A few months ago, a box of archival records that had been requested for access was transferred to the Royal BC Museum paper conservation lab. These documents were part of the Archibald Menzies fonds, a small collection of records and belongings related to Archibald Menzies (1754–1842), a Scottish surgeon and naturalist who accompanied Captain George Vancouver aboard the HMS Discovery in 1791–95.
The documents in this box were mostly parchment and had been folded several times in the past, then piled into a box for storage. Upon retrieving the box, the archivist realised that none of these documents were easy to open. The parchment was hard and inflexible, suggesting that any attempt to forcibly flatten out the records might lead to damage. When problems like this arise, these materials are diverted to our conservation team for assessment and remedy.
So, how can we convince parchment to relax, open up and share its hidden secrets? First, we need to understand where it’s coming from.
Parchment is made from animal skin—usually that of a calf, sheep or goat. The skins are removed from the animal, dehaired and defleshed, and then treated with a lime or other alkali solution. After liming, the skin is dried under tension, and in some cases, surface treatments are carried out to make it more suitable to receive inks and paints. Before the invention of paper, parchment was a common writing support in Europe and parts of the Middle East. It continued to be used as such for several centuries after papermaking became popular and widespread.
Parchment is very sensitive to moisture and heat. This means that when water is present, the parchment will expand and absorb moisture. When conditions become warm and dry, the parchment will shrink and release moisture. Over long stretches of time, these cycles of shrinking and expanding cause the parchment to deteriorate, becoming distorted and hard.
The parchment documents in this collection were tightly folded, and attempts to open them were met with strong resistance. Forcing them open could have potentially led to cracks, breaks and losses in the document; however, leaving them as they were meant that no one could read them.
To open these documents without incurring damage and loss, we needed them to relax. This state of inner peace was achieved with the careful introduction of moisture. Since parchment is so sensitive to moisture, the use of moisture to treat deteriorated parchment might seem counterintuitive; however, in the case of this treatment, moisture is delivered in the form of water vapour (never liquid water), and it was delivered with control.
The tightly folded documents were placed in an environmental chamber where the relative humidity (RH) could be raised using an ultrasonic humidifier. The RH levels were monitored throughout this treatment using a hygrometer placed in the chamber. Slowly, over a period of approximately two hours, the documents were unfolded bit by bit, until they were relaxed enough to fall completely open.
Once the documents had fully revealed themselves, they were placed under very gentle pressure between felt pads to ensure they dried flat.
Now that these documents are open for viewing, they will be stored flat. They have been transferred to a flat storage box with custom padded trays for two of the documents, with seals and cords attached, ready for the next researcher.
Every year the Government Records team at the BC Archives processes over 2,000 boxes of records created by the provincial government. Most of these records can now be accessed by anyone, even you! Just remember that all government records are covered by privacy legislation, such as the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. This means some records have access restrictions on sensitive or personal information. Here is an overview of just a few of the record series from the last year or so that are now available in our database.
Bonus records! Here are some other records that were made available a bit before 2021, but are still worthy of a mention:
*These series include sensitive personal information or other restricted records that are not publicly accessible.
Government is constantly evolving to meet the needs of the citizens it serves. This often results in the renaming and reorganizing of its various branches and departments. These changes can make it tricky to track which government body was responsible for creating and maintaining particular records through the years. To help myself better understand who created some of the land records I was working with, I set out to create a visual representation of how the land management functions of government moved around over time. This soon expanded to include several other ministries whose records I worked on. It eventually grew to cover all ministries (and their precursor departments) from 1871, when the province was created, to 2021.
Please see Overview Diagram of Ministries 2022 for the most current version of the diagram.
I created the chart using information from BC Archives authority records, Orders-in-Council and lists of Cabinet Appointments from the Legislative Library. Ministries are shown in square bubbles and are connected to each other with arrows. The oldest departments are at the top, moving down to the current ministries at the bottom of the page. The ministries are arranged in columns that represent broad categories of government functions, such as health or agriculture.
Arrows with solid lines show that a ministry was renamed. This usually means it continued to do pretty much the same work and fulfill the same functions of its predecessor.
Arrows with dotted lines show that some functions moved to another ministry. Dotted lines also show links from ministries that are established (created) and disestablished. I was only able to note large changes; sometimes the various branches that make up a ministry were split between a half dozen other ministries, making it pretty impossible to track all their movements individually.
The complexity and change over time make this a bit overwhelming to look at all together. But the changing names of a ministry can provide a high-level snapshot of general trends in government’s priorities over time. Each ministry is usually focused on a single function or issue, such as providing health care or managing public forests. The evolution of ministries reflects what government thought was important—and what mattered to voters. To a certain extent, this also reflects what mattered to society at large, though government was dominated by white men for most of the province’s existence, and universal enfranchisement did not occur until 1952.
Government departments changed very little from the province’s creation in 1871 until the 1970s. Government was small. Initially, the Attorney-General and Provincial Secretary were responsible for functions that would be divided among a dozen different ministers today. The major changes involved the creation of new departments as the role of government began to expand in the twentieth century.
Initially, building infrastructure and promoting the industrial harvest of natural resources (to expand economic opportunities for other white settlers) appears to be more of a priority than providing social supports. For example, two separate departments for railways and public works were established almost 50 years before the Department of Health Services and Department of Social Welfare were finally created in 1959.
In 1976, all departments were renamed and became ministries. After this point, changes became much more common. By the 1990s it seems to have become fairly standard practice for a newly elected government to reorganize Cabinet, appointing new ministers to differentiate themselves from the previous government and reflect changing priorities throughout their term in office.
Some ministries have remained remarkably similar over the last hundred years. Others have been regularly broken up, combined and moved around in ways that, at times, can seem confusing and a bit counterintuitive. For example, in 1978, the Ministry of Recreation and Conservation was disestablished and broken into several ministries, including a new Ministry of Deregulation.
Names have power. Word choice can really impact how people perceive things, and the level of importance or value they place on an issue. The arm of government responsible for social services provides a good example of this. It has fulfilled fairly similar functions over time, but the language around the work has evolved alongside societal beliefs about poverty. It began in 1959 as the Department of Social Welfare. Later names included the Department of Rehabilitation and Social Improvement, the Ministry of Human Resources and the Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance. Currently, it is the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction.
Establishing (or disestablishing) a ministry shows that government is assigning its affairs a certain level of importance, with an elected official appointed to focus on the function or issue. The creation of a Ministry of Women’s Equality in 1991, when BC’s first female premier Rita Johnson was in power, shows women’s equality was an important issue for government at the time. In 2001, this ministry was disestablished and lumped into the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services with four other disestablished ministries, including the also-disestablished Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.
Overall, I have found the chart a helpful way to track government’s changing responsibilities at a glance. My hope is that it can be a useful tool for researching archival government records. A record’s creator (often the ministry or department that created it) is one of the main things archivists look at when arranging and determining different series of government records (GR-numbers) in the BC Archives database. If you can think about the ministry that may have created the records you are looking for, it may provide access to some unexpected results. You can search for archival records by creator here.
As a government records archivist, I process a lot of records related to land or resource use, and specifically forestry records. Since the beginning of British Columbia’s colonization, forestry has been a major part of the province’s economy. After over 150 years of industrial logging, the majority of the province has been disturbed by some kind of industrial activity, leaving an estimated 2.7% as productive old growth forest today.
Most land in the province is Crown land controlled by the provincial government. Crown land and resources—in this case timber—are leased or licensed to forestry companies to use. These agreements are generally referred to as timber tenures and can include a variety of uses, lengths of time they are valid for and other required management practices.
Managing all these resources has created a huge amount of government records. Many of these are now kept by the BC Archives for government reference and historical knowledge, and so that the public can hold its government accountable. I recently processed a series of records related to forestry in the Clayoquot Sound area, now part of GR-3659.
GR-3659 documents a type of timber tenure referred to as a Tree Farm Licence (TFL). Most of western Vancouver Island is covered by a handful of TFLs. TFLs provide a forestry company with almost exclusive rights to harvest timber and manage forest in a certain area for 25 years. Every 5 years, companies are required to create detailed plans outlining how they will manage the land and resources within the TFL area.
Working with the records in GR-3659 got me thinking about a related historical event—the 1993 Clayoquot Sound protests, also known as the War in the Woods, which occurred primarily on TFL 54 and TFL 57. So, I took a look at some of the other records that document it.
Protests and blockades began in the 1980s after logging was proposed on Meares Island in Clayoquot Sound. Several attempts were made by the government to reach a consensus between the members of the forest industry, environmentalists, municipalities and Indigenous Peoples. These included the Clayoquot Sound Development Task Force (GR-3535, box 921203-0023) and the Clayoquot Sound Development Steering Committee. Environmentalists left the Steering Committee in 1991 after the government refused to defer logging until an agreement was made. The Steering Committee ultimately dissolved in October 1992, without completing a finalized development strategy.
A few months later, in April 1993, Cabinet passed the Clayoquot Sound Land Use Plan, but it was widely contested. The government’s lack of consultation with local First Nations and the large area of old growth forest available for clear cutting resulted in protests that spread around the world. Protest camps and blockades were set up to prevent logging, in defiance of court injunctions. Police attempts to enforce the injunction led to over 800 arrests. Thousands of people protested over the summer of 1993, making it possibly the largest event of civil disobedience in Canadian history.
Ultimately, the government was able to reach a consensus with the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation, whose traditional territory includes Clayoquot Sound, and new land use plans were developed. This also led to the creation of Iisaak, a new First Nations owned logging company operating in the area (some of their records are in GR-3659), and the designation of Clayoquot Sound as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude.
At the end of last year, an article I wrote titled “Gratitude in the Archives” was published in Garland Magazine. You can read the article here:
When the staff of the museum and archives were sent home in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I felt many things, including anxiety, fear and uncertainty. As time went on and I settled into my new routine of working from home in a house vibrating with the play of young children, other feelings began to creep in. I tried to concentrate on the positive things, and I found that, as I described in the article, rituals of thanksgiving help me to focus on the present.
Preparing to return to work, I look forward to surrounding myself with records once again (nothing beats that old paper/book smell!) and connecting with researchers. I am thankful to find myself working in a profession that I truly love. Although much has changed this year, the sentiments expressed in last year’s article remain accurate: as ever, approaching my work with gratitude allows me room to grieve the past and be thankful for the present.
In 2017, the BC Archives acquired an Emily Carr watercolour of a woodland scene (PDP10276, Fig. 1). The work is an example of Carr’s early interest in the landscape of British Columbia. Recently, the work made its way back to the Paper Conservation Lab to receive the treatment that was recommended at the time of acquisition.
When this work arrived at the Royal BC Museum, a few condition issues were apparent. There was some evidence of fading, a small stain in the upper left corner and some microscopic cracking of the paint layer (Fig. 2), but these issues are irreversible and— now that the painting is entering a stable, museum storage environment—not particularly worrying. There was, however, one big (and unsightly) problem: the painting had been adhered to a low-quality, acidic cardboard support at some point in its history, and that support layer had been partially torn away (Fig. 3).
The solution was clear: this partial backing had to be fully removed.
Removal of a backing usually happens in stages. The backing board attached to this painting was rigid and thick. Trying to remove something thick from something thinner all at once will usually result in tears, delamination and/or creasing in the thinner, more flexible object—in this case, the painting. To avoid this, the thick backing is removed in thin layers. The backing is reduced, layer by layer, until we reach the final layer, which is attached to the painting. This final layer is the one carrying the adhesive, which makes it the trickiest layer to remove and the layer that needs to be removed most delicately.
The initial layers were removed using a thin, slightly dull blade. Upon reaching the final layers, it was apparent that there were many areas, particularly towards the outer edges, that were not directly adhered to the back of the painting. These areas lifted up easily without the blade.
The remaining, adhered portion was tested with a small amount of distilled water under the microscope and fortunately, the adhesive was discovered to be water-soluble. To be sure that the application of water on the back would not solubilize the media on the front, the media on the front was tested under the microscope with small drops of water (Fig 4). Each different colour was tested in discrete areas. Fortunately, only one colour was partially affected by the water. Given the thickness of the paper and the sensitivity level of the paint, it seemed unlikely that the water used for the backing removal would cause damage, and therefore a small, controlled application of water, administered under the microscope, was used to remove the final layer of the backing.
Following the backing removal, a small tear along the left side of the work became unsupported and therefore, unstable. To prevent this tear from growing bigger, it was repaired by pasting a thin piece of Japanese tissue over the tear on the back (Fig 5). The Japanese tissue is made of long natural fibres, which makes it very strong and supportive, despite how thin and translucent it appears after application.
Now that the work is physically and chemically stable, it is ready to be mounted so that it can be made accessible for research and exhibit (Figs. 6 and 7). Once the work is matted and framed, the change from “before” to “after” won’t be detectable to most viewers, but this work is essential for the long-term stability of the painting. It is an invisible gift that this generation bequeaths to the next.
