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The Chilliwack Progress: Heart of Our Community

Posted on: September 19th, 2018 by Tristan Evans

Guest blog by Archives Assistant: Laurie Benton

Have you seen the For Sale sign at the Progress’ Spadina Avenue office of late?

The first Chilliwack Progress building from the 1890’s with WT Jackman as Proprietor. [PP500552]

Will it be redeveloped or remain as commercial property? How will it impact the downtown core and commercial presence in the neighbourhood? Similar to other notable buildings going on the market around town, it made me recount the impact of these structures and subsequently what the change on the landscape will mean.  I immediately began researching the impact of our community newspaper and the history of the building itself.

Until post-war suburbia raced in and changed our downtown, the ‘heart’ of our community, it was thriving and bustling.  Not that this blog post is about our downtown specifically, but it is about identity and place.  Having a place to identify as the ‘heart’ of a community could have been easier for Chilliwack residents before the strong influence of the vehicle and subsequent development of the shopping mall.  Five Corners (previously known as “Centreville”) was a nucleus of commercial and social interaction and a short walk from many residential homes.  The Chilliwack Progress office has (whether it sought out to or not) shaped identity and place, in and for our community since the late 1800’s.

The first Chilliwack Progress building dates back to the 1890’s. William Thomas (W.T) Jackman purchased a printing and newspaper press in Toronto and shipped it to Chilliwack where he published the first edition of the Chilliwack Progress in April 1891 at 39 Yale Road East (now 46169 Yale Road East).  The Chilliwack Progress office was a three storey structure with glass front main floor and wooden sidewalk.

A stylish facade for the Progress building, 24 September 1958. [P.Coll 106 unnumbered]

Situated amongst some of the most frequented buildings in the downtown, The Chilliwack Progress was a thriving hub of information, activity and culture.  It shared real estate with the likes of the Commercial Hotel, a shoe store, On Lee laundry, the post office, a bakery, hardware store and drug store. Investigating a bit further into this building I found that the Progress remained at this address for 83 years!  Over time the building had a few face lifts, notably in the 30’s with a very stylish post- modern look.

What I find fascinating is that the Chilliwack Progress was the ‘heart and soul’ of our community.  For those that had lost something, wanted to gain a roommate or sell something, where did they go? The Progress! If you had donations of food or money that you wanted to give to a local charity, where could you drop such items off at? The Progress! Colouring a poster contest and want to drop off your submission, where should you go? The Progress!

1955- Please return these keepsake pearls to the Progress office.

A 1918 rental advertisement for a farm. Where should one apply? The Chilliwack Progress office.

 

 

 

 

 

An advertisement in the Chilliwack Progress, 26 June 1974 [https://theprogress.newspapers.com/image/77088771], invited the community to an open house for their new building on the corner of Hope and Spadina – its current location.  It boasted new “ultra-modern premises” that ranked with the “best in Canada”.  They cordially invited the community into their new facility for a behind the scenes tour as well as coffee and refreshments.  This sort of courtesy and openness is a product of the culture that was created over decades and through the words, attributes and action of all the contributors, writers and editors of our local paper.

Reading through old editions, I believe the sense of place persisted with the change in location.  But has being further from the downtown core changed the identity or heart?  As technology has shifted to a strong internet presence, the Chilliwack Progress has followed suit.  How has this technological change impacted the effect the Chilliwack Progress has on our community?  How do people today identify in our community?  Is there a disconnect between sense of place and the presence of ‘being’ online?  Interaction has a strong internet base and I struggle to deem this as ‘socializing’ nor does it have the same effect or impact in the community that the Progress had many years ago.

To be in the heart of a community, delivering an assortment of news and being a hub of activity and information is a great challenge and honour.  I am hard pressed to find a current example of such a place that could offer what the Progress did.  A local coffee shop? Local library? Museum, perhaps?  I  hope that the new home of the Chilliwack Progress offers an open door to the community,  ensuring identity and a strong sense of place continues.

