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SQ’ÉWLETS Exhibition Final Week

Posted on: April 26th, 2018 by

Installation image of Sq’éwlets exhibition. Photo by Lori Johnson.

This is the final week that the exhibition SQ’ÉWLETS: A Stó:lō–Coast Salish Community in the Fraser River Valley will be on display at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives. The exhibition will wrap up this Saturday April 28th, with a closing ceremony held from 10am to 11am (the exhibition will remain open until 2pm on Saturday). All are welcome to this community event.

Sq’éwlets exhibition opening event.

During its 5-month span, the  SQ’ÉWLETS exhibition has welcomed over 800 visitors. With a strong interest from local schools, our staff provided exhibition tours to nearly 200 students in the community. This spring, we also ran our first classroom-in-residence program, which provided two classrooms with a dedicated period of time to engage with, and study, the exhibition.

If you don’t have the chance to make it to the exhibition, you can still catch the content through the Sq’éwlets First Nation website (but we hope you make it out anyway!)

With informative panels, photos, touchable objects, a material identification activity, video, and a touchscreen portal to the exhibition website, there is a lot to see and do for folks of all ages!

(The website was produced by the Sq’éwlets First Nation in collaboration with the Stó:lō Resource and Research Management Centre at Stó:lō Nation, the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, and additional partners.)

The Women Mountaineers of Chilliwack

Posted on: March 19th, 2018 by

Group photo of Nina Carleton, Irene and Gertrude Knight, William Knight, “Olealley” Louie, and Lyle and Carolyn Macken, 1907 [P1190]

Group photo of Nina Carleton, Irene and Gertrude Knight, William Knight, “Olealley” Louie, and Lyle and Carolyn Macken, 1907 [P1190]

During my research for the upcoming exhibition, Mountaineers: Community Experience in Chilliwack’s Mountains, I’ve discovered some great accounts of women exploring the local ranges. In fact, one of the initial factors that drew me to the exhibition theme, is that climbing and exploration of the nearby mountains has long been an activity for all genders to enjoy. The following is one example.

When William Knight led a party of seven up Lhílheqey (Mt. Cheam) in 1907, his daughters Irene and Gertrude, along with Mina Carleton and Carolyn Macken, joined the climb to the peak. Unlike today, this journey was a challenging multi-day climb that involved hiking up the north side of the mountain from a trail near Bridal Falls. Camping several nights on the mountainside, scrambling along loose rock, and at least one hold-your-breath dash along a narrow ledge were required parts of the climb.

To make the journey more practical, the women of 1907 eschewed the dress conventions of the day by wearing short(er) skirts. While still considered long and hampering by today’s standards, a member of the climbing party, Carl Grossman, observed that, “The girls had donned their climbing clothes and looked like a lot of school kids. Their skirts were cut to the knees and looked very funny.”1

Gertrude and Irene Knight rest at Prairie Camp, halfway up the Lhílheqey hike, 1907 [P1192]

Gertrude and Irene Knight rest at Prairie Camp, halfway up the Lhílheqey (Mt. Cheam) hike, 1907 [P1192]

Irene (Knight) Bunt and her sister Gertrude (Knight) Barber were in fact regular climbers of Lhílheqey (Mt. Cheam) and accompanied their father on countless trips to the peak. Bunt later recalled, “As a child we lived at Popcum and saw Cheam very well. Most years my father, William Knight, would take parties of young people up in August. We would leave early Monday morning and not get back until Sat. p.m. It was a delightful trip and we all…enjoyed it.”2

Unfortunately for Barber, she never reached the very top of the mountain. It appears that the various hiking parties inevitably had at least one member with a fear of heights, and poor “Gertie” was always selected to bring them back down to an easier part of the trail.

For more accounts such as this, make sure you visit our exhibition Mountaineers: Community Experience in Chiliwack’s Mountains when it opens at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives on May 18, 2018.

(Read more about the group’s climb in this 1907 article from the Progress archives.)

  1. Letter from Carl Grossman, 25 August 1907, AM0014, Grossman family fonds
  2. Letter from Irene (Knight) Bunt to the Chilliwack Historical Society, 11 November 1985, AM0606, 1985.092, Irene Bunt fonds

Tell us your mountain story!