The BC Archives is currently finishing up a project to arrange, describe and digitize a collection of photographic holdings from Ernest Crocker, a notable nineteenth century photographer. Part of this effort has involved some conservation work to repair some of the elements of these collections that have not made it through the ravages of time in one piece. In this particular example, the image identified as J-02623, there were a great many pieces. The following is a description of how it was repaired.
Glass plates were used as a support for photographic negatives early on in the history of photography and continued to be used well into the first half of the twentieth century. The negative is composed of two layers: the glass support and the photographic emulsion that holds the image (Fig 2). In the case of this example, the emulsion layer was made from gelatin.
When J-02623 arrived in the conservation lab, it was in many pieces and was resting on a second, intact plate. The fractures radiated from a central point near the upper right corner, suggesting that the negative had been struck by something blunt at some point in its history. In some of the areas around the cracks, the glass had been reduced to dust, which meant that there would likely be small losses once the dust was cleared. Its fragmented and fragile condition meant that it could not be removed from the supporting negative underneath it, which meant that the archivist could not see or identify either image and absolutely couldn’t digitize them.
These condition issues posed a few interesting problems in terms of developing a conservation treatment:
1. Broken plate cannot be stabilized as it is
Cracks in glass plate negatives are not uncommon. In many instances, simple solutions such as custom storage enclosures or pressure mounts are sufficient for long-term stability. Pressure mounts—two new pieces of glass put on either side of the broken original and taped together—were used on several other broken plates within this collection. The benefit of this method is that the new glass provides the necessary support for the plate to be handled again and the treatment is completely reversible, allowing for reconsideration of treatment alternatives in the future if desired. In the case of J-02623, however, this would not be feasible—the negative was too fragmented and would not be adequately supported by a pressure mount alone.
2. Broken plate cannot be moved as one piece
Before methods for consolidation and long-term storage could be considered, the issue of simply removing the broken plate from the intact plate beneath it had to be addressed. As previously mentioned, areas around the cracks had disintegrated into dust. This meant that sliding the broken negative off of the supporting plate and onto a new piece of support glass would be impossible. Some of this sharp, glass dust was likely to be under the broken shards of the negative. If sliding was attempted, the glass dust would act as sandpaper, abrading the delicate emulsion on the underside of the broken negative, leading to partial losses of the image. It would also likely scratch the glass side of the other negative as well.
3. Reassembly after any disassembly would be very tricky
If the broken pieces couldn’t be slid onto a new support or work surface, they would have to be lifted. But this solution posed its own problems: how do you replace so many tiny pieces back in proper alignment once they’ve been disassembled?
4. How to stabilize for the long-term
Once a plan to remove and reassemble the broken plate is achieved, how do you stabilize it for gentle handling and digitization? If a pressure-mount system is not enough, the only other option is to adhere all of the shards back together; however, this is easier said than done. How do you apply adhesive to glass shards without it oozing out around the edges? What adhesive will provide a strong enough bond while also having good aging properties as well as being reversible/adjustable?
A carefully considered treatment plan was required to answer so many questions.
To achieve the first task of moving the broken plate to a new working surface, the damage was first mapped (traced) onto a clear sheet of plastic with permanent marker and photocopied onto paper. This map was used as the basis for recording the location of each of the tiny shards that would have to be replaced afterwards. Tiny shards that were big enough to carry part of the emulsion were removed one-by-one, placed in a numbered bag and their shape and location was noted on the map (Figs. 4 and 5).
Before the shards were reassembled, the edges of each one were swabbed with acetone to clean away any dirt or oil that might impede adhesion. The shards were reassembled, emulsion-side down, on an inclined surface against a Silpat® mat (a reusable silicone-covered textile designed for baking). This mat provides a non-stick surface that is not completely flat. The texture in the textile provides a series of small bumps that raise the glass slightly off of the rest of the surface. The adhesive is delivered to the cracks on the glass side and capillary action draws the adhesive through the crack. Because there is no consistent contact with a flat surface on the emulsion side, the capillary action stops at the emulsion side, keeping the edges of the cracks on that side nice and neat. All of the pieces were assembled dry first. After all pieces were aligned, adhesive was administered.
After the adhesive in the cracks was dry, the glass-side surface was cleaned gently with solvents to remove any adhesive residue from the edge of the cracks.
The adhesive used for this repair was Acryloid B-72, a non-proprietary acrylic adhesive with known aging properties and good long-term stability. Acryloid B-72 can be dissolved in many different organic solvents. In this case, toluene was used, because it has a relatively slower drying time, which allows more time for the solvated adhesive to flow into the cracks before drying. Various concentrations were tested until full penetration of a crack in a test piece of glass was achieved (Fig. 7).
After all the pieces had been assembled and adhered in place, the plate could be lifted and handled gently. But due to the larger size of the plate and the amount of cracking, additional support would be needed for long-term care and access. Also, there were small losses in areas in the center of the cracking, which left jagged edges exposed. For these two reasons, it was decided that a pressuremount would be the best way to protect the plate and the patron.
Two new sheets of glass, cut to the same dimensions as the negative, were cleaned and placed on either side of the repaired plate. All four edges were taped to seal the package and allow for easy handling. The plate will be transferred to a member of our Preservation team for digitization with the rest of the collection.
For more information on this collection, see the Ernest Crocker Fonds (PR-1348) on the BC Archives website.
The techniques for repair discussed in this blog were based on the methods conveyed by Katherine Whitman, conservator of photographs for the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) at a workshop hosted by the AGO in October 2018. My attendance at that workshop was generously sponsored by the Koerner Conservation Initiatives Fund through the AGO and the Royal BC Museum. I am also grateful for the ongoing communications with Katherine Whitman in devising a treatment for this plate.
Thank you to Joel Blaicher, exhibits fabricator for the Royal BC Museum, for building the support that was used in this treatment. Thanks also to Rob Anderson, lighting and AV specialist for the Royal BC Museum, for his assistance in creating a time-lapse video of this treatment.
Frank Stanley Martin was a Victoria jeweller who made a hobby of photographing the city in the 1950s and 60s. He was also pretty good about identifying the photographs which makes the work of an archivist much easier. A small batch of his photographs were donated to the BC Archives in 1985 and I recently did a fonds description for them, pulling together the items that had been described and sometimes digitized. My colleague Chantaal, kindly digitized the ones that had a descriptive record but no image attached. I went back to the original photographs and made sure they had the titles and information that Martin had written on the back of each one.
I enjoyed looking at these photographs, particularly because Victoria is undergoing such a change right now. There are cranes, scaffolds and building sites everywhere and sometimes its difficult to remember what the city streets looked like just a few decades ago. You can see the fonds description for PR-2382 and the 62 digitized images here
I like this one because this photograph taken at the corner of Government and Humboldt St. could have been taken last week.
In 2006, the “Spirit bear” was adopted as the provincial mammal of British Columbia.
The term “Spirit Bear” has to a large extent been overused as a media hype word. It has often been misinterpreted as a direct aboriginal name of a unique type or species of bear. The circular movement of information between indigenous peoples and popular writers, have created some modern myths such as comments that white bears, also referred to as “ghost bears” were not traditionally hunted. Today they are referred to as a subspecies of black bear called Ursus americanus kermodei.
The environmental movement of the western world has over-simplified the portrayal of all white coloured black bears by using them as a symbol of political opposition to the destruction of our valuable ecosystems. In a positive way this has produced an expanded awareness of the role of bears in the forest eco-systems of British Columbia and resulted in the protection of some of our valuable habitats. However, we must see the protection of habitats and the genetic diversity of all plants and animals as important. Discussions need to expand beyond what we call “endangered species” to what we think of as “common animals” that have, and continue to be, extirpated from many parts of our Province. Caribou (which are reindeer) once expanded over large areas of the Interior of the Province. It should not be necessary to find ones with red noses to justify saving their habitat.
The Strategic Plan for our planets biodiversity developed by participants to the 2010 Convention on Biological diversity adopted 20 targets. Target 11 involves making 17% of land and inland waters and 10% of coastal and marine areas into conservation areas (Piero et al 2019). By world standards British Columbia is a leader in developing conservation areas like the Great Bear Rain Forest. However, as Piero and colleges emphasize, we cannot use square kilometers as a measure of success but need to document the biodiversity impacts of conservation areas. By placing a focus on protecting white coloured black bears we need to understand what effect are we having on the bigger long term picture of the genetic diversity of black bears.
The white fur coloration in bears is caused by a single recessive gene called Mc1r, a melanocortin 1 receptor which is involved in melanin production. Melanin is primarily responsible for the pigmentation of the skin, hair and eyes of humans and other animals. The chemistry involved here is called melanogenesis. The Mc1r gene produces enzymes such as tyrosinase which play an important role in melanin synthesis. The same chemical process is used today in making tooth whiteners, where chemicals are used to suppress the tyrosinase enzyme and stop the production of colouration (see Reimchen and Klinka 2017; Hedrick and Ritland 2011; Klinka and Reimchen 2009; Marshall and Ritland 2002; Ritland et. al. 2001).
The chemistry produced by this gene causes some bears fur to be white or black. If both a female and male have the recessive Mc1r gene, one of their four offspring will have white hair and two of them will have recessive genes for white hair. A white furred bear mating with a bear with the recessive gene will have two white bears and two with the recessive gene. There are other genes related to thyroid hormone production that create combinations of white and black fur colours in bears (see Crockford 2006; 2003).
There is currently discussion as to how one uses genetics (with or without obviously physical morphology) to define an animal subspecies. It is likely there are genes with currently unrecognized functions that are far more important for the survival of black bears than genes that affect hair colour. Today we could target and edit out the single gene that produces the tyrosinase enzyme that affects pigmentation, and make all black bears white albinos if we choose to. Responsible people, of course, would not do this, but it emphasizes how such minute genetic differences can affect cultural attitudes and land use policies that affect species diversity and the future of animal and human survival.
The flogging of the name “spirit bear” stems out of activities of the early 1900s when there was an over-abundance of new species and sub-species of bears named on the bases of sometimes flimsy physical evidence (see Merriman 1918; Holzworth 1930). In 1905, we saw the naming and promotion of black bears with the recessive genes for white fur being mistakenly given status as a separate species, Ursus kermodei – after the Provincial Museum director Francis (Frank) Kermode.
White coloured bears were documented in Northwestern North America as early as 1805, during the Louis and Clark expedition. In the 19th century British Columbia Indigenous people were known to bring in white bear skins to fur traders. Mayor Findlay of Vancouver wrote about his observations of white bear skins: “I have in my possession a skin which I secured in 1896. In Bella Bella in the store of John Clay, five skins at one time, brought there by the Bella Bella Indians of Princes Royal Island. I have at other times seen skins of this bear in Robert Cunningham’s store at Port Essington, as well as one or two in cannery stores in Rivers Inlet” (Daily Colonist Nov. 23, 1912, p. 6).
It was Robert Cunningham, of Port Essington, who previous to 1904, provided Francis Kermode of the Provincial Museum with the first white furred bear specimens which included a mother and two cubs. These were mounted at different times in two museum display cases seen in figure 2a&b. It was reported that Kermode was “at a loss to classify it” and sent the skin of a female bear to Dr. W.T. Hornady, the director of the New York Zoo. Hornaday was in Victoria in 1900, where he “was led to believe that such a white bear existed by the discovery of a skin at the premises of J. Boscowitz” (Daily Colonist 1905; 1925). The mother bear and cubs were mounted specimens that were not catalogued into the Museum collection at the time they were received. The Provincial Museum’s 1909 Natural History & Ethnology Catalogue, in referring to the Ursus Kermodei (Hornaday) notes that: “now the species is represented by a group of five specimens” (1909:18). This reference seems to refer only to those five mounted bears shown in the display case in the same publication. At this time only four specimens had received catalogue numbers, which did not seem to include one or two of these mounted bears. The two cubs shown in the exhibit case were later given catalogue numbers RBCM 020317 and RBCM 020318.
The Museum received a male partial skull and white skin of a bear from Gribbell Island in May of 1904 (RBCM 001369). This became the type specimen for what was later seen as a species and then a sub-species. Other specimens of white coloured black bears in the Royal B.C. Museum collection include another two from Gribbell Island. One was the skull of an immature bear (RBCM 001371) collected May 22, 1906 and the other a mandible of a young bear (001638) collected May 28, 1907. Two specimens were later collected from Princess Royal Island, an adult skull (001367) collected on June 1, 1908 and an adult male skull and skin (001370) collected May 22, 1910. Future DNA analysis will be needed to match a few of the skins with the other catalogued remains.
