Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tales from the B.C. Archives

Blogging: new thing. Blogging about: old things – well, sort of. I’m an archivist, and in my blog entries I’d like to take you on a virtual tour of B.C.’s past via records in the B.C. Archives. Some are indeed “old,” but others are relatively new. All of them give us a glimpse into the way things were. It’s a bit like time travel, without the trouble of landing on the wrong planet in the wrong era.

At the Archives we’ve got a way-back machine, and its fuel is photos, manuscripts, sound recordings, films, maps, books and government records. There are a lot. We think we have something like 3 million photographs, but we haven’t finished counting (let alone scanning). Books – probably upwards of 80,000. Maps – 68,000 (at least). Boxes of records – more than 75,000. Films – 4,000 plus. You get the picture. It’s a vast resource – and they all record some aspect of the history of B.C. and the Pacific Northwest. They are the raw material of our individual and collective history. They’re also all waiting for someone to have that “Ah Ha!” moment, when a document turns out to be the missing link that proves a point, settles a boundary dispute, or fills in a branch on someone’s family tree. I’m lucky because I often get to tag along with our researchers on these voyages of discovery, and I’m also going to be able to blog about them.

As a reference archivist, I help people find those nuggets of information buried within the vast collection. Sometimes the queries are routine – “I’d like a copy of my great grand-father’s probate file” (usually an easy find if someone died in B.C.)….and sometimes a little more challenging, like “When and where was the first flush toilet installed in B.C.?” (Couldn’t answer that one definitively – but I did find some photographs of early toilets and bathrooms!). (Photo: Model bathroom used in a construction course, Como Lake High School, 1953, B.C. Archives I-22816.)

Most of the time I can give tips on how to make our website cough up sources of information. For example, if Sean, my fellow blogger had wanted more images relating to Captain James Cook I could have found him 38 images in our collection – everything from Cook’s boyhood home in England, to the beach and natives at Friendly Cove in Nootka Sound, ca. 1870.

(That’s where Cook became the first European to set foot on Vancouver’s Island as it was known then) in 1778. (We don’t have any photographs of that historic event, naturally, but we do have copies of works of art that purport to document it.) (Photo: Nootka Sound natives and the crew of Her Majesty’s gunboat “Rocket”, Friendly Cove, ca. 1870, B.C. Archives C-07303.)

For me the most interesting inquiries lead to records that I never imagined existed, or thought that I would find in our Archives. Who knew we have several photographs of toilet paper being manufactured in New Westminster in 1949? (Photo: Toilet tissue manufacturing at Westminster Paper, 1949, B.C. Archives I-28054.)

Sorry, couldn’t resist, but now I’m on a roll with the bathroom examples….. Anyway, if you’ve forgiven me the bad pun, check in periodically for a look at some of our more interesting records and where they can take you. Next up, all in one family – a disinherited and intestate son, the missing brother, an affair between a brother and sister-in-law, and death by Jeep and a Tesco’s lorry.

For those interested in searching for specific records relating to their own research interests, visit our website at - or call us at 250-387-1952 (toll-free through Enquiry B.C. 1-800-663-7867).

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous13 May, 2010

    Great first blog post Ann. Just wanted to point out that we know both the photographer and the exact date the photo of HMS Boxer's (not Rocket's) crew and Nootka Sound inhabitants was taken. The photo is misdated and miscredited to Frederick Dally. Richard Maynard was the photographer and the photo was taken on September 10, 1874. Richard Maynard cruised twice on HMS Box on voyages of inspection with Dr. Israel W. Powell, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for BC. I wrote about these trips in the January-February 1987 issue of Photographic Canadiana and again, this time with the RBCM's Dan Savard, in the Autumn 1992 issue of History of Photography. An account of the 1874 HMS Boxer trip was published in the British Colonist on September 19, 1874. There are other supporting records as well.


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