremely challenging collection.  Learning about the transformation of social services in California was fascinating.  I believe that the records in this collection are truly unique and I am very proud of the fact that I helped improve access to these records for future researchers.

 You also worked closely with Indigenous communities in Northern California. How might that experience inform your work in Chilliwack?

 Previously I had the honor to work for the United Auburn Indian Community (UAIC) as the Cultural Resources Assistant.  I worked under the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and consulted with State and Federal agencies as an Architectural Historian for the Community with regards to Traditional Cultural Properties and Traditional Cultural Resources.  Naturally, working in the Preservation Department at UAIC, I worked with community members every day.  It is hard to quantify the special experience that I acquired while working for UAIC.  The understanding that I gained in this position will reflect many of the decisions that I will make at the Archives.

 If you could share one thing with people about the value of community Archives, what would it be?

 As a Public Historian, I think that community Archives reflect the soul of a community.  Only in a community Archives will you find information on local individuals, local buildings and properties, local points of interest, and of course, local history.  These records often get lost, underutilized, or deemed too unimportant in larger organizations.

 You have only been in Chilliwack a few weeks now, and arrived during an ice-storm! Apart from your work, what kind of things are you looking forward to discovering and doing here in Chilliwack?

 I have been told that Chilliwack is a great place to live if you are in to the outdoors.  For this reason I made sure to bring my kayaks, mountain bike, stand up paddleboard, skies, snow shoes, and snowboard.  I am really excited to take my kayak down the Chilliwack River and explore the Tamahi rapid as well as the sections upstream.  I am also looking forward to mountain biking on Vedder Mountain and exploring the many hikes in the area.  When the weather warms up I will contact the Chilliwack Crusaders rugby club.

Thanks, Tristan, for taking the time to introduce yourself! Welcome to the Chilliwack Museum and Archives team. 

Tristan Evans is the Archivist at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives. The Archives are located at Evergreen Hall, 9291 Corbould Street, in Chilliwack. We are open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 9:00am – 4:30pm, and Tuesdays and Thursdays by appointment. If you have any questions about locally significant historic records, or simply to connect with Chilliwack’s history, you can contact Tristan at [email protected] or by phone at (604) 795-5210 ext. 104. 

Association and Memberships have Benefits

Posted on: September 21st, 2016 by

Shannon Bettles doing collection work at the Chilliwack Archives

Collection work at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives. [Photo credit: Jenna Hauck]

The professional world of museum, archives and heritage in BC is full of acronyms:  AABC, BCMA, BCHF, CMA, HBC. What do these acronyms stand for and what do they mean for our organization and profession? Let’s explore.

The Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society, who operate the Chilliwack Museum and Archives, has been a longstanding member of many professional organizations that advocate for, accredit, provide guidance for and support the Society’s mandate and work in the preservation and presentation of Chilliwack’s culture, heritage, and natural and human history. Put simply – membership has benefits.

The Archives Association of BC (AABC)

The mission of the AABC  “is to foster the development of the provincial archival community in order to better preserve and promote access to British Columbia’s documentary heritage” (AABC, 2012). The work the AABC does helps archival repositories like Chilliwack’s reach and maintain professional standards of best practices in the field. Essentially this works to improve the preservation of archival materials and facilitate public access to them.

Chilliwack Progress newspapers at the Chilliwack Archives

Archives collection at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives. [Photo credit: Jenna Hauck]

Becoming a Full Institutional member of the AABC and maintaining AABC credentials are not easy tasks.  Meeting Full Institutional requirements includes employing a full time trained Archivist, reaching best environmental preservation standards, demonstrating commitment to ensuring access to information and engaging in professional development.  Being an accredited member of AABC assures researchers and donors that the organization strives to uphold and maintain best practices in the field – that we are a trusted repository for original archival materials.

The Chilliwack Museum and Archives is a proud Full Institutional member of the AABC.

BC Museums Association (BCMA)

The mandate of the BCMA is to “create(s) a bright future for British Columbia’s museum, gallery, and related heritage communities through networking, advocacy, innovation, and professional development” (BCMA, 2016).