In 1911, “One whole specimen Kermode’s white bear” was shipped to Vienna Austria for an exhibit at the international Sportman’s Show which was reported on by B.C. hunter Warburton Pike (Daily Colonist 1911). This resulted in an international interest in acquiring specimens of the white bear. In 1912, the Victoria Daily Colonist reported that Dr. French of Washington was willing to pay $250 for a live white bear (Daily Colonist 1912b).
A live six month old white colored black bear was captured on Prince Royal Island in 1924, by Indigenous people and brought to Ocean Falls where it was sold to a Virginian, O.W. Flowers for $60. Flowers brought the bear to Powel River and then to Vancouver. It was seized by the Game Commission in Vancouver and sent to Kermode in Victoria. It was put into a cage in Beacon Hill Park on July 31, 1924 (figure 3). It remained in the Park until it died in December 1948. The skull and skin where put in the Provincial Museum collection on December 5, 1924 (RBCM 005526).
Much later two specimens came to the RBCM from the Terrace area, an immature male skin and skeleton collected in September 1, 1974 (RBCM 009047) and a skin, skull and hyoid bones collected in May 1985 (RBCM 016007). A specimen from the Penticton Game Farm that died at the age of 19 years was acquired on January 26 1990 (018558).
More recent summaries based on morphological studies have defined five subspecies of black bears in British Columbia: ursus americanus altifrontalis, ursus americanus carlottae, ursus americanus cinnamonum, ursus americanus kermodei and ursus americanus vancourveri (Hatler et. al. 2008). Ongoing DNA studies have, so far, identified three subcontinental clusters (lineages or haplogroups), which are further divided into nine geographic regions. The Western genetic population cluster included the region from western Alaska along the Pacific Coast to the American Southwest (Puckett et. al. 2015). More extensive whole genome research will be needed to gain a better understanding of the range of genetic diversity and the extent of the various recessive genes found in black bears in British Columbia.
In traditional societies, indigenous people were very aware of the complex physical and behavioral diversity of animals. The term “Spirit bear” is a little more complex in its meaning than what is generally presented in the media. Indigenous peoples knew that this was a variation of the black bear. If we were to go back in time and observe Indigenous bear hunters we would probably label them all – to use the modern jargon – as “bear whisperers”. Before the introduction of the rifle, bears were hunted in their winter dens and caught in dead fall traps (see appendix 2. Bear Traps and Indigenous Laws Pertaining to Bear Hunting). Detailed knowledge of bear behavior was crucial for survival. First or second hand observations about bears by Indigenous peoples are scattered through the ethnographic and historic literature. A selection will be presented here that make reference to the complexity of bear fur colours and the in depth relationship of Indigenous peoples with all bears.
The term Moksgm’ol (different ways of writing it) which can be interpreted as “spirit bear” is used in a Tsimshian Raven creation story. Various Tsimshian and Niska families have held family crests with names translated as “white bear”; “white grizzly”; “robe of white bear”; “hat of white bear”; “grizzly of winter”; “robe of white breast [of bear]”. There are both grizzly and black bears with various degrees of white as well as albino bears (Sapir 1915). Figure 4, shows a person dressed in a bear costume in a theatrical ceremony that demonstrates the alliance of the Fort Wrangell Tlingit chief Shakes with the bear family from whom he traces his descent (Niblack 1888).
Tlingit and Tsimshian stories mention bears with unusual white markings. The “Story of the White-faced Bear”, is about a bear that was once a human who had killed too many bears. As a bear he had killed many humans. He was considered invincible: “Each time that he kills a man he tears him, and examines him carefully, as if he is searching for some marks on his body. He is unlike other bears, in that his head and feet are white” (Golder 1907).
Some of these stories are told as more recent historic events and others in the context of a man marrying a bear-woman or a woman marrying a bear-man in the distant past. A Tsimshian story relates how their clan is descended from the survivors of a great flood – a woman and a bear with white fur. A Tlingit hunter killed a bear with a “white furred belly”, which after he skinned it, turned into a woman who helped him (Swanton 1908:228-229). Stories of bears transforming themselves into humans and marring humans are common – such as the story told by Tsimshian, Henry Tate (Maud 1993) or the story told by indigenous peoples of Hartley Bay of a marriage to a female bear with a “very white belly’ (Cove and McDonald 1987).
In 1972, I had discussions with the late Leo Taku Jack (1909-1979) of Atlin, who told me about the variations in white markings on the belly, sides and necks of black bears that he hunted along the Nakina and Taku rivers in the 1930s to 1950s period (see figure 5).
Indigenous bear hunters were good observers and aware that black bears came in variations of browns and various degrees of creamy white, as well as the white of albinos. When I talked to the Bella Coola bear hunter, Clayton Mack in 1969, he would specify white markings on grizzly bears when telling stories of hunting episodes. This seemed to be a way of remembering events surrounding individual bears.
Individual bears might be noted in stories because of their distinct colour patterns – but they were all recognized as being black bears (Ursus americanus) or grizzly bears (Ursus horribilis) and noted as such in the various indigenous languages. Because of genetic variation there is a greater propensity for certain colour variations to be located in specific regions. Pale blue-grey, coloured individuals of a black bear litter were more common near glaciers in the area from Mount Saint Elias to the Skeena River. Hunters often called these “glacial bears”. George Emmons recorded observations of Tlingit hunters in the 1890s. The Tlingit called all black bears “tseek” but recognized colour phases. They called glacier bears “klate-utardy-seek or klate-ukth-tseek” meaning “snow like black bear” or “tseek noon” meaning “grey black bear” (Emmons 1991:133).
Based on hunter’s accounts and fur trade records, the all white black bears were once more widely distributed along the mountains of the mainland coast from the Skeena River to the Bella Coola regions but have since been extirpated from much of the area. White bear skins were rarer and therefore more highly valued. Cultural selection in the past may have played a role in reducing the gene pool that allowed for the recessive genes to take affect and produce more white furred bears in some areas.
It appears from early written accounts that there were a greater occurrence of regional colour and or size variants of both black and grizzly bears (see appendix I). Over hunting in the last one hundred and fifty years may have exterminated some of these regional genetic variants. In 1909, Richard Pocock presents the state of knowledge of non-indigenous peoples about bears of the northern coast forests:
“The White bear (Ursus Kermodei), a few specimens of which have been shot at points along the extreme northern coast, are confined to a very limited area; but a similar variety, ranging in colour from almost pure white to a dirty grey, are seem or shot occasionally in the Western Cascades from Bella Coola north to Taku River, including the lower reaches of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine rivers. These bears are small in size, and called by the various names of white bear, rock bear, white rock bear, blue bear, glacier bear and ice bear” (Pocock 1909).
Pike notes in referring to “Ursus Kermoda” in 1910, that: “this little white bear has so far been found only in that part of the coast range of mountains which lies immediately South of the Skeena River and on the adjacent islands known as Gribbell and Princess Royal Islands, and perhaps a dozen specimens in all are to be seen in the museums of North America. It has lately been classified by American naturalists as an entirely distinct species of bear; but there is still no record of any white man having seen this animal in the flesh, although now and then an Indian brings in a skin to one of the small trading posts of the mouth of the Skeena.” (Pike 1910)..
Holzworth, while on Admiralty Island in 1928, noted that an elderly Indigenous person told him of “a very peculiar type of bear, a dark brown with a yellow stripe which runs all the way down its sides from the shoulders to the rump, about four inches either side of the back bone. He saw two or three hides himself, all from the same locality on Admiralty Island. They were killed by Anderson a white man about fifteen years ago, who found them in the interior of the northern section of the island. An Indian had killed two or three similar ones on Chichagof Isle” (Holzworth 1930:73-74).
It was generally believed by indigenous peoples that the spirit of a bear (as with other animals) could be acquired as a guardian spirit. Bear spirits were considered one of the more powerful spirits. Clan crests, with social and economic rights, are linked to these early encounters between humans and bears.
The bear hunter had to purify himself by bathing and fasting. It was important for the hunter to refrain from announcing that he was going bear hunting for it was believed that a bear could hear and understand everything that humans said and be forewarned of its approaching death. When a man killed a bear he and those with him painted their faces and sang a bear song or prayed to the bear as a way of appeasing or thanking it for allowing itself to be killed. When being butchered it was believed that the bear could sing through the body of the hunter. Sometimes certain parts of the black bear would be ritually burned during a prayer ceremony (see Swanton 1908:228-229; Swanton 1905:94-95).
In 1970, I was told by the late Jack Koster of Canoe Creek a story of an experience of his father in the 1920s when he went hunting with an Indigenous uncle who was an old bear hunter from the Canoe Creek Reserve. After the bear was killed, the old hunter chanted a prayer and “cut off the tip of the nose and tongue and took out the bear’s eyes and eardrums to bury together. They believed that a bear’s spirit would return in the form of a bad man to seek revenge. This was necessary to eliminate the senses so the bear – as the Indians said – ‘will not find me again’.”
The importance of bears in the cultures of Siberia and their similarity to those of cultures of the New World was brought to the forefront of academic discourse by the publication of A.I. Hallowell on Bear Ceremonialism in the Northern Hemisphere (Hallowell 1926).
On the Eastern Pacific Coast bear imagery can be seen on everything from monumental poles and house screens, to boxes, rattles and combs. These physical objects are a manifestation of a complex way of life that involves Indigenous beliefs and practices. Bears have played a role in the ceremonialism and magico-religous practices of human cultures across the northern forests of the world for thousands of years.
Indigenous traditions suggest that bears are the shamans of the animal world. Skinned bears resemble humans. On the northern coast bears are considered ancestors due to the earlier encounters, and sometimes resulting marriages, between transforming bears and humans. Clan crests, with social and economic rights, are linked to these early encounters between humans and bears (for example see: Swanton 1908:228-229; Swanton 1905:94-95) .
On the west coast of Vancouver Island, the butchered remains of bears are commonly found in cave and rock shelter sites. One recorded site, that was briefly visited, is reported to have contained 22 bear skulls in four piles. Bears appear to have been, at least, partially butchered in these more remote locations away from village sites (Keddie 1994). There are still stories to be told about human-bear relationships waiting to be revealed by archaeology.
Black bears with the genetic variants that produce white or partly white furred bears are believed by indigenous peoples to have special spirit powers – but so do all bears. Bears that have unusual markings and more extensive white in their fur may be seen as being of special significance because they occur more rarely. Indigenous peoples, however, did not see all white bears as a separate and distinct species and give them distinct names meaning “spirit bear”. Older traditions show that white markings allowed individual bears to be identified, and that indigenous understanding was much more complex than that presented in the media.
Non-indigenous people from the cities related to bears in the 1950s in a way that we would find appalling by current standards (see appendix 3). The spotting of white coloured “Spirit bears” or “Ghost bears” is increasingly become a focus of the Tourist industry and sometimes the cause of a romanticized view of the natural world. We need to step back and think about how this behavior will be looked upon 50 years into the future
David Thompson, while travelling in western Canada in the 1798-1807 time period noted that: “The only bears of this country are the small black Bear, with a chance yellow Bear, this latter has a fine fur and trades for three Beavers in barter, when full grown” (Thompson 2009:122). He notes that the black furred bears trade for one or two Beaver skins depending on their size. As Thompson discusses the grizzly bear elsewhere, it appears he is referring here to the “yellow Bear” as a variation of the black bear.
Daniel Harmon was an early observer of bears in the Interior of B.C. In 1810, around Ft. St. James, he observes: “The brown and black bear differ little, excepting in their colour. The hair of the former is much finer than that of the latter. They usually flee from a human being. …The brown and the black bear, climb trees, which the grey, never does. Their flesh is not considered so pleasant food as the of the moose, buffalo or deer; but their oil is highly valued by the Natives, as it constitutes an article of their feasts, and serves, also, to oil their bodies, and other things. Occasionally, a bear is found, the colour of which is like that of a white sheep, and the hair is much longer than that of the other kinds which have been mentioned; though in other respects, it differs not at all from the black bears.” (Lamb 1957:260).
Black, travelling on a branch of the upper Stikine River on August 3, 1824, with an Indigenous Slave notes bears of a pale white colour. Black explains “there are Bears, Black, blue or Grizzly & brown of different shades & they all appear large, the Old Slave is by no means inclined to attach them, the other day Mr. Manson & the old Slave in Company saw two Bears of a pale white colour, but the old Gentleman would not consent to attach them, such is the Idea of these Indians regarding Bears” (Rich 1955:153).
Crompton, who travelled extensively in B.C. in the mid 19th century stated: “The black bear is subject occasionally to albinism like most for the other animals on this coast thus I have seen white (black) bears, white otters, white racoons, white martins and white minks. The Indians set a great value on the white bear skin & I was shown one which was supposed to be the paternal originator of the Tsimpsean race after the flood for their tradition of the deluge is that only a woman & a bear were saved on a mountain & that from this peculiar miscegenation the Tshimsean race arose.” (Crompton 1879:51).