 

 

 

Bridging History – Connecting the Public with the Past

Posted on: September 12th, 2018 by Tristan Evans

Painting of 1891 bridge by Carolyn Louise Wilson.
The 1891 bridge was designed and constructed by members of the Soowahlie and Skowkale First Nations including Capt. John SWA-lihs, David (sel-AHK-ee-ah-tihl), Commodore (sch-EE-eh-KWEHL), and Harry Uslick (way-OO-sehl-uhk). James Bailey and the Province assisted with the bridge trusses. [PP501752]

When done correctly, interpretive signage has the ability to be a great public history tool.  If done incorrectly, interpretive signage may not only be offensive, it can misinform the pubic on the history of an event, location, or historic site.  Careful consideration on what an individual or organization chooses to portray or omit on an interpretive sign is imperative.  By deciding what and how a historical event is told, interpretive signs often represent more the values of the society creating the signage than the historical event itself.  To put it simply, a good and lasting historic interpretive sign is hard to do.  So hard that the Yukon Department of Tourism has a 65 page Interpretive Signage Strategy!

With this in mind, early last summer I was contacted by City of Chilliwack staff who asked if I could help unearth some information for a new interpretive panel going up at Vedder Crossing.  Although challenging, I’m a big believer in public history and I believe when done with consideration, interpretative panels are a fantastic resource for the public.  In addition to contacting the Chilliwack Museum and Archives, the City also contacted and consulted with the Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre, other several City of Chilliwack staff members, and many other unnamed community members.  Throughout the summer and into the fall City staff researched, organized and collected our research, looked up and consulted on facts and spelling, asked for more research, consulted more, drafted a couple versions, did more research and consulting, and finally together with the design team came up with the final draft for the new interpretive bridge panel at Vedder Crossing.

Photograph depicts the 1918 wood truss bridge with the Riverside Pavilion in the background [1996.037.012]

This collaborative effort with the City of Chilliwack, Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre, and the Chilliwack Museum and Archives finally came together and the City produced the first in a series of interpretive signage at Vedder Crossing.  This panel has since been installed at Vedder Crossing.  It briefly touches on the history of the river and then goes on in greater detail to discuss the nine “permanent” bridges that have been built at this location.

While this first panel focuses on the history of the bridges, future panels will touch on the history of the Ts’elxwéyeqw (Chilliwack) River, the Vedder name and family, biology and fish species, and perhaps more.  Next time you go for a walk by the river at Vedder Crossing I hope you stop by the interpretive panel and take a moment to read about the challenges of constructing a lasting bridge in this location.

Facial Recognition – Archives Style

Posted on: July 25th, 2018 by Tristan Evans

Unidentified group with big smiles [2016.032.002.0786]

Big tech companies and government agencies have the advantage of using facial recognition software to help them identify individuals from digital images.  While I love a good conspiracy theory, I’ll break the myth and let you know that as a small community archives, we do not have such technology in our possession.  However, we here at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives have a secret tool that Google, Facebook, and large agencies do not have.  We have a great set of dedicated volunteers and a community that cares about preserving Chilliwack’s history.

 

Unknown individual doing something important [2016.032.002.0784]

 

Today I am going to tap into the community (you) and ask for help.  Throughout this blog you’ll notice photographs from a large collection.  The donor, I, and our volunteers have all tried to identify these remaining photographs from this large collection.  Unfortunately we have not had any luck.  This is when I ask you to kindly put on your archives hat and see if you recognize any of the individuals in these photos and/or maybe the event itself.

 

 

 

 

 

Looks like a charismatic speaker [2016.032.002.0787]

Any information you have on these photographs is appreciated.  Feel free to contact me directly if you recognize these photographs and I will gladly update our database.   You can find my contact information at the bottom of the blog post.  After you’ve looked at all the photographs of course.

 

 

 

 

 

Kids being patient [2016.032.002.0788]

Just three more photographs to go.  How about this fantastic family on the right with “smiling” kids?

 

 

 

 

 

 

More smiles [2016.032.002.0790]

Almost done.  How come this family is so lucky?  They appear in a few of these photographs!

 

 

 

 

 

Where is this store? I don’t know, do you? [2016.032.002.0791]

You made it to the final image… for now.  Recognize where this store is?

 

Thank you for looking.

 

Tristan Evans

[email protected]

604-792-5210 ext. 104

Local History Kit-Sumas Lake

Posted on: July 11th, 2018 by Kelsey Ablitt

Last fall while attending the University of the Fraser Valley, I took a directed studies course with history professor Scott Sheffield. The purpose of my directed studies was to create a local history kit on Sumas Lake to be used by the Chilliwack Museum and Archives. Having worked at the museum the previous two summers, I was quite familiar with the current local history kits and the type of resources they provide. From my research, I gathered materials that best depicted the vast history of Sumas Lake and the impact its drainage had on the community. While working at the Museum these past few months I have been able to complete the kit, making it an available resource for educators.