Posted on: February 8th, 2018 by

Here at the Museum we are planning the next exhibition, Mountaineers: A History of Community Use on the Skagit Range. We are actively involved in the research and community outreach phase, and are contacting local individuals and community groups about their mountain experiences. We are also looking for loans or donations of equipment and gear associated with hiking and exploring the Skagits.

Early colour photograph depicting the ridge of Cheam Mountain.

Lhilheqey (Cheam) Ridge at the 7000 ft level, during the Grossman group climb, 1907 (CMA PP501181)

Which mountains are the Skagits? The Skagit Range is a subsection of the Cascade Mountains that extends to the Fraser River in the north, down to Washington in the south. Famous peaks include Lhilheqey (Mt. Cheam), Selísi (Mt. Slesse), and Loyúmthel (Liumchen Mtn). This area has been used extensively by aboriginal groups for thousands of years, and is included in the Stó:lō First Nation’s S’ólh Téméxw (Our World).

In addition to the community outreach and knowledge gathering we are currently conducting, if any individuals want to reach out we are happy to hear from you. If you have a story, photograph, old journal, or equipment associated with your relationship to the local mountains, don’t hesitate to get in touch. (Remember, a local element is crucial, so while we enjoy hearing stories from other parts of the world, our focus is on the Chilliwack connection.)

So…Did your family have regular backcountry excursions? Were you a member of Chilliwack Search and Rescue, the Chilliwack Outdoor Club, or did your Guides group explore the Skagits? Do you remember your family going out for berry picking excursions, or do you participate in cultural activities in the mountains? Maybe you are ready to retire your old backpack or the trusty hikers that got you through many the upcountry trail…

Black and white image of 4 figures standing atop a rocky mountain ride, the background shows the silhouette of mountain peaks in the valley.

1928 excursion into Loyúmthel (Liumchen) Valley via the first horseback trail in the region (CMA 2016.052)

If so, get in touch with our Curator! Email [email protected], call 604-795-5210, or stop by the Archives at 9291 Corbould St (open M, W, F 9am to 4:30pm; Tu and Th by appointment).

We are interested in a range of modern, as well as traditional and historic, stories, photos and artifacts.

Connecting with the Collection: The Hats of Violet Dickinson

Posted on: December 13th, 2017 by
Black and white image of a woman in a dress seated in a yard with flowers, holding a dog.

Violet Dickinson with pet dog, c. 1930s-1940s (CMA 2014.034)

When it comes to fashion, the Chilliwack Museum textile collection has some articles of note, from a pair of 1900’s buffalo fur chaps (1988.030.001a-b) to a 1920’s beaded flapper dress (1995.006.007). Garments such as these provide an example of the changing trends in personal adornment over time, and tell a particular story about the history of Chilliwack.

One such collection that I’ve had the chance to review lately are the fabulous hats of Violet Dickinson. As Mrs. Dickinson was a fixture within the community for over 80 years, her hat collection represents the changing trends in modern headwear, particularly in the era from 1940-1970. Below is a sampling of the styles now held in the Museum collection.

 

The Beret

A mannequin head is pictured wearing a mustard yellow, wool beret.

Beret (CMA 2014.077.019)

Sporting a beret, or “tam” style, this rich yellow cap (CMA 2014.077.019) is completed with a matching pom-pom.

The beret and its Scottish variant, the tam-o’-shanter, have a long history and various associations tied to local and military identity, going back to the bronze age. Other associations, as a revolutionary symbol (think Che Guevara) or the Rastafari movement, also follow the beret. As a modern accessory, such caps were worn by cultural icons from Picasso to Thelonious Monk, and the stereotype of the beret-adorned artist exists to this day.  In North America, the look has been a popular fashion accouterment since the 1920’s. In 1933 Chilliwack, you could buy a “beret tam” from David Spencer for .79c.

 

The Pillbox

Head of a mannequin is seen sporting a white pillbox hat with white netting and a floral motif. Head is tilted at a 3/4 angle.

Pillbox (CMA 2017.044.003)

The pillbox style is characterized by a flat crown, straight upright sides, and by having no brim. Historically, this shape of hat was used as military headgear, however the modern women’s version was invented in the 1930’s, and was perhaps most famously sported by Jackie Kennedy in the 1960’s. This variant on the pillbox style (CMA 2017.044.003) is topped with stiff netting and a flower motif.

