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Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

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.

Museums, Libraries, Archives and One Summer Student

Posted on: August 23rd, 2016 by Stephanie Clinton

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 Bettles, Shannon

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.

Technology of the Past

Posted on: April 13th, 2016 by Jane Lemke
Polaroid Land Camera CMA 2003.013.007

This Polaroid Land Camera was purchased for $6.65 in 1972. This equates to about $45 if adjusted for inflation. Chilliwack Museum and Archives 2003.013.007

Who out there remembers Polaroid cameras? Or film? These technologies seem like a distant memory for many, if not completely unknown to younger generations. Nowadays, you can take a photo on your phone and share it with anyone you want within 30 seconds. There is even an app for taking a photo just to have it disappear!

Our upcoming exhibit, Photography from Obscura to App explores how the developments in photographic processes and techniques have formed how we photograph, what we photograph, and how photography has shaped our perception of the world we live in.   Economics is closely linked not only with the development of photographic processes and technology, but also with the esthetic unfolding of photography.  There has been a struggle to generate ideas that make photography more inexpensive and more exact, and to give it the most extensive possible distribution. The competition between various technologies and processes that began with the invention of photography in 1839 has resulted in the profusion of easily accessible images we surround ourselves with today.

In the early twenty-first century we are so familiar with the photograph and other technically reproduced imagery, that to imagine a world without these visuals is hard. The invention of photography was such an astonishing achievement in the mid-nineteenth century that perhaps its only imaginable equivalent might be the invention of the internet. Photography now relates to everything within society and art.

Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura

The first record of the Camera Obscura principle goes back to Ancient Greece, when Aristotle noticed how light passing through a small hole into a darkened room produces an image on the wall opposite, during a partial eclipse of the sun.

One of the first forms of photography was the Camera Obscura, which is essentially a dark, closed space in the shape of a box with a hole on one side of it. The hole has to be small enough in proportion to the box to make the Camera Obscura work properly. The way it works is that due, to optical laws, the light coming through a tiny hole transforms and creates an image on the surface that it meets, i.e. the wall of the box. The image was mirrored and upside down, however, so basically everything that makes today’s analogue camera’s principles different to Camera Obscura ones are the mirrors and the film which is used to capture and preserve the image created by the light.

What other forms of photography are now only in history? Too many to count! Photography from Obscura to App opens on September 22, 2016 at the Chilliwack Museum. Stay tuned for more photographic history throughout the summer.

Curator: A Jack of All Trades

Posted on: February 4th, 2016 by Jane Lemke
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 Bettles, Shannon
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

Coqualeetza’s Indian Residential Schools Olympiad

Posted on: December 16th, 2015 by Jane Lemke
P8151 Coqualeetza

Front view of the first Coqualeetza Indian Residential school building on Vedder Road in Sardis. Chilliwack Archives P8151

In light of the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I was reminded of some research that I completed for our recently launched annual exhibition, Game On! The Evolution of Sports in Chilliwack, that never made it into the final cut of the exhibit text. On May 26-28 1931, Coqualeetza Indian Residential School in Sardis hosted the first Canadian Indian Residential Schools Olympiad. It was held at Coqualeetza with events rotating between the 2 other residential schools in the area and covered many aspects of sports; track a
nd field, soccer, basketball, badminton, softball, baseball and shooting. Coqualeetza won the Department of Indian Affairs championship shield, as the point total shows:

  • Coqualeetza Indian Residential School, Sardis                  170
  • St. George’s Indian Residential School, Lytton                  73.5
  • St. Michael’s Indian Residential School, Alert Bay             59.5

“A thrilling experience was a trip of the boys and girls basketball teams to play against St. George’s School at Lytton. The trip was unique in that we made the first bus trip over the ‘new’ Fraser Canyon Highway, which was just built. The road had numerous curves and in one mountainous stretch we counted twenty-two hairpin turns in a mile. At one point a large fir tree fell directly in front of the bus and had to be cleared away before we could proceed.”
– 
George Williams, Coqualeetza basketball coach, Chilliwack Archives, AM 456

P4284 Coqualeetza soccer

Group portrait Coqualeetza senior boys football team, winners of the cup in 1925-1926. Chilliwack Archives P4284

The event was meant to be an annual celebration of sport during an era when public recreation was just in its infancy. The health benefits of sports were only recently emerging as an important part of a balanced lifestyle. Athletics at Coqualeetza Indian Residential School were related to vigour and health in the new field of “Physical Education”.  It is during this era that BC established the Recreational and Physical Education Branch and the first Provincial Recreation program, a community-oriented scheme called Pro-Rec. The program was aimed at providing healthy recreation opportunities, especially amongst unemployed youths during the Depression – essentially the beginning of organized sports. Pro-Rec came to be the centre piece in provincial adult education programs and served as a model for recreation schemes in other provinces.