Sumas Lake Local History Kit.

To provide a brief overview, located in the Fraser Valley between Vedder Mountain and Sumas Mountain, Sumas Lake blended the border between Abbotsford and Chilliwack. In its peak season, the lake could expand to as large as 33,000 acres; on average the lake spanned 10,000 acres for the better part of the year. The lake was used by the whole community. For new settlers, it was a place for family picnics in the summer and ice-skating in the winter. For the Stó:lō people, Sumas Lake and the land that surrounded it was an important part of the daily lives and culture.

Plans to drain Sumas Lake had existed for 30-40 years, previous to the 1920’s scheme. While previous iterations of the plans failed, the project undertaken in the 1920s had several phases, culminating in the creation of two pump stations which removed (and continue to remove) water from the natural occurring lakebed on the Sumas flats. The pumps, located at Barrowtown and McGillvary Creek, were the largest of their kind in Canada when initially constructed and were capable of draining water from an Olympic-sized swimming pool in twenty seconds. The pumps began working on July 3rd, 1923 and the lake was successfully drained by June 1924, nearly a year later.

The draining of Sumas Lake is a multi-layered and complex subject, and many aspects of the drainage were (and remain) controversial to this day. The purpose of the kit is to explore the controversy, such as the impact on farmers and the local First Nations, both at the time of the drainage and current today. Through the primary and secondary sources included in the kit, ranging from newspaper articles advertising meetings regarding the reclamation project, images of tractors on the dried up lake bed, to booklets written on the overwhelming mosquito population, students have the ability to engage hands-on with their local history and make inferences as to why the lake was drained and the impact the drainage had and continues to have.

Sumas Lake tractors on lakebed floor ca. 192-. (AM 616)

Like many of our other local history kits, the Sumas Lake kit can be adapted to suit various grade levels and educators have the ability to create their own lesson plans using the information and primary and secondary materials provided in the kit to suit individual class needs.

The Sumas Lake kit is available for booking by educators for the 2018-2019 school year and can be booked online or by phone at 604-795-5210.

What’s Behind the Locked Doors?

Posted on: May 16th, 2018 by Tristan Evans

Today I would like to use this opportunity to promote a new event here at the Archives.  Starting this year we have been having free behind-the-scenes tours of the Chilliwack Archives.  The free tours are open to everyone and take place on the last Friday of the month.  Hint, May 25th for this month.  Each tour runs between 45 minutes to an hour.

 

Archivist Tristan Evans is pleased with the new sandwich board sign. Photo credit: Adrienne Rempel [February 6, 2018]

Are you curious what we are hiding behind those secret archive doors?  Ever wondered where I disappear to when you request to view a fonds or photograph?  Are you a long-time history nerd with serious questions and you want to know more about our local collections?  Come to the tour.  Are you brand new to the history field and just looking to see what all the hype is about at the Archives?  Come to the tour.  The tour is open to everyone, no previous research experience required.  Seriously, it is a really great opportunity.

 

Below is all the information you need:

 

Price: FREE!!!

Where: Evergreen Hall, Chilliwack Archives, 9291 Corbould Street, Chilliwack, BC V2P 4A6

When: Last Friday of every month at 3:00 PM

Reservation: Not required!  All you need to do is stop by the Archives at 3:00 PM

 

“I don’t always go on free tours, but when I do, it’s to visit the Chilliwack Archives”

-World’s Most Interesting Man

 

Archive Door protecting the secrets of the archive stacks. Photo credit: Tristan Evans [May 16, 2018]

I know that I’m not alone when I say I love visiting archives.  Sure museums are fun, but how often do you get to see behind the scenes?  You will be rewarded with the opportunity to explore how we catalogue and preserve archival records and cultural objects.  At most institutions you are lucky to peak behind an archive door and glimpse a view at the secrets of the archival world.  These glimpses into the mysterious world of an archivist are usually reserved for special occasions such as “archives week” or “culture week.”  Not here at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives.  We are very fortunate here in Chilliwack to have a large and diverse collection of archival records, artifacts, and cultural objects for a community of our size.  My job is to preserve these archival records; but also, to make them available to the community.  So please, stop by on the last Friday of every month, 3:00 PM, no RSVP!