 

The Cloche

The third hat (2014.077.016) is shaped in the cloche style, which is characterized by a bell-shaped, close-fitted look. Popularized between 1922 and 1933 (think Josephine Baker), the style enjoyed a resurgence in the 1960’s. This particular hat is made with in a decorative, “lacy straw” style. The gauze bow adds to the delicate appearance of the piece.

A mannequin head is modelling a straw-coloured hat with a matching bow tied around the brim. The head is looking straight on.

Cloche (CMA 2014.077.016)

 

About Violet Dickinson

Violet Phyllis Dickinson (nee Craven) (b. April 1, 1919, England–d. September 28, 2013) came to Canada with her parents and siblings in 1928. The family lived in Agassiz for a year, then moved to Chilliwack. In 1942 she married S. Perry Dickinson, and they had two daughters. Her hobbies included knitting, making artificial flowers, and collecting and caring for a small aviary, and a large assortment of rare tropical fish. Dickinson is well-known for her role in hosting the “Chat-A Way” Club—an initiative of the Chilliwack branch of Soroptimist International—from her home twice a week during the 1950’s. The club went on to become the Chilliwack Senior Recreation Centre. She continued volunteering in the community throughout her life.

Connecting with the Collection: Cats in 3-D

Posted on: October 5th, 2017 by

The stereoscopic card was a popular form of household entertainment in the late 19th century. Developed soon after the advent of photography, stereoscopic cards provided the illusion of 3-D imagery. These cards were easily reproducible and fairly inexpensive for individual households to purchase, and consequently enjoyed a worldwide market.

I recently reviewed the Museum’s collection of stereoscopic cards, and while many of the cards portrayed famous events, landmarks and persons—several cards did not. Rather than recording the momentous, these humble scenes portrayed situational jokes and household tableaux.

Most striking among these cards was the humorous scene titled, Tabby as Grandma. This card pictures a well-pleased tabby cat lounging in a comfy armchair, knitting needles at the ready, and neatly dressed as “Grandma.”

2 nearly identical photos of a tabby cat sitting in a wicker chair, dressed as a human woman. The cat has knitting needles in its lab. The images are surrounded by a paper border.

Tabby as Gramma (Chilliwack Museum and Archives, 1987.003.007b), c.1902-3

The beauty of studying history is how it can inform the present, often in unexpected ways. Let’s take a paws (ahem) and consider Tabby as Grandma from our vantage point—namely, that of internet users in 2017. Today, the undisputed champion of social media shares and viral youtube videos is none other than the felis catus (domestic cat). Both lauded and vilified for possessing low-brow accessibility and tremendous popularity, many the critic have questioned humans rising obsession with felines.

close up of a ginger cat lying on white and pink sheets. The cat is looking over its shoulder and has green eyes.

An example of a cat-based meme
image source: https://flic.kr/p/4c6TnL

But what if this obsession didn’t just begin in the age of the internet? Looking at Tabby as Grandma, we can infer that cute and/or humourous cat photographs were being produced and distributed en masse as soon as humankind had the technology to do so inexpensively (for instance, with stereoscopic cards).

It does seem to prove that before the internet brought us lolcats, Grumpy Cat, and many the meme, the human love for their furry companions was already a well-established trend. And in fact, have captured our hearts for (at the least) over a century!


The Tabby as Grandma image was originally published by The Universal Photo Art Co., in Philadelphia, USA.

The Case for Cases

Posted on: September 21st, 2017 by

Early in 1958, just after our organization was established – the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society  President, Oliver Wells, did what all good Museum leaders do at some point: he sent out a fundraising letter.

SPOILER ALERT! That’s what this blog post is really about too

But why don’t we have some good ole’ historical fun while we’re at it, eh?

Oliver Wells serves as the founding Chairman of the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society.

Oliver Wells served as the founding Chairman of the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society.

In that letter, Mr. Wells made a very logical point:

“…we must be able to give assurance that [valuable historical material] will be safely stored and displayed.” 

Oliver Wells fundraising letter, Feb. 1958.

