By Paige Hohmann and Chris Ives
Often, archives are viewed as esoteric, ephemeral, and largely inaccessible. The image of an intrepid researcher finding obscure treasure previously “lost” to history in the archives is a familiar one.
While it is accurate to say that archives house a certain source of truth, and that archival research does take time and effort, it’s also crucial to note that for the most part, archives are an instrument of public trust, and a resource — available to all — that can help inform our collective memory. Technology now affords us with a wonderful opportunity to bring the rich archival heritage of this region to a much wider audience.
This profile will introduce the Okanagan Region Historical Digitization Project, an initiative aimed at constructing a central online platform to provide access to local historical material in community repositories in the Okanagan Valley.
A project management team composed of myself [Paige Hohmann], UBC Okanagan Chief Librarian Heather Berringer, and UBC University Archivist Chris Hives, based at UBC Okanagan Library has assumed a coordinating role in this project with the financial support of a private BC-based foundation.
However, it is really the efforts of the community museums and archives in preserving these important sources of local history that deserve the credit for having made this work possible.
Based on the results of a survey completed in late 2016, the project management team determined that there are at least 150,000 archival photographs (and countless textual documents and local newsreel) housed in community-run heritage organizations from the Shuswap to the Similkameen.
A trained student team travelled to these repositories to digitize on site. After the point of collection, the images were (and continue to be) prepared for large-scale distribution on the web.
All of this work done at no labour, equipment, or web hosting cost to the owning repository.
This summer , the project team visited seven destinations including Peachland Museum, O’Keefe Historic Ranch, Summerland Museum and Archives, Armstrong-Spallumcheen Museum and Art Gallery, South Similkameen Museum, Osoyoos and District Museum and Archives, and Naramata Heritage Museum.
In September and October, we will visit Sicamous and district Museum and Archives, Enderby and District Museum and Archives, and Lumby and district Museum, with hopes for confirmation with a few others. Parallel to this, we have been working with the Princeton and District Museum and Archives to coordinate digitization of a collection of historical newspapers.
Completed and planned site visits represent over a thousand kilometres on the road and over thirty solid days of site visits to repositories.
It has been education to visit such a wide array of heritage organizations, and the technical challenges we have encountered, including issues with formats, copyright, and data migration have strengthened our project model and set the stage for the continuation and expansion of this project into 2018.
The fruits of our efforts will be posted later this Fall, under the moniker “Digitized Okanagan History” on Arca, a province-wide network that “showcases BC as a hub for knowledge creation across Canada and around the world” (http://www.arabce.ca/about ).
Lake Country Museum and Archives has joined the Okanagan Region Historical Digitization Project, spearheaded by UBC Okanagan Library and Archives. We are planning to add approximately 1,000 photographs to the collection, all pre-1950, and all from the Lake Country area. This will provide permanent storage, display and access opportunities for everyone. All our photographs are stored and will continue to be available at the Museum, but a digital copy will be available on-line as well. Work has begun, and will be completed in 2018.
Examples of the photographic collections that Lake Country Archives will make available include:
- Selections from the George Cassilis Goulding Collection. Goulding settled near Oyama on the Rainsford Ranch in 1908, leaving the area in 1928. We have selected over three hundred images from this collection. Photos include landscape, ranching and farming photos, views of Iris Point (now Kaloya Park). Photographs are chiefly of the Oyama area, 1908 – 1928, as well as family photographs and hunting trophy pictures from Sugar Lake and area.
- Photographs from the Rainbow Ranche Collection, north of Okanagan Centre: 1910 – 1947. The original Rainbow Ranche farmhouse still stands, and images include a number of the ranch house through the years.
- Mary White (Carne) Collection: 1930s – 1947. Mary White grew up in Winfield, up the hill from Winfield school, where her parents had an orchard. She started taking photos as a young girl, and has since donated them to the LCMA. Many of the pictures are school scenes from the late 1930s and early 1940s, from both Winfield and Oyama where she went to high school. The photos are particularly school scenes. She also maintained a remarkable WW II scrapbook, which chronicles the activities of many of the Lake Country men and women and their service in the Armed Forces during the War. This too will be made available on-line.
- Dorothea Allison Collection: 1911 – 1947. Dorothea Scott-Coward came to Canada in 1911 and met and married an Oyama orchardist, Bob Allison. She was very active in local affairs, and there are a number of wonderfully preserved photographs of farm and orchard life, as well as local community events and people.
- Carter Collection: 1920 – 1947. Sisters Mary Carter (Jeglum) and Nora Carter (McGrath) grew up in Okanagan Centre. Their mother, a widow, worked at many jobs in the Centre, and all three worked in the local packinghouse. We are fortunate to have a selection of photographs that detail life in the Centre right up until the ladies’ marriages in the early 1940s. These photographs are chiefly the Okanagan Centre location.
- Harley Smith Collection: Photographs, chiefly Oyama area.
- Gleed Collection: Photos from 1911 to 1916, in Okanagan Centre. This impressive collection shows life in Okanagan Centre before the first world war. James Gleed was the local post-master and owned and operated the Centre store. James Gleed was also a stonemason, and worked with local builder Ted Hare. Included in the collection are a number of photos, both interior and exterior shots of houses that they built, including the Gibson House at Kopje Park.2
1 This article was previously published in the OKANAGAN HISTORY column of the The Daily Courier on September 25, 2017, p. B6.
2 Laura Neame, Archivist, Lake Country Museum and Archives