 

Are you sold yet?  If not, here are a couple comments I’ve heard after our first three tours:

Newspapers… Boxes and boxes of newspapers. Photo credit: Tristan Evans [May 16, 2018]

“Good Tour”

“Great Tour”

“I really enjoyed that, thank you”

“Oh wow!  That was the greatest tour I have ever had in my entire life.  It totally changed my life.  Nothing can ever top this”

 

Okay… Maybe I slightly misquoted that last one and perhaps exaggerated a little bit.  In all seriousness though, these tours are great.  I really hope to keep them going and they are something that very few institutions offer.  Generally speaking, the public is forbidden to go behind-the-scenes of an archive.  These tours tear down those restrictions.  They make my job less of a mystery to you, the public, and they are a perfect opportunity for you to ask questions you may have about our collections or general Chilliwack community history.  I really hope to see you on May 25th or any other last Friday of the month.

Frederick Walter Lee: the life of a Painter, Teacher, Photographer, Poet, Musician, and Activist

Posted on: February 21st, 2018 by Tristan Evans

Watercolour of Mt. Cheam by F. W. Lee. [P5821]

Watercolour of Lhilheqey (Mt. Cheam) by F. W. Lee. [P5821]

Chilliwack’s rich history is blessed with artists of varying trades.  If you put together all the artists and their works at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives, any nominations list for well-rounded artist would be incomplete without mentioning Frederick Walter Lee.  A painter, teacher, photographer, poet, musician, and activist, F. W. Lee scraped together a living in Chilliwack from his arrival in 1904 until his death in 1948.

 

Born in England in 1863, Lee ran away from home at the age of 19 to attend the South Kensington Art School.  Lee received early notoriety and was invited by Queen Victoria to make sketches of the Buckingham palace in 1894 and 1895.  In 1899, Lee immigrated to Canada and exhibited at the Royal Canadian Academy.  Lee initially settled in Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan until a fire destroyed nearly all of his possessions.  Undeterred, Lee set out on a year long trek armed only with his camera, sketchbook, and painting materials across Canada and the United States camping wherever there was water and grass for his horses.  A more detailed account of his travels can be found in his writings at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives (CMA, AM 0021, File 3).

 

Photograph of Frederick Walter Lee sitting on a fence post. [P5344]

Photograph of Frederick Walter Lee sitting on a fence post. [P5344]

F. W. Lee eventually settled in Chilliwack in 1904 where he remained with the exception of a brief temporary move to Vancouver in 1919. Lee attempted to cultivate land in the area but gave up shortly and moved to a small cabin at 747 DeWolfe Avenue (now 46719 Portage Avenue) where he set up an art studio. Unhappy with the road conditions on DeWolfe, Lee moved to 106 Second Avenue (now 46122 Second Avenue) upon his return to Chilliwack from Vancouver.  Inundated by ill health and hardship, Frederick Walter Lee never achieved the high status his early career indicated.

 

In Chilliwack, Lee did everything he could to stay afloat.  In addition to his art studio, Lee organized drawing and painting classes during which a student could take a class once a week for one month at $2.50 (drawing lesson) and $3.50 (painting lesson).  Lee also worked at the Wilson Photography Studio for much of his career and sold his own photographs.  In 1907 he published a poem, The Prairie, (written in Qu’Apelle in 1902) in Chilliwack’s The Progress newspaper.  Although there is no evidence he ever made an income from his music, Lee also composed music for the guitar.

 

Watercolour painting by F. W. Lee [P5823]

Watercolour painting by F. W. Lee [P5823]

When Lee wasn’t working, his favourite pastime may have been as a citizen activist addressing issues to City Council and writing letters to the paper.  Lee addressed City Council and The Progress about unsightly fences on DeWolfe Avenue, having to endure shootings and sieges in his studio, a “preponderance of thistles” in the lot next to his property, and requested to move a streetlamp 60 feet down the road.  In my personal favourite letter to The Progress in which Lee argued with City Council about his road condition and lot size he said of a council member:

 

“under penalty of being forcibly removed and forever denied the beautific vision of his august countenance, in fact the offended Deity assured me the process would leave me a shameless withered mass burnt to ashes under aldermanicire, should I ever hint or whisper such a thing as that there is a road leading to my lot.”

 

Although many secondary sources incorrectly state that Lee died in 1941, he actually passed away in Chilliwack in 1948.  Today, Lee is best known for his natural watercolour paintings of the Fraser Valley.  Many of his artworks, writings, photographs, his memoir, and other biographical information can be viewed at the Archives under the Frederick Walter Lee collection, AM 0021.

