Three cheers for the diligence and hard work of archivists! Without their labor it would be next to impossible to write informed historical narrative. In this blog entry, David Brownstein conducts a conversation with Tom Anderson, Provincial Archives of Alberta, and with Peter Murphy, Forest History Association of Alberta, regarding the Canadian Forest History Preservation Project. The project is a collaboration between the Canadian Forest Service, the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE), and the Forest History Society. The goal is to locate valuable forest history material in danger of loss or destruction, and aid in its transfer to an appropriate archive. The Canadian Forest History Preservation Project wants to hear from you if you know of any prospects.
David Brownstein: Tom, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Tom Anderson: In 2003 I graduated from the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, at the University of British Columbia. I began work at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA) in Edmonton, in 2004. I was a government records archivist for 5 years before moving to my current position as Team Lead, Private Records, where I am part of the group responsible for acquiring, preserving, and making available non-governmental records.
DB: Describe the PAA forest history holdings for us.
TA: The Provincial Archives is the repository for government records of enduring value, as well as private records of individuals, businesses, schools, associations, and societies in Alberta. Our holdings cover the whole of the province, and we are lucky to have extensive forest, environment, and resource-related records, tracing the development and history of forests and forest professionals. We hold records of those in government responsible for forests from the federal field notes of timber and land surveys and management of timber berths, up to present-day provincial ministries, ranging from the departments of Mines and Minerals, Lands and Forests, and the Department of Sustainable Resource Development. The records, be they cabinet papers, memoranda, policy records, work diaries of rangers, films, photographs, forest cover maps, or even blueprints of ranger stations, cover all aspects of forest management.
We hold records related to forest officers and their training, forest protection, timber management, reforestation, land use and climate change, equipment, legislation and regulation, and research and recreation.
As our mandate to acquire records covers the whole of the province of Alberta and is not limited to government created materials, the PAA also has textual records, photographs and films of logging, mill owners, municipalities and their efforts to fight fires, environmental groups, aerial photographs created by Weldwood of Canada, records of various flyers and their companies, and even records of bush pilots in the province. The records either directly or indirectly document the change in forests and environment over time.
DB: How can people decide if they have anything of value that deserves archival protection?
TA: Any person, family, business, or group with forest history records can either contact you for assistance, David, or they can contact an archives to discuss the records in their possession. We look to acquire records that document the lives, work, history, and culture of the province, and donors that have some connection to forestry in any capacity should hold on to their materials and make sure to speak with us before throwing anything away! We get this question a lot, and so we recently published Family Histories: Preserving Your Personal and Family Documents, available in English and French, free to anyone who comes to the Provincial Archives.
In this case, we look for records that provide evidence of a life related to forests or forestry. We are interested in material created by industry workers, active or retired professionals in the area, students, families of workers, and those dedicated to forest preservation and utilization. We look for correspondence, diaries, photographs, albums, home movies, minutes and agendas of professional or business meetings, maps, plans, and of course writings on how the forests and environment have affected the lives of Albertans, and how we have influenced our environment.
DB: From the point of view of a box of photos or letters, what is the difference between being kept at a private home in a basement or an attic, and being housed in the archives?
TA: I would say the difference is the length of time that the different places can preserve the records. Boxed in a cool, dark closet, protected from vast changes in temperature or humidity, paper and photos can last a long time at home. We have conservators on staff if people have questions about how to preserve materials at home. Many of us do not preserve our special records in optimal conditions, though, and there is always the possibility of a fire or flood in the home. There is no guarantee that a disaster will not happen at an archives; but depending on the repository, there are safeguards in place to ensure the safest possible environment for the records, and for the longest possible time. The Provincial Archives of Alberta for example stores all its records on site in special archival enclosures, in secured climate-controlled vaults, free of temperature or humidity changes.
DB: What should people keep in mind, when considering donating their material to the archives?
TA: Potential donors should consider that the records that become part of an archives is the legacy that we leave for future generations.
Archives strive to ensure accountability, protect the rights of the people, and document all aspects of the lives of citizens. We want the holdings to be used and accessed; records at the PAA are, for the most part, open and available and free for use by anyone. The Provincial Archives is very lucky to have a number of exciting forestry-related collections of records. People must always keep in mind that we are dependant on donors. If societies, associations, businesses, or individuals do not donate their records, we cannot build on the good work of those who have donated and preserved the records of the past.
DB: How have PAA holdings been used by various researchers?
TA: Students, academics, amateur historians, genealogists, artists and writers utilize our holdings. I know that environment and forest records were used in the creation of recent exhibits, and in research for park-related studies, books and presentations, including The Alberta Forest Service 1930-2005 and Laying Down the Lines: A History of Land Surveying in Alberta.