While the Indian Residential Schools Olympiad gave students a brief break from the highly regulated way of life that characterized most residential schools, this break was part of an assimilative strategy that was used to discipline their “savage” ways and, in turn, transform them into “normal” Canadian citizens. The policy of Canada’s residential schools was to remove children from the influence of their families and culture, and assimilate them into the dominant Canadian culture.[1]  Over the course of the system’s existence, about 30% of Indigenous children, or roughly 150,000, were placed in residential schools nationally. The program was funded by the Canadian government’s Indian Affairs and Northern Development, and administered by Christian churches, predominantly the Roman Catholic Church in Canada (60%), but also the Anglican Church of Canada (30%), and the United Church of Canada (including its pre-1925 constituent church predecessors) (10%).[2]

P7511 Coqualeetza staff

Group portrait of staff and senior students of Coqualeetza Residential School. Chilliwack Archives P7511

There has long been significant historiographical and popular controversy about the conditions experienced by students in the residential schools. While day schools for First Nations, Métis and Inuit children always far outnumbered residential schools, a new consensus emerged in the early 21st century that the latter schools did significant harm to Aboriginal children who attended them by removing them from their families, depriving them of their ancestral languages, through sterilization, and by exposing many of them to physical leading to sexual abuse by staff members, and other students, and enfranchising them forcibly.

The 1931 Olympiad is a spectacle of physical endurance and strength but also a stark reminder of the often hidden historical wrongs committed in BC communities. My research was never able to uncover whether the Olympiad continued in subsequent years. Records from the Department of Indian Affairs do not show whether the Olympiad was funded in subsequent budgetary cycles. However, there have been numerous “Indian” Olympiads in BC throughout the twentieth century.

 

[1] Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. May 2015.

[2] Oblates in the West, accessed at: http://oblatesinthewest.library.ualberta.ca/eng/impact/schools.html

The “Peppering” Traveling Baseball Team

Posted on: August 6th, 2015 by Jane Lemke

While completely losing myself in sports-related research for our upcoming Game On! The Evolution of Sports exhibit, I have come across a few gems. One such gem was the discovery of a traveling baseball team called the “House of David”.

The Israelite House of David was established as a religious community in Benton Harbor, Michigan, in 1903 by Benjamin Purnell, along with his wife Mary. The purpose of this colony was to gather the 12 lost tribes of Israel for the “Ingathering”, to await the Millennium. Benjamin Purnell, a sports enthusiastast, encouraged the playing of sports. The House of David started playing baseball around 1913 as a weekend endeavor and by 1915 the team was playing a more grueling schedule. By 1920, the team was “barnstorming” around the country, earning money for the colony, and using the team as a way to preach to potential members. While the team was on the road, the colony established a home team, a girl’s team, and a junior boys team. The players were led by its manager, Francis Thorpe and the team was originally comprised of members of the colony. The team was always an attraction by their long hair and beards, a doctrine of the religion, and would draw substantial crowds wherever they played. By the early 20’s, in need of participate with better playing abilities and by the lack of colony member participation, were in the business of hiring players not of the faith. These “Players for Hire” were required to grow a beard, and some played for the team for many years.

After a lengthy legal battle and subsequent death of Purnell, an internal power struggle for the colony ensued. After this struggle, the colony divided into two separate factions, and eventually two separate colonies. One was the Israelite House of David, whose members believed that Benjamin was the one and only leader, which was led by colony pillar Judge H. T. Dewhirst. This colony went by the moniker of “The House of David”.

Both factions of the House of David teams visited small communities all over Canada and the United States. Different House of David teams visited Chilliwack many times throughout the 1930s, playing local teams at Chilliwack’s Athletic Park. The August 1, 1935 article of the Chilliwack Progress remarked “Chilliwack fans got a big bang out of the famous ‘pepper’ tricks,” which were said to be along the lines of the fancy basketball moves of today’s Harlem Globetrotters. Many of the Chilliwack games raised funds for the Chilliwack Amateur Athletic Association but also provided lots of entertainment for hundreds of spectators. At fifty cents, it was quite a good bargain (valued at under $9 if adjusted for inflation).

Don’t miss our upcoming exhibit Game On! The Evolution of Sports in Chilliwack, which opens October 29!