Oliver Wells fundraising letter, February, 1958.

Some things have not changed. Then, as now, this is still one of the most basic principles of preservation and conservation. Museums have a responsibility to care for their collections. We have been doing just that here in Chilliwack for sixty years.

The Chilliwack Museum and Archives cares for: 

  • Over one million items in our Archival records, including hundreds of thousands of photographic images. Our Archives are a trusted repository, well-respected by historians and researchers;
  • Over ten thousand historic objects – also known as artifacts or belongings, each one shedding light upon a unique person, place, memory, or moment that matters to Chilliwack – to you.

Did you know, however, that less than 1% of our collection is exhibited at any given time? Why?

  • For starters, there just isn’t enough gallery space in our National Historic Site Museum building to exhibit too much more of the collection in a way that ensure artifact conservation, AND;
  • The existing cases that we have were not purpose-built for the task of displaying many of the more vulnerable objects from our collections.

From the late 1950s until now, our skilled and creative professional staff have done their very best, working with the kinds of exhibit cases that we have had available. Many of these have been greatly appreciated hand-me-downs, cascaded to us from other institutions, such as the Museum of Vancouver.

In other cases, we have had cases purpose-built for our exhibitions by local carpenters – with plywood structure, plinths and plexi-glass. They look pretty good, and do a serviceable job of presenting your historic objects (which we steward for the public good).

The cases we have, however, are not built to last forever, and do not fully achieve the kinds of conservation standards that Chilliwack’s significant material culture truly deserves. They don’t have the kinds of security features we expect today, such as hidden cam-locks, and they don’t offer the same level of environmental protection (from such factors as UV light, moisture, pests, contact) to ensure fragile and precious materials are safeguarded for future generations.

Back in 2011, when the Archives facility was expanded at Evergreen Hall, you helped us to acquire high-quality, rolling, shelving. This shelving, however, is intended for storage, and not for exhibition purposes.

In short: we need new exhibit cases – yesterday

Thanks to the support of the Government of Canada’s Canadian Cultural Spaces Program, the City of Chilliwack, and the Chilliwack Foundation – all of which provided significant grants – our need is being met!

The new cases are expected to arrive in late October, and our exhibits will transition into them, with our next exhibit opening into them in early November, 2017.

The Chilliwack Museum and Archives will soon have the highest quality, Canadian-made exhibit cases, which will strengthen our curatorial program for decades to come.  Custom-constructed to meet our local needs by the highly regarded Zone Display Cases, nineteen (19!) new exhibit cases will give us tremendous flexibility to show you more of our rich collections.

Best of all, many of these units are completely modular, allowing for set-up in a broad range of different ways, allowing for versatility. You will be able to connect with your history in an amazing new way! 

So now, following in Mr. Well’s footsteps, I’m going to let you all know…

2015-07-francis

We need your help!

The total cost for 19 cases is $142, 000, and that is the largest purchase that the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society has ever made. While we have raised over $100, 000 to date, we still need to raise just over $30, 000 in 2017 to complete the exhibit case project. Will you partner with us?

If you’d like to give to honour or in memory of someone special, recognition opportunities are available. 

Thank you for the amazing generosity of those caring individuals and Chilliwack businesses that have already contributed.

No gift is too small – every contribution makes a difference! 

For all the details, you can check out our Chilliwack Museum 60th Annivesary – Case Renewal Legacy Project.

How to give?

  1. Make your gift easily and securely ONLINE through our Chilliwack Museum and Archives Canada Helps Page:
  1. By Mail…

Send your cheque to:

Chilliwack Museum and Archives

45820 Spadina Avenue

Chilliwack, BC, V2P 1T3

  1. By Phone – Give us a call!

Our phone number is (604) 795-5210.

  1. In Person

Drop by the Museum during opening hours.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me, Matthew Francis, Executive Director, any time. 

Connecting with the Collection: the Bobby Hales trumpet

Posted on: August 30th, 2017 by

Every object housed in the collection of the Chilliwack Museum and Archives has a story. As only a small percentage of these objects can be displayed in exhibitions, the remainder of the 10,000+ artifacts quietly wait for their time to be shown. To keep you connected with the different treasures within the collection, today I would like to feature the story of an old, bent trumpet with a larger-than-life history.