BCMA Roundup Magazine

BCMA Roundup Magazine.

As an Institutional Member of the BCMA, the Chilliwack Museum and Archives benefits from its staff being actively engaged in professional development; by learning about and employing excellence and innovation in the field; by benefitting from the BCMA’s advocacy efforts around the province; and by connecting and networking with other museums, galleries and cultural centres in BC in order to provide our community the best museum services it can. These functions of the BCMA helps the Chilliwack Museum and Archives to stay relevant and continually improve its services.

Chilliwack Museum and Archives staff regularly attend the BCMA annual conference and subscribe to Roundup, the magazine of the BCMA.

The Chilliwack Museum and Archives is a proud Institutional Member of the BCMA.

British Columbia Historical Federation (BCHF)

Incorporated in 1922, the BCHF has three stated purposes: “(1) to promote the preservation and marking of historical sites, relics, natural features, and other objects and places of historical interest; (2) to stimulate public interest, and to encourage historical research, in British Columbia history; and (3) to publish historical sketches, studies, and documents” (BCHF, 2016).

BC History Magazine

BC History Magazine of the BCHF.

To these ends, the BCHF publishes the magazine called BC History; recognizes the work of Member Societies through a scholarship and awards program; and awards and endows the Lieutenant Governor’s BC Book Prize for best historical writing. Being a Member Society of the BCHF benefits members of the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society by supporting and advocating for local history and historical projects our members are involved in, and by providing opportunities to learn, explore, contribute to, preserve and appreciate the widespread knowledge of BC’s history.

The Chilliwack Museum and Archives has been a proud Member Society of the BCHF for many decades. The BCHF’s annual conference is being held in Chilliwack next May 25 – 28th.

Canadian Museums Association (CMA)

The CMA is the “national organization for the advancement of the Canadian museum sector, representing Canadian museum professionals both within Canada and internationally” (CMA, 2016). The promotion and advocacy of museums in Canada and abroad and the representation of museum professional at the national level is important work that benefits all museums in Canada, including ours here in Chilliwack.

The CMA administers the Young Canada Works program in museums; awards professional development bursaries ; publishes Muse magazine; and holds an annual conference. The Chilliwack Museum and Archives holds membership with the CMA at the Institutional Association level.

Heritage BC (HBC)

HBC is a “not-for-profit, charitable organization supporting heritage conservation across British Columbia through education, training and skills development, capacity building in heritage planning and funding through the Heritage Legacy Fund” (HBC, 2016).

The Chilliwack Museum, itself housed in a National Historic Site of Canada, provides museum and archives services that help to conserve and interpret heritage sites in Chilliwack. Membership with HBC connects the Chilliwack Museum with the heritage conservation and planning expertise of professionals and organizations within the Province.

The Chilliwack Museum and Archives is a proud member of Heritage BC.

References

Museums, Libraries, Archives and One Summer Student

Posted on: August 23rd, 2016 by

By Janelle Haley, Museum Assistant, Summer Student 2016

If you came to the Archives or the Museum, or both, this summer there may have been a chance that you would have seen me: Janelle! I was so fortunate when Matthew Francis, Executive Director, phoned me to offer me the summer student position of Museum Assistant. Every day I learned something new. The staff and volunteers were so fun and inspirational to work with that the summer flew by.

Working at the Chilliwack Archives.

Working at the Chilliwack Archives. 

Working with Archivist Shannon Bettles, I started a project that consisted of doing inventory in the archives, as well as helped out with photo orders and property history inquiries. While working on the inventory project, I came across a document written by Casey Wells which ended up being his proposal for a “Community History Research Library”. This proposed institution would collect and preserve the history of the local community. Immediately I thought, “this is what the Archives does!” As I was handling the documents, I felt humbled and proud to be doing work with the Museum and Archives knowing that Casey Wells’ idea actually came to fruition.