Frederica De Laguna acquired information from both Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in the territories of Tlingit peoples in the 1930s to 1950s, which shows the confusion of bear descriptions at the time: “The Yakutat people; face a variety of large brown bears and grizzlies. These have never been classified to the satisfaction of biologists, but for the native all these large species are “the bear” (xuts; Boas, 1917, p. 158, xuts), the prize of the intrepid hunter and an important sib crest. The very large, dark grizzed Dall brown bear, Ursus dalli, lives northeast of Yakutat Bay, especially along the Malaspin Glacier. The forester, Jay Williams (1952:138),
reports this huge bear at Lituya Bay, it may be another variety, or there may be a break in its distribution between Yaktat and Lituya Bays. Apparently confined to the south-eastern side of Yakutat Bay is the Yakutat grizzly, U.nortoni, a large true grizzly with yellowish or golden brown had and dark brown rump and legs, the whole looking whitish from a distance. It seems to range as far south as Lituay Bay (Williams, 1952:138). Also known at Yakutat is the giant brown bear of Kodiak, the Alaska Peninsula and Prince William sound, U. Middendorffi. The Alsek, U. Orgiloides, a cream coloured medium sized bear with long narrow skull, ranges the foreland east of Yakutat, especially along the Ahrnklin, Italia, and Alsek Rivers. It is not known whether this bear, or the closely related Glacier Bay grizzly, U. Orgilos, is the form found at Lituya Bay. Between Cross Sound and the Alsek delta is the large Townsend grizzly, U. Townsendi, the exact range of which is undefined.
The black bear (sik), found along the coastal glaciers form Lituya Bay (or Cross Sound) northward to the eastern edge of Prince William Sound or Cape Saint Elias, is very much smaller than the ordinary American black bear. Furthermore, in addition to the usual black and brownish colors, many from the same litter are blue-gray or maltese. These are called glacier bears, U. Americanus emmonsii, formerly Euarctos emmonsee or Ursus glacialis. The Indians make no distinctions, as far as I know, between the color variants, unless what Boas (1891:174) recorded as the “polar bear” (caq, i.e., cax) is really the blueish glacier bear. A few bones of the black bear were found in the site of Knight Island.” (Laguna 1972:36-37).
Swanton (1905:58-69) was told the story of a bear hunter and his traps by a Haida, Jimmy Sterling. In telling the story he gets a detailed description of how the traps are constructed. Haida names were provided for each part of the deadfall trap.
In the Haida bear path deadfall trap shown in figure 9b, the letters indicate: A- Four posts, two on each side of the bear trail. B-Short cross posts tying each set of vertical posts together. C- Between the posts lays a post on the ground. D- The deadfall log that drops on the bear. E- The suspended end of the deadfall post is held by a loop which passes over a short stick E. Stick E is supported by post B. A rope is fastened to the inner end of stick E and carried down to a notched in stick F which is tied to a stake pounded into the ground on one side of the bear trail. Other cords G are fastened across the two front posts and down to the same loop. The bear steps over the log and comes against these latter cords causing the rope to slip out of the notch and the deadfall log to fall (Swanton 1905:6).
Koppert gives one of the better explanations of the use, design and traditional laws around the subject of bear traps or “Chim mis yek ”. Koppert was informed that, if one eats “bear meat or venison, one must abstain for two months from eating fish, especially salmon and halibut”.
In regard to the hunting grounds of bears: “There are no special districts set aside for hunting. Traps are set in places frequented by the animals. An Indian has full right to an animal trail as long as his traps are there. Once he removes his trap, any other Indian may put his trap there and claim all the animals on the trail. An exception to this law is made with regard to the bear trails. The bears are a very valuable animal to the Indians, and the trail is, therefore, owned by the individual whether he has his trap set or not. No one may hunt on such ‘roads’, even though no trap is set. Such bear trails, as well as creeks in which certain Indians have the sole right to fish with trap-boxes, are called ha-how- thle, meaning: belonging to so and so”. These (ha- how- thle) are inherited in the same manner as “house grounds”. They may, however, be ‘leased’, or given away and be lost forever to the family and descendants. A traveller may not take or capture an animal if traps are set in the vicinity.
Koppert describes how bears are trapped in the following manner: “poles driven closely together into the ground near a stream where the bears follow the creek. These poles are about four feet high and arranged in a semi-circle with a diameter of about three feet [See Fig. 10]. The top and sides are covered with branches and sod to make the trap and ‘cave’ appear natural and to make the interior dark. The entrance, at the center of the semi-circle, is just large enough to admit the head and shoulders of the bear. Over the entrance are erected two uprights and a cross-piece. Resting on this cross-piece and projecting about six inches, is a pole reaching back to the farther end of the ‘cave’. A strong string is tied to the inner end of the pole and let down into the ‘cave’; three stakes are driven into the ground at the back of the ‘cave’; to the tops of these stakes and lashed to cross-pieces forming a V …the V is closed by a stick held in place by the pull on the cord which in turn is tied on the ‘tripper’; the ‘tripper’ suspends the weighted log at the entrance of the ‘cave’. To the same stick, a stout string is tied at the end of which is the bait of salmon. Above the entrance, a log is suspended by a thong from the end of the pole resting on the cross-piece. The log at the other end has a dozen or more other logs resting on the top of it as well as heavy stones. When the bear snatches the fish he releases the string that suspends the weighted log over the entrance, and is crushed under the weight of the fallen log. This effective dead-fall is still commonly used. It either kills the bear outright or so cripples him that he cannot run away.” (Koppert 1910:78-80).
In the type of trap shown in figure 10, the bear sticks its head into the cave-like structure and pulls the bait on the rope. The rope pulls a short post out from the edge of a rectangular structure that is holding down, by a rope, one end of a long pole that extends across the cave and over a post across the entrance to the cave. The other end of this post is tied to the large heavy deadfall log. The release of distant end of the long post causes it to flip up over the entrance post causing the deadfall log to come crashing down on the bear.
Father Morice wrote how the Carrier of the Interior began to ritually prepare “a full month previous to the settling of his snares. During all that time he could not drink from the same vessel as his wife, but had to use a special birch bark drinking cup. The second half of the penitential month was employed in preparing his snares. The omission of these observances was believed to cause the escape of the game after it had been snared. To further allure it into the snares he was making, the hunter used to eat the root of a species of heracleum (tse’le’p in Carrier) of which the black bear is said to be especially fond. Sometimes he would chew and squirt it up with water exclaiming at the same time: Nyustluh! May I snare you! Once a bear, or indeed any animal, had been secured, it was never allowed to pass a night in its entirety, but must have some limb, hind or fore paws, cut off, as a means of pacifying its fellows irritated by its killing. …The skulls of bears whose flesh had been eaten up are even to-day invariably stuck on a stick or broken branch of a tree. But the aboriginals fail to give any reason for this practice (Morice 1893:107-108).
In the type of deadfall trap in figure 12, the bear crawls part way into the wooden structure to get the bait on the inner end of a bait stick. The outer end of this bait stick has resting on it a short post holding up the deadfall log. This upright support post is in a notch on the bait post. When the bear swings the bait post around the short upright support post slips out of its notch and causes the deadfall log to crash down.
In the 1950s bears were often seen as entertainment animals with little understanding of their relationship to their natural habitat. As bears lost their fear of humans they mingled together (see figure 13). When I camped in Banff and Jasper as a child it was common to see large line-ups of cars on the highway feeding bears. Ice cream cones were their favorite treat. My father would drive us to the local open garbage dumps where large number of bears came at dusk (figure 14a&b). In one incident a large bear climbed up onto the front of our car and looked at us through the windshield. My father (not a “bear whisperer”) blasted his car horn causing him to be required to explain later how his company car received some very large scrape marks down its entire front. We know today that feeding of wild bears usually ends in them having to be shot. We need to continually educate people not to do this.
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Crockford, Susan J. 2006. Ryths of Life: Thyroid Hormone and the Origin of Species. Trafford Publishing.
Crockford, Susan J. 2003. Thyroid hormone phenotypes and hominid evolution: a new paradigm implicates pulsatile thyroid hormone secretion in speciation and adaptation changes. International Journal of Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A 135(1):105-129.
Crompton, Pym Nevins. 1879. RBCM Archives Additional Manuscript 2778. Natural History, pages 50-52.
Daily Colonist. 1911. Reports on Game Exhibit at Vienna. March 9:15.
Daily Colonist. 1912a. Ursus Kermodei. November 23:6.
Daily Colonist. 1912b. Will Pay $250 For A Kermode Cream Bear. Nov. 17.
Daily Colonist. 1905. Museum Curator Gets High Honors. February 1:9.
Daily Colonist. 1925. White Bears Capture Ends Savants Dispute. January 14:5.
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Emmons, George Thornton. 1911. The Tahltan Indians. University of Pennsylvania. The Museum Anthropological Publications, Vol. IV, No.1. Philadelphia.
Golder, F. A. 1907. A Kadiak Island Story: The White-Faced Bear. Journal of American Folk-Lore. Vol. XX. No. LXXIX, Oct. to Dec. pp. 296-299.
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I recently came across a small batch of letters while I was looking for something else. The letters, described as PR-1615, were to Matilda John of Victoria. They were written to her in 1899 and 1900 by her young boyfriend Harold Penn Wilson as he traveled from Victoria to Bennett and later Atlin. Wilson worked for the Merchants Bank of Halifax and had been sent to their new office in Bennett. The letters are mostly interesting in how they describe the journey from Vancouver to Bennett, and what it was like to live in the North at the turn of the century for a young bank clerk. But there is also some gentle romance; Harold asked Mattie for a lock of her hair and claims that he is wearing her “badge”. Harold was 19 and Mattie was about 16.
Harold and Matilda never married, he eventually married someone else in Prince Rupert, and died back in Victoria in 1975. I haven’t been able to find out anything about Matilda. There is a photograph of a Matilda John in our portrait files which may be her. She is dressed in what looks like a nurse’s uniform.
Matilda kept the letters and they made their way to the Archives at some point. They are quite fragile so they have been digitized by the Preservation team and now anyone can read them by clicking on the letter showing in the description and downloading the pdf file.
Last year I came across an interesting document. It is a Memorandum of Cooperation between British Columbia and the State of Washington and was signed in July 1972 by Premier W.A.C. Bennett and the Governor of Washington, Daniel J. Evans. It is a simply written two-page document outlining the desires of both parties to protect the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound and their adjacent waters from oil spills.
The document came to the BC Archives in 1973, from the Office of the Deputy Provincial Secretary and had been stored offsite with just a control number.
I rehoused it and made a descriptive record and recently our preservation team scanned it at my request. Now anyone can read the document by clicking on the image and downloading the pdf, GR-0160
Along with some 1977 photographs of oil spill experiments, it offers a glimpse into some of the prevailing issues in that decade.
Don’t say that too quickly.
I recently enjoyed looking through an old photograph album that was given to the Provincial Library and Archives in December 1937. The album was donated by Major Harold Brown, Managing Director of the Union Steamship Co. Provincial Librarian W. Kaye Lamb noted that the photographs were probably taken around 1924-1925.
We don’t know why Brown created the album, maybe it was useful to have photographs of the Union Steamship Co. ships (and others) to hand when doing business.
Over the years we have scanned about 147 of the 250 photographs in the album. They can be viewed online with their description MS-3079.
I am interested in the ones that show some kind of port activity like this one of the tug Helac and the Kaga Maru at what looks like the Vancouver Harbour.
But this one is quite sad, it’s the Toyama Maru in Vancouver Harbour. Twenty years later it would be sunk by the USS Sturgeon, killing over 5000 Japanese soldiers and sailors.
Saturday was International Archives Day. This year’s theme is Governance, Memory, and Heritage. It’s a broad subject, but it really covers the essence of what we do.
Part of my job involves giving tours of the BC Archives, often to groups of people that have never used an archives or considered doing archival research. In my 10 minute “Archives 101” introduction I start with one of the main tenants of why we keep records: because archives are a mainstay of democratic governance. Embedded in democracy is the right of the people to access information about themselves and their government. In theory we keep about 5% of all the records created by government, but that small percentage should capture the good stuff: decision making documents, policies, annual reports, and other summary records that illustrate what a particular government office was doing at a moment in time.
Government records are great for giving an overview of society, but they can be somewhat dry – and so much of society operates outside of government. For this reason, the BC Archives long ago adopted a “total archives” approach, seeking to fill in the gaps in the record by acquiring the records of individuals, families, businesses, and organizations whose impact was provincial in scope. Of course, deciding what records fit this mandate is subjective, and institutional interests or priorities can be evident in collecting practices over time. Ensuring that the spectrum of humanity and experiences in BC are reflected in the archives is a challenge, and we must continually evaluate the work that we do, recognizing that there will always be silences in the record, and that often what we don’t find in the archives is as important as what we do find.