Used trumpet on white background; trumpet horn is bent upwards at a 30 degree angle.

The trumpet with its distinctive bent horn (Chilliwack Museum and Archives, 1987.053.001)

In August 1950, local resident Bobby (Robert Arthur) Hales (b. Avonlea, SK, 1934-d. Port Coquitlam, BC, 2016) wandered into Brett Sales Ltd. on 121 Yale Road West. Among the various goods and equipment, one object captivated the musically-oriented teenager: a recording trumpet made by F.E. Olds & Son.

Since his early years, Hales showed an interest in music, and was introduced to the cornet at the age of 9. In high school, he joined the Chilliwack Senior Band, directed at the time by Dick Galloway. Eventually a former teacher and clarinet player, John Bayfield, further recognized Hales’ talent and encouraged him to form a dance band which played concerts at the school cafeteria. This glimpse into the world of performance drew Hales to form a band called The White Spots, who played several concerts, including the Igloo Supper Club in Hope. Hales soon branched into any form of musical outlet that he could find, from church concerts, to the razz band that played basketball games.

black and white image; 4 seated musicians on a small stage play (from left to right) guitar, horn, drums and piano.

The Bright Spot Band playing the Riverside Pavilion in December 1953. Pictured are: Nick Oschefski (guitar). Bobby Hales (trumpet), Pat Boyces (drums), and Jim MacDonald (piano)

After high school, Hales worked at the bank of Nova Scotia, all the while harbouring the dream of making it as a professional musician. On a holiday to Los Angeles, Hales brought his trumpet to the Olds factory to have it plated. While there, he met fellow musician Rafael Méndez who encouraged him to apply to the Westlake College of Modern Music (a distinguished U.S. school for jazz). When his application was accepted, Hales left to study for 2 years in California, focusing on ear training, conducting, and jazz composition. After graduating in 1957, Hales moved to Vancouver and spent several years gaining entry into the field by working in pit bands and playing nightclubs. His perseverance paid off when he became involved as a composer and arranger for CBC’s Jazz Canadiana radio show, which featured his arrangements nationally. In 1965, he formed a group of 19 fellow musicians, known as the Bobby Hales Big Band, which backed acts such as Sonny and Cher, Bob Hope, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Frank Sinatra.  He also composed and conducted the theme and background music for the popular television series The Beachcombers. In 1977 Hales and his big band completed the first western Canada tour for a jazz band, ever.

Man plays trumpet with a group of musicians at a formal concert

Bobby Hales playing trumpet with his big band

Bobby Hales’ contributions to Canadian music continued from the 60’s, through the 70’s and 80’s, and he was inducted into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame in 1996.

The trumpet continued to be used by Hales until 1978, when it finally wore out. He bent the bell of the trumpet upwards at a 30 degree angle, which was a method first used by Dizzie Gillespie. The trumpet now rests in the Chilliwack Museum and Archives’ collection, in a case decorated with a “Sinatra On Tour 1976” sticker.

My Summer at the Archives

Posted on: August 23rd, 2017 by

By Rachel Vandenberg – Archival and Curatorial Assistant

Over the past few months I have been fortunate enough have the opportunity to work at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives as the Archival and Curatorial Assistant. This summer I have been able to learn about archival practices and curatorial management from our awesome Archivist, Tristan Evans, and wonderful Curator, Adrienne Rempel. These two have been great mentors and hilarious co-workers during my time here.

The Archive reading room where I spent time assisting researchers

The Archive reading room where I spent time assisting researchers

So, what did I do over the summer? Well…

I spent most of my time at the Archives building helping out, and learning from, Tristan and Adrienne. I started out the summer by processing a donation from the Soroptimist Club of Chilliwack. This was quite a large donation, filled with scrapbooks, meeting minutes, and club records, so it was a time-consuming process. Tristan was able to guide me through the process and showed me the ins and outs of being an archivist along the way. As the summer went on I was able to process many more donations. In addition to processing donations, I also learned how to assist researchers and preserve documentary artefacts. One of my favourite parts of working at the archives was meeting the people who bring in donations. Whether they are bringing in a single piece of paper, or a whole box of objects, the donor always has a story to go along with it. Interacting with donors made me realize that the documents and artefacts we work with are deeply connected people and their community.