With Curator Jane Lemke, I got to handle (always with gloves), photograph, and catalogued artifacts with really interesting stories connected to the people of Chilliwack. I also helped out with a few things for the upcoming photography exhibit such as finding old camera ads and adding captions to the famous J.O. Booen photos. Everyone should come check out this exhibit because it is going to be great!

At the Museum, I worked with Museum Attendant Anna Irwin to cover the extended hours, make up discovery hunts for children, and come up with activity and craft ideas for future programming. We also helped input data for our new online membership system, Wild Apricot, with the help of Administrative and Volunteer Coordinator Alison Adamson, which is now up and running online. I was also fortunate to be a representative for the Museum and Archives at the Chilliwack Fraser Valley Regional Library branch in June to promote National Aboriginal Day with Education and Engagement Coordinator Stephanie Clinton, where we saw almost 80 people who stopped by to talk with us. I was also onsite at the Museum for our Family Sports Day in July where I got to help facilitate crafts and try lawn bowling and ringette!

At FVRL Chilliwack Branch for National Aboriginal Day 2016.

At FVRL Chilliwack Branch for National Aboriginal Day 2016.

Over the course of the summer, I had a lot of people assuming that I must be a history student, due to the fact that I was working for a Museum and Archives (spoiler alert) … I am not! I have taken a few history courses as part of my Bachelor of General Studies degree at the University of the Fraser Valley that were very informative and interesting, but my main focus of study is in library and information management. This summer work experience showed me just how much libraries, museums, and archives have in common. At all three organizations, staff help visitors with research requests/questions, understand and implement classification schemes, catalogue items, create and offer programs, and participate in outreach initiatives in the community.

As the summer draws to an end, I feel the need to help promote all museums (but particularly ours) wherever I can, whenever I can. Through this experience I have become more aware of Chilliwack’s history and the work that is done by the wonderful staff and volunteers at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives. So, if you are interested in learning a bit about the history of Chilliwack, please come by and visit the Museum and Archives! Thanks again to everyone who worked with me and taught me new things through this opportunity.

Alligators, Confectionary and a man named Leary

Posted on: August 4th, 2016 by

Frederick Leary Negatives

View of the Dragonfly Gallery collection of glass plate negatives and prints, in the container they arrived in. [Shannon Bettles photograph]

Sometime in 2015 Alain Nowak of Ladner answered a Craigslist advertisement about a stuffed alligator, as antique dealers do.

Nowak’s Dragonfly Gallery is a local fixture on Ladner’s historic waterfront. Stuffed alligators are at home amongst church pews, commercial shoe stretchers, vintage tailgates, tin signs and tricycles. As it turns out, the reptilian carcass was being flogged at too high a price for Nowak. Determined not to leave empty-handed, he purchased a box filled with unbroken 5” x 7” glass plate negatives and hundreds of photographic prints from the seller who reportedly discovered them in a Coquitlam dumpster some 30 years.

Last October I received a phone call from the Matsqui-Abbotsford-Sumas (MSA) Museum, when one of their Trustees stumbled across the collection at Dragonfly Gallery. After identifying the collection’s content as Chilliwack-centric, I received the 108 glass plates and prints for the Chilliwack Museum and Archives.

At the Chilliwack Archives, I examined the glass plates and photographic prints more closely. I recognized many of the image because the Archives has copies in the form of postcards in our collection already. In fact, the postcards in our collection were clearly derived from the glass plates.

Fred Leary the Palms Confectionary Chilliwack

“The Key” – Frederick Leary stands outside his confectionary shop “The Palms” located on Wellington Ave., 1914. [2015.063.005]

Though we were able to identify most of the locations pictured, questions remained. For instance: Who took these photographs? When where they taken?

The Key

Working with and researching archival collections can be compared to a detective examining pieces of evidence as a way to discover clues to solve mysteries. With the Dragonfly collection, one of the photographs held what I like to call, the “key” – it is full of clues which unlocks the mystery. Let’s take a look:

The Palm’s

The photograph shows a man standing in the doorway of a store called: The Palm’s Fruit and Confectionary. The Chilliwack Museum and Archives had already undertaken previous research on this business, having artifacts including a menu, in the artifact collection.