One thing you can be sure to find in the archives is variety. From the people and the places described, to the format that the information is found, there is more to the archives than most people expect. A record is any recorded information: textual (written records), cartographic (maps, plans, architectural drawings), audio-visual (sound recordings and moving picture recordings), graphic (photographs, paintings, drawings and prints). For International Archives Day, we wanted to highlight a few of our diverse collections. But how can we choose among the thousands of series? I’ve selected a few today, but the @BCArchives twitter account will continue to highlight our records by tweeting a “Featured Collection” twice a month from now on. Although some of what we share may have restrictions on access, we hope they give a sense of the fascinating information found in the stacks at the Archives!
GR 3571 – Premier’s Correspondence. 131 m textual, photos, audio, ephemera. These records cover the period from 1974 to 2008 and document ordinary peoples’ reactions to “hot topic” issues of the day such as old growth forestry logging, RCMP officers wearing turbans, the tainted blood scandal, and government funding of AIDS medication. Included are some children’s letters and art from school groups. This collection is may have some restrictions on access.
PR-2086 Philip Borsos fonds. 22 metres of multimedia material including film reels, magnetic tracks, optical tracks, optical discs, video reels, videocassettes, audio reels, audio cassettes, audio compact discs, photographs, technical drawings, maps, prints, production boards and computer disks. Borsos was a filmmaker with a career spanning 1970 – 1995. The film projects chronicled include the documentary shorts “Cooperage”, “Spartree”, “Phase Three”, “Nails”, and “Racquetball”, and the features “The Grey Fox”, “One Magic Christmas”, “Bethune”, and “Far from Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog.” The fonds also includes Borsos’ journals and miscellaneous personal papers.
GR-3377 – Provincial Archives of British Columbia audio interviews, 1974-1992. Consists of 440 sound recordings. The series consists of oral history interviews recorded by staff members and research associates of the Provincial Archives of B.C. Major subject areas include: political history (especially the Coalition era, the W.A.C. Bennett years, and David Barrett’s NDP government); ethnic groups (including Chinese- and Japanese-Canadians); frontier and pioneer life; the forest industry; B.C. art and artists; the history of photography, filmmaking and radio broadcasting in the province; and the history of Victoria High School. This is one example of many oral history collections at the Archives!
GR-0419.34A – Attorney General documents, 17 (1887). 235 pages. File includes correspondence and other records relating to the so-called “Kootenai Uprising.” Records describe the dissatisfaction of the Ktunaxa with their assigned reserve lands; the accusation of two Indigenous men of murder, followed by the arrest of one called Kapla, and his subsequent escape with the assistance of Chief Isadore; and the deployment of the North-West Mounted Police, led by Sam Steele, to the region. Of particular note is a verbatim transcript of a speech delivered by Chief Isadore in July 1887.
PR-1380 – Frederick Dally fonds. 7 cm of textual records, 466 photographs, 1 map. Frederick Dally was born in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England in 1840. He arrived in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1862, on the China Clipper “Cyclone.” In March 1864, Dally leased a store at the corner of Fort and Government streets, and in 1866 he opened a photographic studio in Victoria. Between 1865 and 1870, he took extensive photographs around Vancouver Island and in the Cariboo District.
Last summer I worked with some really interesting records that illuminated the “Home Front” situation in British Columbia during World War 2.
Activity, particularly in the realm of Air Raid Precautions (ARP), was a curious mixture of official and civilian partnership. In 1942 Premier John Hart formed the Advisory Council, Provincial Civilian Protection Committee to assist and advice the official Provincial committee in the organization of air raid precautions in the province.
The Advisory Council took on a lot of administrative work in distributing grants to BC communities to buy equipment, train volunteers and disseminate information.
The records of the Committee are with the BC Archives and are described as GR-0268. Last year I found three boxes of missing records and added them to the series. The series description can be viewed here.
The records are open for access but are stored offsite so can take a few days to bring in.
There are also some photographic records created by the Advisory Committee which I had a lot of fun working with. One series, GR-3644, consists of 77 b&w photos of ARP activity. Our preservation unit has scanned these so they can now all be viewed online.
Some of my favourites include I-78009 (children learning to use respirators), I-78029 (volunteers receiving training), I-78002 (recruiting poster) and I-77973 (gas decontamination crew during practice)
Sometimes the most mundane tasks can lead to the most interesting discoveries.
One of those mundane but essential tasks is the compilation of inventories. My department wants to ensure that all of the colour transparencies and slides of our Paintings, Drawings, and Prints (PDP) collection have been scanned, uploaded and attached to their online descriptions in AtoM. We need an inventory to assist with this. It’s a pretty straightforward process: I look at the transparencies, list them by PDP number, determine if the image is already available in our digital repository, check that a description exists in AtoM, and see if a scan of the image already appears online. I have a good eye for detail, and I find a number of anomalies I’ll need to straighten out.
Then I lift a transparency to the light and I see a colourful image that reminds me of the folk art of Maud Lewis. I pick up another, and it is more of the same. These images I am holding in my hands are colourful, and with one or two there is a sense of whimsy. I think it is the sense of motion and the relationship between space and perspective that reminds me of Lewis’s work. Taken as a group, they are very detailed and technical–yet they are not technical drawings.
These transparencies make me eager to see the originals. A colleague and I go into the PDP vault and locate the container. We find that the colours in the originals are far brighter than those in the transparencies; they appear to be drawn in pencil crayon. The subject of all of the drawings is mining in British Columbia. We’re entranced by the originals—the passion the artist has for his subject is clearly evident.
While compiling his memoirs, David Henry Norcross (1901-1980) gathered his drawings of early mining into a collection he named “Recollections 1975.” The container holds more than the colour drawings. Within a brown binder anchored by a metal clip, there is photocopied material meant to act as an index or finding aid to the images. This material includes copies of the drawings and written commentary to accompany each image. This includes description of machinery, transport, mining tools, miners, mine sites, and history. On the copies of the drawings, Norcross has numbered certain points, which then correspond to points in the commentary. Unfortunately, the paper appears to be from an earlier form of photocopying, and the ink used on it has already faded. I’m glad that I’ve discovered this in time, and I make a digital preservation surrogate. Now, at least, we will have a stable preservation copy of the information provided by Norcross.
The man who made these drawings also wrote “I am not an artist” in the introduction to his material. I think that simple statement expresses one rationale for our PDP collection. It is a documentary art collection, where the pieces are acquired and preserved because of the visual record they provide of British Columbia’s past. This isn’t about pieces of fine art; it is about documenting specific times and places, people and activities.
Norcross was born in the Kootenay area; primarily lived and worked in the mines of British Columbia; and, ultimately, died in the Kootenay area searching for one of the mines he so loved. He was born in a Granite Siding homestead and began his mining career at age 16. He travelled throughout BC, working in approximately 50 mines. He was closely associated with the Chamber of Mines of Eastern BC and was widely recognized for his knowledge of mining in BC. His obituary noted that with his death, a vital link to the oral history of mining has been lost. But his knowledge of mining has not been lost; it exists here in the archives in his lovingly depicted scenes of mining. The Norcross collection is a wonderful set of drawings, created by an unknown artist who sought to document what he knew about the early years of mining in British Columbia.
When the Webster collection was transferred over to the BC Archives, a determination was made as to which episodes should have priority preservation. As this institution is primarily a holder of Government records, it seemed obvious to focus first and foremost on members of various levels of government.
A viewing of the top picks confirms this supposition. Premiers, Prime Ministers, Leaders of the opposition, mayors, opposition critics, ministers of the crown, and First nations leaders dominate the list.
A quick check shows that of the first 350 shows identified as important, over 200 were shows with political leaders both federal, provincial, first nations and municipal. Many of the rest were shows with people representing special interests trying to influence government with issues such as the environment, special needs, First Nations, unions, business interests, farming, prison reform, mental health, dominating that list.
It was only later that other shows were identified. Shows with authors, musicians, and topics of the day were all identified. We even discovered a person promoting the benefits of cod liver oil!
Now that about three quarters of the shows have been digitized, very little has disappeared through the cracks.
All these decisions were made based on various content lists that were provided with the collection.
Of course, not all shows were identified, and these were described in the listings as “unknown content.”
One of the final sweeps we did was to collect a large number of these undescribed shows and have them digitized as well. One of these episodes stood out.
As Dave Barrett prepared to leave the legislature, Jack Webster had what can best be described as an “exit interview.”
Luckily we had enough special funding to make the decision to have a look at this unknown content to see what was there.
Otherwise we may never have known that this conversation took place.
As we mourn his death, please enjoy this interview.
And remember the Archival mantra. Identify, describe, record!
Start of interview. Link
Dave Barrett’s view of his major achievements. Link
The humour clips Link
As we embrace the festive season, I find myself looking at the faces of young children and families as they discover the magic of Christmas. I see the joy and excitement they feel, and wish I could experience Christmas once more through a child’s eyes. Many of us try to capture the excitement in photographs and videos that we share with family and friends through social media.
In years past, these celebrations would have been captured in 16 mm or 8 mm home movies, some of which survive as treasured family artifacts. Some of these films may find their way into archives where they can be safely preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. I hope families will preserve today’s digital memories as they once preserved film footage.
Paul W. Billwiller was a mining engineer who lived and worked in Britannia Beach, BC. We are lucky to have his home movies in the BC Archives collection, especially because they include footage of a series of Christmas celebrations spanning the years 1946-1953. I would think this type of footage is relatively rare—the same annual event being filmed over several years with the same young boy. This video clip of edited excerpts from the home movies begins with young John Billwiller’s first Christmas in 1946. The family is enjoying their celebration and the new baby is propped up in a chair, surrounded by new toys and showered with attention. I suspect that this was the quietest Christmas for this family for a number of years! We see signs of the affluence of the post-war years, but also the relatively modest gifts that the family members receive: the new mother’s sweater held up for display, and (likely) a grandmother’s bottle of eau de toilette. There are shots of the tree, the festive dinner table resplendent with a golden turkey, and the suit jackets and ties worn by the men.
Three years later, it’s Christmas 1949, and we can revisit a toddler’s pleasure and excitement in opening the gaily wrapped gifts. (Oops, what happens here with John’s toy car?) By 1950, John is considerably more excited by the gift opening. He’s a young lad now—did you notice the smaller red table and child-sized chair? I wonder if John plays at this table when it isn’t holding Christmas presents. The train set must have been the earnest wish of many a young child; his has sliding doors on one car. John is fascinated as he watches the train travel along the track. But wait? Is this John’s father playing with the controls? Come on now, Dad, surely John gets a turn!
I think the pinnacle of holiday excitement occurs during Christmas 1953. John looks so excited that he doesn’t know which present to open first. He’s all smiles as he plays with some sort of pellet gun. And look at this—a set of junior carpentry tools, another much-wished-for gift. There are more gifts this year, including the requisite western cowboy’s holster and six-guns, a toy airplane, and a fancy pen. Yet another holiday dinner with the turkey as the guest of honour, escorted proudly to the table by Mother. And remember those festive paper hats—not too close to the candle flame, John!
We’re fortunate to have this material in our collection, preserved with care and attention, ready for future generations to access. It is a window to another time—one that is long past, but still able to evoke memories of our own family celebrations.
Home movies were special; they were different from the digital footage you shoot on your cell phone. The film was a finite resource. A reel of 8 mm film provided fifty feet, or about four minutes running time. The cost of film and processing placed certain restraints on amateur filmmakers, meaning that they would need to carefully plan out what they intended to capture on film. I think it resulted in home movies that were more tightly focused on relevant subjects. You can see that in several of the Billwiller clips—a shot of the tree, long enough to see it but not lingering, shots of gift opening, and of the turkey.
Free of the constraints imposed by the cost of materials and processing, today’s digital movies of family events, often shot on cell phones, seem more rambling and lacking in narrative focus. They don’t tell a story in the same way that a good film does. And, more worryingly, I wonder if today’s digital artifacts are treated differently than physical film. Countless families have stored reels of film for many decades, but how many people keep an old cell phone in a trunk or box in the attic, or migrate its contents to a hard drive? And even if the digital memories are kept, will they always be accessible? A piece of film, even if damaged, can still be held up to the light, and images appear. A digital file needs the right software and hardware to make it accessible. I am not arguing for film versus digital; I just think we should consider how we want to preserve our digital memories. Paul Billwiller’s footage of his son John’s very first Christmas in 1946 is now 71 years old. It tells us a lot about families, and celebrations, and culture. In 2088, will you be able to access your digital memories to remember those long-ago celebrations?
The Victoria Eaton Centre was built in 1989.
One of the conditions of construction was the promise to maintain the facades of the various buildings that were demolished to make way for the mall.
An example of this is located on the corner of Fort and Broad Street, where the Victoria Times Newspaper had their printing office. Next to it is the Winch building where I remember Eaton’s had a side entrance to their store.