Eddy-Out and Ferry through Some Local History

Posted on: October 18th, 2017 by Tristan Evans

Sometimes it is the historical tangents that prove to be the best stories.  While looking up landings and ferries near Chilliwack I came across this brief news clipping from 1936:

“The Rosedale-Agassiz ferry, J. T. Henley, captain, which suffered a breakdown Monday noon, had repairs effected in time for it to resume regular schedule Wednesday” (Chilliwack Progress, 14 October 1936).

Captain John Thomas Jack Henley. [PP500358]

Captain John Thomas Jack Henley. [PP500358]

The clipping is short and to the point because everyone in town already knew about the Rosedale-Agassiz ferry and the ferry’s captain.  However, being a relatively new arrival to Chilliwack (by 1936 standards) I had not heard of Captain Henley before.  Therefore I dove deeper into the archival records.  Treading through the stacks I learned that there is so much more to this story than just a minor repair to a ferry.

John Thomas Henley was born on October 11, 1872 near Owen Sound, Ontario.  In 1894, Henley began migrating west spending time harvesting in Manitoba and logging in Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Four years later he arrived in Vancouver.  He quickly departed Vancouver for Dawson, Yukon where he “found gold… and spent it too” (Chilliwack Progress, 14 February 1961).  Nine years later Henley left the Yukon for Chilliwack arriving in June, 1908.  A world traveler, Henley said later in life, “I’ve seen most of the major productive spots in the world, but none of them can top the Chilliwack Valley in horticulture and agriculture” (Chilliwack Progress, 7 December 1949).

In Chilliwack Henley worked for nine years as a butcher and served as an Aldermen for the City of Chilliwack from 1928-1933 and again from 1942-1948.  However, he is best known as the ferry captain on the Rosedale-Agassiz ferry.

Acrylic Painting of the Eena ferry on the Agassiz side of the Fraser River. [1986.042.016]

Acrylic Painting of the Eena ferry on the Agassiz side of the Fraser River. [1986.042.016]

Henley’s captain career had an inauspicious start.  His first ship, the John P. Douglas, burned in the mouth of the Harrison River on its run to Harrison Mills.  Henley’s second ship, the Vedder, burned in the mouth of the Stikine River.  Please note that sources vary on exactly where the ship burned.

Despite the setbacks Henley continued to operate a ferry between Chilliwack and Harrison Mills for nine years.  Henley later said, “I’ve had a lot of misfortunes, but I’ve always had good health to carry me along.  And I’ve had a lot of fun, too” (Chilliwack Progress, 7 December 1949).

In 1932, after serving as an engineer on the Rosedale-Agassiz ferry Henley “took a charter contract to operate the ferry boat for the provincial government, under the public works department…” and became “master and manager of the ferry at the Rosedale-Agassiz landings” (Chilliwack Museum and Archives, AM 22, File 122).  Henley served as the Captain of the Eena until 1951 managing the Rosedale-Agassiz ferry.  Please note that sources differ on Henley’s exact captainship.  Some sources say he was a captain in 1929 of the Eena while other say he was only a crew member and not captain until 1932.

Ever restless, in 1938 Henley briefly left Chilliwack for a world tour.  His tour included Singapore, Mount Everest, the Taj Mahal, Egypt, Palestine, France, England, and Scotland.  He even “had a turn or two around Gai Paree” (Chilliwack Progress, 7 December 1949).  Never short of witty comments, on his return to Chilliwack Henley told reporters:

“Of the four most wonderful man-made things I saw on the trip, I had to come home to Canada to see the one that topped them all… There was the Taj Mahal in India, the bust of the Virgin Mary in Jerusalem and the crown jewels in the Tower of London.  But the most wondrous thing of all was the sight of the Dionne Quintuplets in Canada… I saw Niagara Falls too, for the first time and then I came back to Chilliwack and witnessed another amazing thing… a man with a wooden leg dancing the two-step” (Chilliwack Museum and Archives, AM 335).

Captain John T. Henley died at Chilliwack general hospital on February 13, 1961.  At the very least he was an interesting re-settler of the Chilliwack valley and seemed like the kind of individual worth grabbing a drink with.