Saturday Evening Post

Detail from [2015.063.005] of the Saturday Evening Post magazine in the Palm’s window. Zooming in, we see the magazine is dated November, 1914.

As well, a quick keyword search of the Chilliwack Progress newspaper, provided more information, such as the opening date of the business in 1914.

Knowing that Mr. Fred G. Leary was the owner of the business opened up more avenues of research. A search of the Archives’ catalogue reveals that we have some photographs of Fred Leary. Could the man in the Dragonfly photograph be the proprietor of the business Mr. Leary?

We believe this is the case. Therefore, the photograph can be dated to as early as 1914, when F. G. Leary opened his business. But it’s not the identification of Mr. Leary that is the clue unlocking the mystery of the entire collection – it is the postcards and magazines visible in the store window!

Dating the Photograph

If you look closely in the shop window, you will see a number of magazines. By scanning the glass plate, we were able to zoom in close enough to read the date printed on the magazine – November, 1914! This dates the photograph more precisely.

Detail of the "Palm's" store window showing postcards on display. [2015.063.005]

Detail of the “Palm’s” store window showing postcards on display. [2015.063.005]

Solving the Mystery

Remember those postcards in the shop window? Look familiar? These postcards contain images of buildings around Chilliwack. In fact, these images are exactly the same images as the glass plate negatives in the Dragonfly Gallery collection, which are now sitting on my desk. It turns out that F.G. Leary developed photographs at the Palm’s, and it’s very likely that he, himself, is the photographer behind the photographs in question and producer of the glass plate negatives. This revelation suggests that the entire collection of glass plate negatives can also be dated to 1914 and can be attributed to Leary as photographer. Further, this means that similar postcards in our collection were likely purchased originally from The Palm’s confectionary.

Frederick Gordon Leary, 1889-1985

Frederick Gordon Leary was born September 29, 1889 at St. John, New Brunswick. He came to

BCER Substation Chilliwack

One of the prints from Leary’s glass plate negatives showing the BC Electric Railway substation, ca.1914. [2015.063.019]

Chilliwack in 1914 at the age of 25 years and opened an ice cream parlor: Palm’s Confectionary. In 1926 Fred Leary was elected as a trustee of the local school board. He

served in this capacity for 49 years, retiring as the longest serving elected official in 1975.

 

In 1939 he became an accountant. Over the course of his long tenure in Chilliwack Fred Leary was a founding member of the Union Board of Health (serving as Chairman for five years); was a member of the Chilliwack Volunteer Fire Department, serving for 41 years and retiring in 1956; was secretary of the first Agricultural Hall Society, and member of the Chilliwack and District Agricultural Society; was Chilliwack’s Citizen to be recognized in 1956; was an active member of Chilliwack United Church and appointed as a Serving Brother of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, 1956, by the governor-general in Ottawa.

On June 29, 1920 Frederick Gordon Leary (31) married Elizabeth Hilda Blanche (Hilda) Manuel (23) at the Chilliwack Methodist Church. The couple had three daughters: Emily (married Lloyd Griffin), Fort

Leary

Fred Leary at his confectionary counter at “The Palm’s”, 1914. [2015.063.017]

Langley, Dorothy (married William W. Reid), Terrace, and Miriam (married Allan Ruttan), Prince George.

Frederick Gordon died in Chilliwack on October 6th, 1985 at the age of 96. He is buried at the Odd Fellow’s Cemetery, Little Mountain. A Chilliwack school, F.G. Leary Fine Arts School, is named in his honour.

Mystery Solved?

While much of this mystery has been solved, there is still a pressing question: How did the glass plates end up in a dumpster? To this we have no answer. At the Chilliwack Archives we do our best to answer questions and gather information about our collections. However, we rely on you – the community – to fill in the gaps with this and the many other collections we preserve.

F.G. Leary

Formal studio portrait of Frederick Gordon Leary, Chilliwack Board of Trade Citizen to be recognized for 1956. Norman Williams portrait. [P5365]

I encourage and welcome you to come into the Archives to view the Dragonfly Gallery collection highlighted in this blog. We will soon be adding these images to our online catalogue for easier access once they are digitized and prepared for long-term preservation.