One of the final holdouts was the McDonald’s Restaurant on Douglas Street. It was eventually relocated one block north on the corner of Douglas and View streets. A section of the closed Woolworths store was carved out to create the restaurant. The rest of the building was remodeled to house the Chapters book store.
As part of the reconstruction, eleven architectural elements were added to the building’s View Street façade.
Why were they placed there?
To find the answer, let’s look at the history of the north west corner of Fort and Douglas Street.
The best places to look for the answer are the Victoria fire insurance maps, the Victoria City directories and some historic photographs.
The 1911 Fire Insurance map Vol 1 shows the area on page 7.
Most of the block is developed, including the Times and Winch buildings on Fort Street.
On Douglas Street, The Royal Dairy is half way down the Block, next to the Victoria Theatre building which extends to View Street. There is a note on the plan that David Spencer Dry Goods operates in the north half of the block around and above the theatre.
The land on the corner of Fort and Douglas between the dairy and the Winch building contains several one story buildings and another more substantial one story building right on the corner.
The city directories add further information.
The 1912 city directory lists several tenants in the Times building.
The Winch building (640 Fort) appears to be empty, but
James Waites, locksmith (644 Fort)
Edward Jackson, shoemaker 646 Fort) and
Duncan Campbell, druggist (650 Fort) are listed.
Douglas Street is occupied by
Duncan Campbell, druggist (1100 Douglas) Note the double address for the corner
J H Tomlinsons, real estate (1106 Douglas)
Royal Dairy (1110 Douglas) and
Victoria Theatre (1112 and 1116 Douglas)
The Dairy is in a separate building. The theatre has it’s own separate entrances.
The entrance to Spencer’s store is around the corner at 637 View Street and 1119 Broad Street, both near that corner.
By 1920 it appears that the Theatre has closed and Spencer’s has taken over the theatre’s two Douglas Street entrances.
United Coop Association (1104 Douglas)
Dunfords Limited (1106 Douglas)
Royal Dairy (1110 Douglas)
David Spencer Ltd (1112 and 1116 Douglas)
On Fort Street, the Winch building is occupied by 28 tenants
The Square Deal Hardware company occupies the corner building (650 Fort)
The United Coop is wrapped around it at 646 Fort and 1104 Douglas.
The Shoemaker is now at 648 Fort
By 1929 the Winch building is renamed by its major tenant, The Christy Hall building (640 Fort) and The Square Deal Hardware Company is still in operation.
Douglas Street is occupied by
Madeline Silk Shops (1102 Douglas)
VH Watchorn (1104 Douglas)
Gordon Ellis Ltd (1104 Douglas)
Leather Goods Store (1106 Douglas)
Fletcher Brothers (a music store) (1110 Douglas) and
David Spencer (1112 Douglas), reduced now to a single address.
By 1940 more changes are made to the street addresses, reflecting more closely what they were when the mall was built in 1989.
In 1930, the buildings on the corner are replaced by the Kresge Department Store (1930, archt. G.A. McElroy of Windsor)
The new building has a unique Douglas Street address for the SS Kresge Company on the ground floor and a separate address for the upstairs tenants. (1100 and 1104)
Part of the new building includes Sobie Silk shops at 1106 and
Norman Cull optometrist is at 1108
The Dairy building now has two tenants
Sally Shop (1126) and
Fletcher Brothers (1130)
The main entrance to Spencer’s is now 1150 Douglas, which Eaton’s maintained as their store address and is now the street address for the present mall.
Across the Street are various businesses including
Film shop, photograph developer at 1107
Kelways Black Horse Café (1111)
George Straith men’s clothing store (1117)
This photograph shows Douglas Street during the mid 1940’s.
This detail shows the business signs from the buildings across the street from the Spencer’s store. You can make out some of the street signs for the businesses mentioned earlier.
This detail shows the entrance to Spencer’s Store and the Woolworth building in the background.
And at the very bottom left of the photograph is this design detail.
One of the tricks used in early twentieth century building design was to make the front of your building look taller than it really was.
This seems to be the case here.
Notice how the roofline of the Kresge building seems to match up with the old dairy building next door, But the Fletcher music sign is still visible in this photograph.
A similar example can be seen for what is now 1222 Douglas Street.
This picture shows the Kresge building more clearly. It very much is attempting to hide the fact that this building is only two stories tall by trying to be nearly as tall as the three story building beside it.
And look! There are those design elements used to rebuild the restaurant mentioned earlier.
All 20 of them.
Over time, The Kresge’s store became a Marks and Spencer’s.
And the McDonald’s? It moved into the former Dairy building that the Fletcher’s Music store and the Sally shop had occupied.
So the design elements on the new restaurant are actually from the building beside it.
As an aside, if you ever visit the mall have a look at the front entrance. Or go out on the food court veranda and explore there.
There are several images in the Archives collection that I used in the article, or noticed while researching this article
Looking towards the new restaurant
The Royal Dairy sign
Vernon Hotel (the Woolworth building)
The Woolworth store
View Street pre Kresge’s
Douglas Street taken south of Fort Street
Winter scene with Ritz Hotel
Guess where this is?
To compete with this?
The BC Packers film Salmon for Food (1945), directed by Oscar C. Burritt for Vancouver Motion Pictures Ltd., includes wonderful footage of female cannery workers. This is an industrial film, a sponsored film created for an external audience but not intended for theatrical release. The segment dealing with the female workers has a different atmosphere. There is more of the feel of documentary film, informing the viewer of the nature of the working lives of these women.
In order to keep the film clip to a reasonable length, I have chosen not to include footage of the male workers at the cannery. The faces of the men at work are primarily turned away from the camera, which focuses more on their hands. This has the effect of emphasizing the tasks and de-personalizing the male workers. The camera moves in more tightly on the faces of the women, highlighting their facial expressions; their hands are busy at work or gesturing as the women talk amongst themselves. We are invited to share their world of work in the salmon cannery. I think the feeling of engagement here moves Salmon for Food from strictly industrial film to social documentary.
I like to search for industrial film footage of women at work because women’s work generally was less likely to be documented; therefore footage of it is rarer. I’ve blogged previously about scenes of female laundry workers in Kamloops. That footage is quite different from the footage in Salmon for Food. The footage from White Way Laundry & Dry Cleaners depicts women working as individuals at separate machines, while the salmon cannery workers cluster in groups as they work together on the production line, and as they socialize. The camera work in the cannery film personalizes the workers, and brings the scene to life.
Unusually for an industrial film, this segment depicts the cannery facilities that create an environment attractive to women: a medical clinic with a nurse; a tea room for those restorative afternoon breaks; and on-site housing. It’s likely that these facilities were intended to attract and to retain the female workforce.
I expect this film would have been used primarily as a marketing tool for the salmon industry–but it survives today as a record of women’s role as labour in the industry. Curiously, however, the female cannery workers in this film all appear to be Caucasian. Historically, there were also First Nations and Asian women working in the canneries. Why are women of colour not included in this film? Was it a deliberate choice by the filmmakers or sponsors? Seventy years after the film was made, one can only speculate.
Digital frame grabs from Salmon for Food.
While working with archival documents it is always of interest to look at the other side of the page.
In today’s example, A person needed to publish several legal notices in the local paper.
Luckily, the entire newspaper page was submitted.
The following article appeared on the back of the page (The Province [Vancouver], Friday, 10 November, 1972.)
It describes how Pacific Western Airlines was able to ship live beef to Europe, because its cargo plane could return with a cargo of grapes which were now available throughout BC and Alberta.
The article also explains how the plane was cleaned, presumably before the grapes were loaded on to the plane.
The Wikipedia page for PWA mentions the following:
Boeing 707 equipment was added to the fleet in 1967… The addition of a cargo model Boeing 707 meant that livestock and perishables could now be carried all over the world, and the name Pacific Western became synonymous with “World Air Cargo”. The company aircraft visited more than 90 countries during this period of time.
Pacific Western operated a worldwide Boeing 707 cargo and passenger charter program until the last aircraft was sold in 1979.
This is in the era where container shipping was beginning its world wide adoption.
Air cargo was expanding during this time as well, when “Boeing launched the four engine 747, the first wide-body aircraft” in 1968.
As the newspaper report explains, transportation of people and goods only makes sense if the airplane is loaded to maximum capacity at all times.
This was the thinking behind the Triangular trading system of the 19th century.
Even today with airplanes that can travel half way around the world, the take off and landing locations are the national hub airports.
Air cargo has undergone the same thinking.
In the 1972 news report, it only made sense to Pacific Western Airlines to undertake this one-off trip once the entire route was fully booked.
The article goes on to describe how the airline was looking for other opportunities. They recognized the potential, but the tipping point (the development of an airport hub for cargo) had not yet arrived.
UPS has a similar hub in Louisville. Here is an example of one airplane in the UPS fleet that revisits the hub city regularly. This particular plane left Louisville on 28 May 2017 and travelled around the world via Honolulu, Hong Kong, Dubai, Cologne, and Philadelphia, before returning to Louisville three days later.
When you read this article, there will probably be more recent examples of round the world trips or forays to Asia or Europe before returning to it’s home base.
Mr. W. Allan Eadie produce manager for Woodward’s, and PWA cargo specialist Ken Bjorge would be impressed!
As Mister Eadie says in the report, he hoped that this operation would expand because of “this cattle thing.”
He and Mister Bjorge may have failed to realize that the problem was not to solve the “cattle thing.” They needed to solve the “hub thing.”
PWA purchased CP Air to form Canadian Airlines International in 1987.
It merged with Air Canada in 2001.
Expo 86 opened its doors to the world on 02 May, 1986.
Leading up to the World Fair, several large infrastructure projects were proposed and planned for, so that they would be open and useable by the public by the time the fair opened.
These projects included
These projects were discussed on the Webster Show.
Of course politics was involved, as the mayor defended his vision of what Vancouver would look like, as it celebrated the hundredth anniversary of its founding.
Redevelopment of False Creek was a major issue – BC Architect Arthur Erickson and the director of planning for BC Place, David Padmore discuss the Expo 86 site plans.
Here is the interview of a member of the BC Place planning committee.
Sky train was a region wide issue.
This episode shows the proposed route of the LRT as Steve Wyatt drives the streets of Vancouver, trying to get as close to the proposed route as possible.
Bear in mind that the route used existing railway rights of way for the majority (if not all) of the line.
There are several versions of this. The final one was slowed down somewhat so you can see the surrounding city a little more easily.
For the unedited show see this Link.
Canada Place – the cruise ship terminal. Webster goes on a fly about/ walk about
BCTV was a major sponsor and broadcast daily from the Expo grounds.
Here is part of the hype, when some of the pieces get lost.
Counting Down to opening day
And after the exhibition
And distributing the wealth
One of my tasks as a Digital Access Technician is to identify and propose small digitization projects. Imagine browsing in the archives stack areas, surrounded by all manner of storage containers. As I walk through the stacks, I am thinking about my experience in the reference room, and recalling which records groups were most frequently consulted. What kinds of questions did people have, and what records did I use to answer those inquiries?
I find myself pulling a box of GR-0461, Teachers Bureau records off the shelf and moving to a table to browse its contents. We often receive requests for information about specific BC schools, and about their teachers. These records are interesting for what they reveal about the history of education, and as records of rural life in British Columbia. They are also valuable in family and genealogical research. Young men and women became teachers and moved to these rural and remote schools. Now their grandchildren and great-grandchildren search for records that might contain a glimpse into the teacher’s world. Public interest is a factor I think about when proposing a digitization project. Not only do I want to draw attention to our records, but I also want the digitized records to be useful to the public. Records that are useful for genealogy research meet a public demand.
The extent of the records is something to consider. I like to keep projects to a reasonable size so they can be completed in a timely manner. This group consists of approximately 1400 pages, and that strikes me as about the right size for a small digitization project. The format of the records is another important consideration. Can I scan them easily myself, without help from our staff photographer? Do they need to be removed from bindings? Will they require conservation prior to scanning? Preparing such records for scanning takes more time and additional staff resources.
GR-0461 consists of two boxes of documents in file folders. That’s a manageable size for a small project. This group consists of forms that were sent to schools, filled out, and returned to the Department of Education. I wonder, “How complete are the forms? What types of questions are asked? Are there any other materials in the files?” This group’s forms are reasonably complete, with questions and answers that I think will interest the public; there are also some photographs of the schools to add interest to primarily textual records. The range of responses and the inclusion of images make me think this would be a good digitization project to suggest.
Before I digitize these records for access, I make sure that there are corresponding online descriptions available. I need a proper descriptive record to attach the digitized images to, and those records are usually created by an archivist. Fortunately, the appropriate level of descriptive work for GR-0461 has already been done in AtoM, and that makes this project more likely to be approved by my manager.