I enjoyed the hands-on work with the CMA object collection

I enjoyed the hands-on work with the CMA object collection

The first big item on the Museum’s agenda after I was hired was the upcoming exhibit Gold Mountain Dream: Bravely Venture into the Fraser Valley. To my surprise, I was given the opportunity to help with the planning of the exhibit! Adrienne showed me the behind-the-scenes process of how to plan an exhibit. Everything from the small details visitors might not notice, like the font size of text or the level of lighting in the room, to the big details, like which objects are used or what colour the walls will be, is taken into consideration when planning an exhibit.  It was a much more comprehensive process than I had previously imagined. In the end, the exhibit looked amazing and the information is very interesting. You should definitely stop by the museum and have a look! There is so much to learn about British Columbia’s gold rush past and the forgotten history of Chilliwack’s Chinatowns.

Overall, my experience at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives has been incredible! I began this position hoping to gain some valuable work experience in the public history field, but I ended up with a lot more; I got to work with awesome people, be actively involved in my community, and learn so much along the way.

Exploring Chinese-Canadian history in the Fraser Valley

Posted on: July 12th, 2017 by

The Chilliwack Museum and Archives’ latest exhibition 金山梦! 勇闯菲沙河谷 (Gold Mountain Dream: Bravely Venture into the Fraser Valley) is now open! From rare archival images and artifacts, to detailed storytelling and interactive elements, this exhibition focuses on early Chinese-Canadian history in the Fraser Valley.

Installation view of exhibition.

Installation view of the exhibition.

The Background Story

In the 1800s, gold fever consumed the world. Masses of people from all corners of the world voluntarily migrated to far-off locations such as Australia, New Zealand, California and British Columbia. Their goal was to find not only gold, but a better life for themselves and their families. By 1858 the territory now known as BC saw its first major gold rush along the Fraser Valley.

In Chinese culture, there was a myth about 山金 (Gold Mountain) that helped fuel an influx of migrants who journeyed from ports in Hong Kong across the Pacific Ocean to Victoria in search for new fortune. This resulted in the first large Chinese settlement in Canada.

After the gold rush lost its momentum, many workers of Chinese origin chose Chilliwack as a place to settle down and try to build a new life. It wasn’t easy. Much of Chilliwack’s early infrastructure, from roads to farmlands, was developed by Chinese laborers. It was strenuous work, clearing the land of trees and cultivating soil at low pay, and many workers couldn’t afford to have their families join them in Canada.

Business owners Wong Gip She (right) and Wong Gip Low She (left) with their two sons Banford and David, c. 1916. CMA P7642

Chinatown South business owners Wong Gip She (right) and Wong Gip Low She (left) with their two sons Banford and David, c. 1916. CMA P7642

Many persevered, however, and by the 1880’s a Chinese merchant class emerged (and between 1908 and 1930 comprised 10% of the registered businesses in Chilliwack). By 1920 the city had two distinct Chinatowns: Chinatown North situated above the Five Corners region; and Chinatown South, around what is now Yale Road West. At their height, the Chinatown’s were host to a bustling population living in large 2-storey wood-frame buildings, including a Chinese Masonic Hall.

An International Exhibition

Key historical content for the exhibition’s local elements was based on the 2011 book Chilliwack’s Chinatowns: A History by Chad Reimer. The Gold Mountain Dream panels are a travelling exhibition organized by the Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, in collaboration with the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. These panels are bilingual, and are written both in English and Simplified Chinese. Beyond Chilliwack, Gold Mountain Dream has been displayed at the Guangdong Museum of Chinese Nationals Residing Abroad (Guangzhou, China) and the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum (Vancouver, BC).

Detail view of artifacts in a display case.

Detail view of artifacts in a display case.

Interactive Elements

The exhibition has interactive content for viewers of all ages, from touchable objects, to videos, an audiostation, and an introductory Mahjong set. So bring the whole family for a visit, or plan a Thursday evening date night to catch this stunning exhibition!

The exhibition will continue running throughout the summer until October 9th.

Microfilm and Microfiche

Posted on: May 17th, 2017 by
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.