What Does an Archivist Do?

Posted on: February 10th, 2016 by

It’s the common question that people ask each other at social events. What do you do? Whenever this question is posed to me, I smile, tell the unsuspecting victim that I’m an archivist, then wait I for the crickets to start chirping.

For people who do not happen to be academic historians, genealogists, or librarians, the term archivist is weird. It is a strange word that implies architecture or archery is involved. At times the occupation is even pronounced ar-“chive”-ist, prompting me segue to baked potatoes and sour cream, much to my amusement.

Last week my colleague Jane Lemke blogged about what a curator was. In an attempt to one-up her as any friendly (and competitive) colleague would do, allow me to explain what an archivist is.

An Archivist

According to the Society of American Archivists’ Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology (2016) the following is the definition of archivist:

n. ~ 1. An individual responsible for appraising, acquiring, arranging, describing, preserving, and providing access to records of enduring value, according to the principles of provenance, original order, and collective control to protect the materials’ authenticity and context. – 2. An individual with responsibility for management and oversight of an archival repository or of records of enduring value.

The Society of American Archivists provide an excellent definition of an archivist, I would say. My less complete version is: “I manage Chilliwack’s historic photos and documents for the community”.

If I haven’t lost you yet (or put you to sleep), I will share some examples of how I spend my days.

Unprocessed Records

Unprocessed records waiting to be processed at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives.

Accepting archival donations

“We are only as good as what we’ve received” a former colleague used to say. The Chilliwack Museum and Archives has relied on donations since 1957, when the Chilliwack Historical Society was first begun by brothers Oliver and Casey Wells.

As a result of years of donations of personal, family, business, government, church and community records, the Chilliwack Archives collections have been curated… by Chilliwack (see what I did there Jane Lemke?).

In the Archives world, this is called passive collecting, as we have traditionally waited for community members to decide what it is they want preserved. One negative side effect of passive collecting is that there may be gaps in the collection waiting to be filled. Some communities, organizations or businesses have not yet contributed to the archives, and thus we do not hold historic information for everything that is Chilliwack…yet.

Processing archives
When records are donated, they come in milk crates, cardboard boxes and binders. My job (with the assistance of students, volunteers and part time staff) is to process the material for long term preservation and access. This means removing staples, throwing out binders, and arranging and describing records.

Archival boxes on self.

Processed records safely housed in archival boxes and stored in climate controlled facility at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives

Other verbs relevant to this part of archives work include: appraising, digitizing, cataloguing, accessioning, preserving, migrating, and storing. The processing of archives not only serves to preserve and stabilize the material, it also works to maintain the integrity of the records so that they can be discovered and their context understood.

The most important reason for preserving the records, however, is to maintain their authority as pieces of historical evidence.

Answering questions
Once records are preserved, they are meant to be accessed. The Chilliwack Archives collects records so that the community can use them. To this end, I provide reference services to visiting researchers – that is, I help people find what they are looking for so they can undertake research.

Additionally, I undertake research for Museum and Archives projects and assist my colleagues search for materials. I answer questions in person, by telephone and by email.

Build relationships, meet people and share stories
At the Archives I get to meet and build relationships with the entire community. Everyone has a story to tell, and I help preserve and share their Chilliwack stories. I am lucky to have this opportunity.
I provide archives advice and instruction to groups, classes and individuals; I introduce others to the Archives and holdings; and I share information about our repository online, in person, and in print.
I am a small piece of a bigger picture

I have already gone on much too long about what I do all day, but before I leave you I want to say that ultimately, I am part of a team. Without colleagues, volunteers, donors, students, interns, community members and patrons, the Archives would not be so well supported and well used, and the collections so important to Chilliwack and beyond.