That is the informal process I go through when I consider a candidate for digitization. I think about what will interest researchers, about the extent and condition of the records (to keep the project within a manageable size), and about how much descriptive work will be required in order to provide digital access online. GR-0461 meets all these conditions, and has been added to my list of proposed digitization projects. If all goes well, the forms in GR-0461, Teachers’ Bureau Records, will be online for users to access.
One of the pleasures of working in the archives is the opportunity to pull out a box of records and examine the records inside. It’s a bit like opening a gift from the past. You never know what sort of discoveries or connections await within. When I had a few minutes recently, I sat down with Box 1 of GR-0461, Teachers’ Bureau Records, and browsed through it. In those few minutes, I learned a lot about the conditions faced in some of British Columbia’s rural and assisted schools in the 1920s.
The Teachers’ Bureau acted as an employment exchange by gathering information about the schools and districts, and by conveying information about vacancies and the schools to prospective applicants. The records in GR-0461 consist of School District Information Forms—questionnaires that were distributed to rural school teachers in 1923 and 1928. This set of records is not entirely complete. There were 684 rural and assisted schools in 1923, but only 651 completed forms exist from that year. In 1928, there were 728 schools, but there are only 711 completed forms.
Those who completed and returned the School District Information Forms to the Teachers’ Bureau left a very useful tool for examining working conditions for teachers in the 1920s. The more remote the community, the more likely the teacher was to experience loneliness and isolation. The living conditions at Big Bar Upper School in the school district of Lillooet were described as “Isolated and lonely. Crude pioneer homes. Very little money to be had.”[i] Similar sentiments are expressed by many of the teachers. Living conditions at the Copper Creek Station School were tersely described as “Absent” — a case of “create your own world.” Boarding and lodging options there were “very limited and unattractive.”[ii] Some of the “additional remarks” on the forms indicate the skills necessary for success. “This school requires a strict fearless teacher; and one who is impervious to dismay.”[iii] So wrote the teacher at Big Bar in 1923, Gerald S. Andrews. That name may ring a bell for those familiar with BC history and our archival records—Gerald S. Andrews was later to become the Surveyor General for British Columbia.
Perhaps Dorothy A. Clarke of North Dawson Creek said it best in her additional remarks: “Teachers labor under great difficulties in this country, as the settlers are very poor and they find it exceedingly hard to make a bare living for themselves. Consequently it is really hard to get any money together for school purposes. I do not think it wise to encourage young and inexperienced teachers of either sex to come in here to any of the schools.”[iv] Such were the conditions in the rural and remote schools of British Columbia during the 1920s.
[i] GR-0461, Box 1, File 1.
[ii] GR-0461, Box 1, File 2.
[iii] GR-0461, Box 1, File 1.
[iv] GR-0461, Box 1, File 3.
I really like this film sequence for what it reveals about women’s roles in the paid workforce. So much footage of this period focuses on the work of men. Women, when they are shown, are invariably depicted in the domestic sphere, caring for the needs and the comfort of their families. So it is unusual to have this insight into the world of work outside the home.
This work is obviously physically demanding; these women don’t have desk jobs. They would need to be strong, capable of standing all day operating equipment, and of working in a hot and humid environment. I was struck by how all the female workers wore uniforms to work in the laundry. I wonder if the employees were required to purchase the uniforms or whether they were supplied by their employer.
Vancouver filmmaker Alfred E. Booth (1892-1977) shot footage of various businesses in the Kamloops area. It isn’t clear if these businesses hired him to do this or if he was working on his own initiative—shooting the footage with the hope of being able to sell it to the business owner. Loose strips of title frames attached to this compilation may indicate the titles of proposed or completed films related to this and other footage: “Kamloops – the Hub City of B.C, and on into the Spectacular Clearwater Country”; “Lake and River Fishing for the Sporty Kamloops Trout”; “By Packhorse and Canoe beyond the Scenic North Thompson River”. He may have had a larger project in mind. These segments of footage, including the White Way excerpt have been preserved in the archives as part of the Alfred E. Booth fonds. This sequence is part of the archival compilation reel “[Kamloops] : [footage and out-takes]“.
Each of the recipes is clustered around a common carbohydrate: “Take a can of Clover Leaf Pink Salmon and _____”. You filled in the blank with your choice of carbohydrate — biscuit dough, bread crumbs, pastry, potatoes, rice, cracker crumbs, or macaroni. They are simple recipes with few ingredients, and they rely on processed foods such as canned vegetables, canned shoestring potatoes, and the (infamous) canned cream of mushroom soup.
I find the inclusion of the price per serving instructive. Many of the dishes cost less than 25 cents per serving; the per-serving cost ranges from a low of 9 cents for “Salmon Potato Cakes” to a whopping 28 cents for the “Skillet Supper”. The convenience of canned salmon, and the fact that cans could be stored safely without need for refrigeration, probably made the product attractive to the consumer. I don’t know how many women would have prepared the more elaborate salmon dishes demonstrated in Part 1’s filmed cooking class, but my own experience in the early sixties attests to the fact that middle-class mothers really did make salmon fish cakes and salmon loaf as regular dinner offerings.
The recipes included in this pamphlet are far more practical than those presented onscreen in the film Silver Harvest. The Salmon Potato Cakes, for example, were probably a standard reliable main dish on many Canadian dinner tables. They were quick to prepare and cook, utilized a common leftover (mashed potatoes), and could easily be stretched to accommodate an extra person at supper. In my childhood, they appeared for supper with astonishing regularity. While they weren’t my favourite dish, I knew that there were far worse horrors that could appear in their place.
When I worked in the archives’ reference room, providing access to materials like this little pamphlet, I always felt that a key value in our archival records was that they allow us to reconnect with the past. Sometimes that past is a more general historical past — and sometimes is part of our own very personal past.
The Webster! Show on BCTV had several opening sequences through its nine season run.
The longest running version seems to tell a story:
Our intrepid reporter meets his long suffering assistant, Brian Coxford, to do a little bit of ambulance chasing. Having collected the film crew they head to the scene, and then visit the hospital to interview the victim and the people that saved his life.
Thanks to a visual cue and the information from a very helpful person, the scene can now be set.
The 1980 season added this master shot at the end of the intro.
Here is the screen grab:
Webster is standing on the corner of Hornby and Georgia.
Here is the discussion of the “tip” The Vancouver Art Gallery grounds are in the background.
And off they go to the scene of the accident.
Where the scene is set:
The police control the scene.
The patient is treated.
And taken away.
Afterwards, Webster interviews various people at the hospital.
But Where Oh Where was the scene of the accident?
My thanks to Greg Firth of Redden Net Custom Nets Limited who helped clarify things:
Yes that is at 1638 W. third what you see in the background is the truck with the logo on it.
He writes later
“That was Redden Net head office at that time. Truck was parked in the loading bay.”
The loading bay clue was the final piece of the puzzle.
Vancouver is renowned for its alleyways. The scene of the accident was not on West Third, it was in the alley between Third and Fourth!
And now, the present day scene.
Where the scene is set.
The police control the scene.
The patient is treated.
And taken away.
My Thanks again to Greg Firth.
According to Elisa Newton, another helpful person at this company, Redden Net has now expanded to three companies:
The BC Archives recently acquired two photographs of Yukon Joe. They were taken around 1950 by Kenneth Katzalay on the John Hart Highway near Prince George. Katzalay was working for the RCMP at that time and some local cabins had been broken in to recently. Although a man walking down the highway carrying a rifle wasn’t a particular concern then, when Katzalay saw Joe, he took a few photos of him, apparently just to let him know that he was keeping an eye on him. As this was 60 years before the invention of iphones, he used his camera loaded with ANSCO colour slide film.
The slides and the story were handed down to Katzalay’s daughter who brought the slides in earlier this year.
I was really excited to acquire these two photographs. Although Yukon Joe was well known in the Prince George area for his prospecting and his painting, there are very few records either about him or created by him. We do have his smoke scented diary, called “Prospectors diary book of the adventurs” which the BC Archives purchased in 1963 for $75. See an image of the diary here: http://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/100/object/yukon-joes-diary/
In 2010 we were lucky enough to acquire one of his paintings; it was found in a thrift store by a Prince George resident and donated to the Archives. We also have two unusual photographs taken around 1962 which, although taken outside, are strangely posed and taken for unknown reasons.
The two slides from 1950 are the earliest photographs I’ve seen of Joe. In them, you can see his dogs, his gold pan and rifle. Although the colour has faded over the years, the red of his cap and jacket are still apparent.
Our photographer Shane, did a beautiful job of copying the slides and they are available for viewing in our online catalogue. Search for “Yukon Joe” in our catalogue to see descriptions of all the records by or about him.
Jack Webster was an icon of Vancouver and British Columbia News reporting.
His legacy includes video recordings of his entire Webster! show which aired on BCTV (CHAN – Channel 8) for nine seasons from 02 Oct 1978 through 03 Apr 1987.
Shortly after the last show aired, Jack Webster and BCTV* donated the videos for all his shows to the BC Archives.
The show originally aired from 9AM through 10:30AM on BCTV. For a period of years a half hour excerpt was rebroadcast on Victoria’s CHEK Channel Six at midnight.
The final regularly scheduled 90 minute show was broadcast on 27 Mar 1986. The last season of Webster! was reduced to one hour and moved to the 5PM broadcast slot.
Long before then the iconic phrase that Jack Webster used to announce upcoming shows was embedded into the cultural memory of BC’s news junkies.
Prior to each show a one hour U-matic tape began recording for the entire hour. It was swapped out at 10AM for a 30 minute tape. At the end of the show, they were labeled by the date and recording order. If special guests or events occurred during the show they were identified for possible future use.
One such note even used Webster’s famous phrase to identify the cue .
The Royal BC Museum is in the process of digitizing a large portion of these shows. Part of the process involves editing the original one hour and thirty minute videos and combining them into a cohesive whole.
No-one tended to the original recordings while the show was on the air. Because of this, the recording included the off air time as the commercials were airing. In most cases, sound engineers turned off the stage microphones. On occasion they were turned on for a brief time to check sound levels and the like. In other cases, upcoming video segments or title cards were cued up for use in future segments of the show.
The Royal BC Museum maintains digital master copies of the entire recordings as part of the Archiving process. Making these shows available to the public involves an editing process which removes the dead air time (where nothing is recorded on the original video) while ensuring that the on air portion, as well as the material recorded during the commercial breaks, is captured in its entirety.
One example that shows how helpful this can be is in the episode that ended the 1981-1982 broadcast season. The 02 Apr 1982 show begins with an hour long interview with Premier Bill Bennett. The final segment of the interview begins with Jack Webster smiling at something before he takes a telephone call for the premier. The off air recording shows what the cause of the smile was.
This was in preparation for the final part of the show which can be seen here.
Another example where knowing what happened off air is useful occurred during the lead up to Expo 86. As a corporate Sponsor, BCTV was closing each Webster! Show with a “Number of days to go” countdown. It appears the recording of the announcer used for this particular day’s segment was unavailable. This clip shows the preparation and result.
You can now watch an “ever expanding list” of Webster! episodes which includes “never before seen or heard” “behind the scenes” parts of the show. Simply visit the Royal BC Museum YouTube channel and click on the Webster! Playlist.
*Officially donated by Jack Webster Productions Ltd. and British Columbia Television Broadcasting System Ltd. – acquisition notes.
Image I-03188, Aerial view of new Archives building, ca. 1977. “Spirit” in pond.
In 1965 the Department of Public Works began to build the complex known as Heritage Court at the corner of Government and Belleville Streets in Victoria. Heritage Court was built using Federal and Provincial Centennial funds to provide facilities for both the new Provincial Museum and the Provincial Archives of British Columbia.
Early in the planning stage it was decided that the site should contain works of art by British Columbia artists done in the general design theme of “Man and Nature”. A sub-committee chose 28 works including screens and murals, carved wooden building doors and massive works of sculpture.
Four of the exterior sculptured pieces still stand today and I am lucky enough to be able to see one of them from my office window.
This piece is called “Spirit” and it was created and cast in bronze by Elza Mayhew in 1964. It was displayed at the Venice Biennale in the Canadian Pavilion and then made its way back to British Columbia via exhibits at Ottawa and Prince Edward Island.
I haven’t been able to track down exactly when it was finally installed in the Archives pond, but it was probably around 1971.
Before reaching the pond, “Spirit” spent some time in Elza Mayhew’s studio and was one of her many pieces that provided the basis for a paper rubbing. The rubbings were done by Isamu Akino, a Japanese artist who created them by laying pieces of wet Japanese paper on the front, back and tops of the sculptures. The paper was then formed around the relief portions of the sculpture and rubbed with charcoal or some other agent, to produce a raised paper cast. Once dry, the paper rubbing was mounted onto a paper and wood frame.