Digitizing the Frederick Gordon Leary Fonds

Posted on: September 13th, 2017 by Tristan Evans

Photograph of a group of men at one of Chilliwack's landings (possibly Minto Landing), ca. 1914. [2015.063.033]

Photograph of a group of men at one of Chilliwack’s landings (possibly Minto Landing), ca. 1914. [2015.063.033]

In my first blog post, The Decision to Digitize, I discussed the various challenges associated with digitization and why we do not digitize everything at the Archives.  While most of our records will likely never be completely digitized, there are some occasions when it is appropriate to digitize an entire collection.  I am not going to say that I exactly lied to you about digitizing archival records; but rather, this is one of those rare occasions when it was decided that the work and costs associated with digitization were well worth the advantage of accessibility.

Last year, archivist Shannon Bettles wrote a blog titled, Alligators, Confectionary, and a man named Leary.  If you have not had the opportunity to read this blog I strongly encourage you to take a look.  The blog describes the fascinating story of how the Frederick Gordon Leary fonds (previously known as the Dragonfly collection) made its way into our collection.  My favourite part is, of course, the KeyThe Key gives you a brief inside into how us archivist will use the collection itself to determine provenance.

Man pictured on the steps of a building by a railway intersection, possibly a track-changing station, ca. 1914. [2015.063.029]

Man pictured on the steps of a building by a railway intersection, possibly a track-changing station, ca. 1914. [2015.063.029]

Over the past summer, archival and curatorial assistant Rachel Vandenberg, and volunteer Ev Parker worked on digitizing and describing the Frederick Gordon Leary fonds.  Some minor details have changed since Shannon’s original blog – most notably the name of the fonds and some of the specific identification numbers.  Nevertheless, I am proud to say that all of the glass plate negatives and photographic prints from this collection have been digitized and described.

Please feel free to take a look at the Frederick Gordon Leary fonds on this direct link and enjoy these amazing photographs of Chilliwack just past the turn of the century.  Once you have chosen your dream house from amongst photographs, feel free to change the search terms and take a look at our other collections.

Microfilm and Microfiche

Posted on: May 17th, 2017 by Tristan Evans
Microfiche

Microfilm and microfiche at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives.

Have you ever wondered what that old looking machine tucked away in the back of the research room is and what it is used for?  Is it a really old computer?  Is it a machine used to watch videos on an older format?  Perhaps it is used to digitize images?  In fact, it is a microfilm/microfiche reader.  Now you may be asking, what is microfilm/microfiche and why is it used at the archives?

According to the Society of American Archivist, microfilm is “transparent film containing highly reduced copies of documents.”  Similar to microfilm, microfiche is “a sheet of transparent film [with]  microimages arranged in rows and columns, usually with an area for eye-readable description at the top.”  In layman’s terms, this means that both microfilm and microfiche are tiny images of documents on either a rolled film or a flat sheet, respectively.  At its core, the microfilm reader is just a big magnifying glass that shines a light through the film allowing the researcher to read the microfilm or microfiche.

Rachel Microfilm

Summer intern Rachel Vandenberg doing property research on microfilm, May 16, 2017.

What makes microfilm and microfiche so indispensable to archives is its preservation and access value.  To touch on the latter first, all you need to read microfilm or microfiche is light and a magnifying glass.  There is no need to worry about special computer programs, obsolete machinery, or corrupted digital files.  To be fair, searching through microfilm or microfiche can be significantly time consuming when compared to digital keyword searchable files.  However, should the medium for whatever technology you are using in the future fail–as all things do at some point–you will still be able to read and access the information on microfilm and/or microfiche with a magnifying glass and a flashlight.

Microfilm/microfiche is also a fantastic resource for preserving archival records.  As the name implies, microfilm/microfiche is a miniature version of the original document.  The information on an old municipal tax roll that is 40 x 50 x 17 cm can fit into a 10 x 10 x 4 cm microfilm roll.  As limited space is a concern for nearly every archive, microfilm/microfiche is a great resource for storing the historical data of these records.  Furthermore, stored properly microfilm/microfiche has a minimum life expectancy of 500 years.  This is why so many archives have microfilmed their newspaper collections, which are often made of highly acidic and easily degradable paper.

There is nothing glamorous about microfilm or microfiche and doing research on these mediums is time consuming.  However, microfilm and microfiche are tried-and-true preservation resources.  Consider them another tool in the archivist toolkit that is likely to stick around for the foreseeable future.  Chances are, if you are doing property ownership research and looking at old township tax rolls at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives, you will likely have the opportunity to use that strange-looking machine in the back of the research room.

The Decision to Digitize

Posted on: April 12th, 2017 by Tristan Evans

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.