Curator: A Jack of All Trades

Posted on: February 4th, 2016 by
Curatorial Project, 2015

One of last summer’s curatorial projects was to carefully remove the sugar and mould from the former Paramount Theatre’s popcorn machines (Summer Student Mikaela Ramdial and Curator Jane Lemke)

One of the hardest questions I receive is: “What is a Curator?”. My answer is often rather awkward and rushed because frankly, it’s a big question and concise answer would reduce the true nature of my tasks; however, my best definition so far is: I am responsible for preserving and interpreting Chilliwack’s tangible history. The long, rather jumbled definition is, I am:

• Part conservator
• Part researcher
• Part historian
• Part scientist
• Part reference clerk
• Part graphic designer
• Part carpenter
• Part electrician and so much more.

Each day is different and that is one of the reasons why I love my job.

A substantial amount of my daily tasks revolve around exhibits. Beginning an exhibit is often the hardest part as the wealth of information available is astounding and it is my job to construct a narrative out of all the information. The archival collection has over 500,000 records including maps, photos, oral histories and paper records and the artifact collection has over 10,000 objects that range in size from a postage stamp to building rafters to extremely heavy canoes. Each item accepted into our collection has a strong connection to Chilliwack and we are privileged to preserve these records and artifacts for the public so that the history of Chilliwack is accessible for a long time.

Booen Photograph, 003520

This Booen glass-plate negative depicts three First Nations women posing in “pioneer” clothing. Chilliwack Museum and Archives, P003520

Our upcoming exhibit focuses on photography and will open on September 22nd, 2016. I am currently still in the research stage, trying to piece together various details, such as the price of cameras in 1905, the types of photographic papers that were used in the 1930s and the people behind the photographs in our collection. It’s a long process that results in a (fingers crossed) beautiful exhibit that highlights the contributions, memories and innovations made by Chilliwack’s photographic community throughout our City’s history.

One itinerant photographer was James Orville Booen, who set up a photographic studio in 1895-1897 here in Chilliwack. While he wasn’t in Chilliwack long, what is remarkable about Booen’s images is the consistency of the photographer’s vision. The images consist of studio portraits, scenes, streetscapes and outdoor portraits, which provides a substantial glimpse into Chilliwack before the turn of the last century and is one of the first complete photographic collections we have of Chilliwackians including First Nations as well as Japanese, Chinese and other immigrant groups that are often missing from the historic record during this time.

Booen 000142

J.O. Booen’s portrait of Sarah Jane Muirhead and Flossie Hamilton holding rifles, exemplifies the “Wild West”. I did try to recreate Booen’s photo for our 2015 staff photos but for some reason, it didn’t look quite right.

One of my favorite photographs from the Booen Collection shows Sarah Jane Muirhead and Flossie Hamilton posing with rifles in the typical Victorian dress of the time. These women demonstrate the classic definition of a “pioneer woman”: strong, moral, and refined. The photographer’s scene construction is the cause, down to the feathers in their hats. Booen choose to display these women in this way and to evoke a sense of the “Wild West”.

Looking back through Chilliwack’s photographic history is truly an amazing treasure hunt. Stay tuned for more about our photography exhibit!

Local and Other Items

Posted on: January 6th, 2016 by
Chilliwack Progress Newspaper Clipping, January 7, 1892, page1.

Chilliwack Progress Newspaper Clipping, January 7, 1892, page1.

Chilliwack Progress, January 7, 1892, page 1.

  • “Nanaimo is now lighted by electricity.”
  • “Mr. Cory Ryder takes charge of the Post Office at Cheam.”
  • “The Gladys will continue her regular trips up and down the river.”
  • “Mrs. Spencer, of Victoria, is visiting her mother, Mrs. Evans, her husband accompanied her.”

If you’re like me, you’ve been browsing the recently digitized historic newspaper archive of the Chilliwack Progress. I always stop at the Local and Other Items column listed on the front page to read the detailed accounts of life in Chilliwack and the latest headlines from around the Province.