We were recently lucky enough to acquire a mounted rubbing showing the front view of “Spirit”. This generous gift from the Mayhew family has given us a new view of the beautiful bronze sculpture more than 50 years after its creation.
My colleagues Kay (Preservation Specialist) and Cindy (Exhibit Fabrication Specialist) have designed and created a special padded aluminum rail and clip system to safely hold the work in the art vault.
I have described the rubbing as PDP10261 and you can see it in the BC Archives collections search here:
Here are some more examples of Corporate Christmas cards taken from 920334-0001 (Vertical files).
This one is from the Bank of Montreal in Nelson, B.C. The front of the card consists of the Bank of Montreal coat of arms but inside there’s a charming woodcut print showing Arthur H. Buchanan striding manfully through the snow to help bring the Nelson branch of the bank to the people.
Next is a beautiful colour drawing of a BC Hydro generating station. I can’t tell if this is taken from a real site or if it’s more of an artist’s representation of what the new BC Hydro sites were going to look like. The card is signed by Hugh Keenleyside for BC Hydro and Power Authority and is dated 1968. Perhaps this generating station was intended for the High Arrow Dam near Castlegar? Since the dam was later named the Keenleyside dam, it’s seems fitting.
Update January 19, 2016:
My colleague Dennis Duffy pointed out that this is actually the Gordon Shrum generating station at the W.A.C. Bennett dam. An Ottawa Citizen news story from last year has a nice photo, see http://www.ottawacitizen.com/Gordon+Shrum+generating+station+Bennett+capable+generating+megawatts+electricity+peak+capacity/10862165/story.html
Hugh Armstrong of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway sent this next card to the Press Gallery. The image on the front of the card seems to suggest that the PGE was a real people’s train, connecting with those living in the hinterland, especially at Christmas.
And finally a local Victoria bookstore sent out some lovely Christmas cards that also worked as an advertisement. Included in each card was a piece of history, a page from a real book to enjoy at your leisure. The Haunted Bookshop moved from Victoria to Sidney a few years ago and it’s still a charming place to visit.
At this time of year we often receive Christmas and other holiday cards from banks, shops, newspapers and other businesses.
The BC Archives is lucky enough to have a nice little collection of Christmas cards mostly saved by the local journalist and historian James K. Nesbitt. These cards lived for a time in our vertical (clipping) files. When the files were microfilmed in the 1980s, material not suitable for filming was removed and some of that material ended up in a box of files that we have saved in container 920334-0001.
There are some good examples of Corporate Christmas cards in the files and I’ve scanned a few to show the range.
The Vancouver Sun cards from the 1960s and 70s were quite inventive. I like this one, partly because the RBCM has a Jack Harman sculpture on its premises but also because it’s just an amusing image. The Sun’s publisher Stuart Keate had a whimsical sense of humour and he sent Nesbitt quite a few interesting cards.
Here’s one from the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Victoria, probably from the late 19th century. The outside is elegant and plain but inside you can see the list of staff, perhaps in order of rank, as well as a photograph of the inside of the bank. They didn’t quite grasp the concept of laying out a card with all the elements oriented in the same direction or maybe the printer was rushed.
Another one from the 19th century. I’m not sure what business this card represents because there is nothing on the back. It’s on a small sturdy piece of card, perhaps intended for use as a beer mat after the holidays…
More Corporate cards to come.
THE VICTORIA GAZETTE 25 November 1858 p.1
LETTER FROM NEW FORT LANGLEY.
Installation of the Government of British Columbia.
New Fort Langley, 20th November 1858.
Editors Gazette: – Yesterday, the birthday of British Columbia, was ushered in by a steady rain which continued perseveringly throughout the whole day, and in a great measure marred the solemnity of the proclamation of the Colony. His Excellency, Gov. Douglas, with a suite comprising Rear Admiral Baynes, (commanding the naval forces on the Pacific Station) Mr. Cameron, the respected Chief Justice of Vancouver Island; Mr. Begbie, the newly appointed Judge of British Columbia, Mr. Lira, and others, proceeded on board H.M. ship Satellite, Capt. Provost, on Wednesday morning by the Canal de Haro to Point Roberts, where His excellency remained during the night. On Thursday morning His Excellency and suite were conveyed by the Hudson Bay Company’s screw steamer Otter to the Company’s steamship Beaver, which was lying moored within the mouth of Fraser river. Both vessels then proceeded in company as far as Old Fort Langley, where the Otter disembarked a party of eighteen sappers under the command of Capt. Parsons, who immediately embarked in the Recovery revenue cutter, joining the command of Capt. Grant, R.E., who had previously reached the point with a party of the same corps. Both these gallant officers have recently arrived from England with small parties of men under their command. The Beaver then proceeded with His Excellency aboard to New Fort Langley, where preparations were made for the ceremonial of the following day.
On Friday morning, the 19th inst., His Excellency, accompanied by his suite, and received by a guard of honor commanded by Capt. Grant, disembarked on the wet loamy bank of the Fort, and the procession proceeded up the steep bank which leads to the palisade. Arrived there, a salute of 18 guns commenced pealing from the Beaver, awakening all the echoes of the opposite mountains. In another moment the flag of Britain was floating, or to speak the truth, dripped over the principal entrance. Owing to the unpropitious state of the weather, the meeting which was intended to have been held in the open air was convened in the large room at the principal building. About 100 persons were present.
The ceremonies were commenced by His Excellency addressing Mr. Begbie, and delivering to him Her Majesty’s commission as Judge in the Colony of British Columbia. Mr. Begbie then took the oath of allegiance and the usual oaths on taking office, and then, addressing His Excellency took up her Majesty’s Commission appointing the Governor, and proceeded to read it at length. Mr. Begbie then administered to Governor Douglas the usual oaths of office, viz.: allegiance, abjuration, &c. His Excellency being thus duly appointed and sworn in, proceeded to issue the Proclamation of the same date (19th instant) viz.: one proclaiming the act; a second, indemnifying all the officers of the Government from any irregularities which may have been committed in the interval before the proclamation of the Act; and a third, proclaiming English Law to be the Law of the Colony. The reading of these was preceded by His Excellency’s Proclamation of the 3rd inst., setting forth the Revocation by Her Majesty of all the exclusive privileges of the Hudson Bay Company. The proceedings then terminated. On leaving the Fort, which His Excellency did not finally do until to-day, another salute of 17 guns was fired from the battlements, with even grander effect than the salute of the previous day.
On leaving the river side, in front of the town, a number of the inhabitants were assembled with whom His Excellency entered into conversation previous to embarking on board the Beaver, and by whom he was loudly cheered in very good style as he was on his way to the steamer. VIATOR
Great resource for anyone working with various types of museum or archival collections including digital.
On Tuesday October 27th myself and a co-worker attended our first ever BC Museums Association conference…and we also had to give a daunting 90 minute presentation! Luckily for us the attendees were a great group of supportive colleagues who seemed really engaged and at the end they asked many questions (and we were able to answer them all)! The presentation was about our Transcribe site which allows the public anywhere in the world to look at our images of old letters and diaries and transcribe them so the handwritten documents become machine readable – in other words searchable through the search function on our Transcribe page. Check out our collections online and maybe you’ll want to transcribe, but I warn you it gets pretty addictive!
As you may already have discovered, advanced search is not just an upgraded basic search. Basic search has features which are lacking in advanced search and which may make it a preferred option depending on your search and on your display preferences.
Basic search is accessed from the search box (shown below) found on the top right hand corner of almost all the search pages.
Advanced search is accessed by clicking on the link below the basic search box (see above) and looks like this.
WHAT DO THEY HAVE IN COMMON?
When you enter more than one term into a search box, be it the basic search box or one of the advanced search boxes, the terms are searched separately, i.e. only one of the terms needs to be present in the record descriptions, although they may contain more than one or even all of the terms. This is a default OR search. To require that all terms be present the AND operator must be used between terms. For an exact match (phrase search) use quotation marks.
Boolean operators within a search box must be in uppercase: AND, OR, NOT. Complex search logic can be used in any search box, basic or advanced, as well as wild cards (* and ?).
Other than the Identifier field in Advanced Search, it does not matter whether upper or lower case, or both, is used.
Only one filter in each filter category can be selected.
Fifty (50) record descriptions per page are displayed. The bottom of each page, if there are more than 50, shows what range of record descriptions is being displayed.
When an individual record description is clicked the full display is the same regardless of whether basic or advanced search is used.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?
•Cannot search specific fields – all searchable fields are searched
•Cannot limit search to a specific material type (e.g. textual records, graphic material [visual records], moving images) – all material types are searched
•Type-ahead feature shows possible matches, including those in the Names, Places and Subjects lists.as well as in the descriptions, with the option of selecting one of the matches by clicking on it. (Note: currently this does not always work for the Names, Places, and Subjects but it can be useful to see what comes up.)
•Can search by one or more pre-defined fields, e.g. Title, Name, Identifier, as well as all fields, i.e “Any field” which functions the same as a basic search (note: some searchable fields can only be searched in an “Any fields” search, e.g. the General notes field.)
•Can limit search – before it is executed – to a specific level of description, to a specific material type, and/or to descriptions with digital images attached (see Filters below).
•Filters only display after a search is executed, and provide a breakdown by name, with the number of search results each is linked to.
•Clicking on a filter automatically limits search results to those meeting that criterion. Clicking on a filter in another category automatically further limits the search results.
•Can limit to top-level descriptions regardless of level (everything that is not linked to a higher-level description such as fonds, series and even some items) as well as by specific level.
•Can filter by name of creator (top 10 only).
•Can set search filters before a search is executed as well as after a search but must click on Search button to redo search.
•Cannot limit a search to top-level descriptions as a category. Clicking on the box shows a drop down list of mostly fonds and some series descriptions.
•Filters are by type. A drop-down list of all possible options is displayed for each category. Clicking on an option may yield zero results.
•There is no post-search breakdown by for each category type.
•Search results can be limited to descriptions with digital objects attached.
•Subject, name and place are search fields rather than filters.
•The total number of results is displayed at the top of each display page, together with the search term(s) and the number of digital objects with an option to display only the digital objects, as shown in this example.
•No print icon on results page but can use browser print function.
•The search box(es) with search term(s) and logic display at top of the search results on each results page.
•The total number of search results only displays if there are more than 50 hits, i.e. more than one page. This displays at the bottom of the page.
•A print icon appears on the results page.
WHEN TO USE BASIC SEARCH AND WHEN TO USE ADVANCED SEARCH
I find the basic search useful when I am interested in a breakdown by description level to get a sense of the number of higher or lower level record descriptions and quickly view the results for each level. The same applies, to a certain extent to the people, organizations, subjects and places involved. However, since only 10 are displayed, if there are more than 10, those of interest may not display.
The type-ahead feature can also be useful in seeing what pops up in terms of possible search terms.
The results display shows me right away how many results there are and how many have digital objects attached. At the moment this means primarily images but textual records, sound recordings and video is also being added. If the number of images in the filter column (Media types) is less than the number of digital objects, clicking on the images filter will quickly bring them up.
I use advanced search for the following types of searches:
I am looking for something very specific and searching by field(s) will eliminate irrelevant results, e.g. a certain television episode such as the Webster episode on the archives. A basic search on WEBSTER AND ARCHIVES produces 1300 hits (the same number of results as an Any field search) whereas limiting webster to the Name field and archives to the Subject field yields one.
I am looking for only certain material types, e.g. sound recordings or moving images.
I want to limit my search to only higher level descriptions (usually the series level to access the pdf finding aid found in many series level descriptions) or to only item or file level descriptions.
I am searching by call/catalogue (aka Identifier) numbers and don’t want to be bothered to enclose them in quotation marks, especially if there are more than a few. I also only want the highest level description, not all the lower level descriptions which are produced when a basic search is executed, e.g. the latter yields over 3000 hits for a search on “gr-1372” while an Identifier search on GR-1372 yields only 1 record, the series level description with the finding aid.
Ultimately the search method choice is up to you and what works best for the kind of searches you are doing. For more information about basic and advanced searches see the Search Guide.
Some 20 years ago the BC Archives launched its first remote electronic access to information about and images of its historical visual records. Searchable textual records descriptions and vital records indexes were subsequently added, as well as a library catalogue, sound recording descriptions, moving image descriptions and a cartographic records catalogue. The site was expanded and upgraded in 2002 but ultimately it began to show its age and limitations. Technology had advanced and it was decided that a new collections management system and online interface were not only desirable but necessary.
Now the “blue and white” search site that has served researchers around the world almost as long as Internet Explorer has been around, and longer than Google, is being retired, having hung on long enough to see its successor launched. Our tech people are surprised that the UNIX server it lives on has lasted this long. As of today, when you try to access the old site you will be redirected to the new search site. It is far from perfect, but so was the old site, especially in its first few years. Please be patient and give it a chance and if you have questions or comments do not hesitate to contact us.