I love these old newspapers. Reading the Local and Other Items columns takes me back in time, where I imagine the conversations that ensued around the water coolers of years past. I imagine the discussion that might arise when the towns folk read things like:

  • ” A carload of wagons, buggies, sleighs and cutters, direct from the east, have arrived, and will be deposited at the Harrison House. For particulars see John Reece”. (Chilliwack Progress, 1892, January 7, p.1)

or

  • “Mr. James Bailey has gone east for a three month visit to his father and friends in Grey Co. and other places. We wish him a pleasant trip and safe return”. (Chilliwack Progress, 1892, January 7, p.1)

These news items are amusing. Phone numbers or postal addresses are not required, for everyone knows how to get a hold of John Reece. There is no need to explain who James Bailey is, for the entire Chilliwack Progress readership seems to be wishing him a pleasant trip. I picture these news items being discussed in length at social gatherings, much like many people today find themselves referencing Facebook and Twitter when recalling current news and gossip.

Social Media

Speaking of Facebook and Twitter, I can’t help but compare today’s social media phenomenon and popularity with the Local and Other Items columns found in historic newspapers. The local columns must have been popular at the time, seeing as they are often found on the front pages and have no end of minute details about people’s comings and goings. The “posts” even seem to be restricted to a short word length, not unlike the 140 character limit of Twitter.

This has me wondering: what will our descendants think about our social media posts and tweets 100 years from now? Will photographs of our meals and updates on our vacations inform researchers about who we were and what we’ve been up to? Were the Local and Other Items columns the 1890’s version of Twitter?

Research

Researchers at the Chilliwack Archives find the newspaper reports of local happenings a fun and often informative part of their research. I’ve seen, for example, many people get sidetracked reading these reports while looking for obits and other articles. Knowing when great uncle Bob arrived to town, who stayed with him and what social parties his wife attended, can provide a colourful glimpse into life and perhaps, personalities of their relatives.

Historical Context is Key

When it comes to historic newspapers and archival records in general, context is key. Historical context is not something easily grasped when you are faced with primary source records. With historical documents, historical context can help us better understand the moods, attitudes and cultural setting of a person, place or event in history.

Jonathan Reece, ca.1858. [Chilliwack Museum and Archives P.7]

Jonathan Reece, ca.1858. [Chilliwack Museum and Archives P.7]

For example, Johnathan Reece would have needed no introduction in 1898 Chilliwack, as he was a prominent landowner – the first Anglo-European to pre-empt land in 1959 in what would become the City of Chilliwack. As well, the Harrison House Hotel, which was located on the southeast corner of Wellington Avenue and Corbould Street, was a short buggy ride from Chilliwack landing and a four minute walk to the business district of Five Corners. An obvious choice for a deposit of large goods such as carriages and cutters.

So, while I reflect on the similarities between Facebook posts and the Chilliwack Progress Local and Other Items columns of 1892, I must also think of the historical contexts of the time periods in question. In 1893, Chilliwack’s population was about 3000 and so easy for the newspaper informants to keep an eye on local news and social events and for people to know one another well. While the Local and Other Items columns can be informative, they can also be selective in their reporting. For example, attitudes at the time were not always favourable towards First Nations and Chinese residents, and so these communities are not included or reported upon in the local happenings columns. As a result, if I were researching a Stó:lo or Chinese family history, the newspaper might not be a good source for information, where it may be a great source for Anglo-European residents.

Historical context can help place the historical documents we examine in to perspective. What is being reported upon; what is not being reported upon? Why or why not? How valid is the resource, what are the biases of the author or publisher? What does the reporter take for granted the readership will know and understand? Why or why not?

Engaging with History

Harrison House Hotel, Chilliwack

Harrison House Hotel, ca. 190-. [Chilliwack Museum and Archives, P835]

Back to 1892, the Chilliwack Progress newspapers continue to pique my curiosity and spark my imagination as I formulate a picture and narrative of Chilliwack’s past in my mind. Learning more about my community, its people and attitudes from historical documents is how I enjoy engaging in local history.

I would like to invite you, dear reader of this blog, to visit or contact me at the Chilliwack Archives. I’m happy to help you access the resources needed for you to engage with your local history here in Chilliwack and electronically, abroad.

– Shannon Bettles, Archivist