Archival Moments By Larry Dohey
Whenever I tell people that Im an archivist, Im usually met with puzzled looks and the inevitable, Youre a what? Either that or they mistake me for an anarchist. However, Im one of 107 people in Newfoundland and Labrador who work or volunteer in the archival community. Each of us is part librarian, part records manager, part museum curator and part historian. Some may look at those professions and come to the conclusion that archiving is a dull industry, but consider this you encounter archival moments every day of your life.
Archives are repositories of the written, photographic, spoken and audio-visual records of our province and its people, and are an important resource for heritage initiatives, advertising campaigns, legal challenges and academic endeavours. Everyone from artists and architects to teachers and tourists use the infor-mation found in our archival institutions.
In 2005, archivists in this province initiated a public awareness campaign to bring attention to our profession. The campaign was framed in the form of the question Have you had an archival moment? In other words, have you ever drank Screech? Have you watched Random Passage or read The Wreckage by Michael Crummey? Archival moments happen whenever archival material is used in a public setting, either as an image or as a source of information. And theyre everywhere on television, in newspapers, on billboards and even on beer labels.
For example, the Screech rum label incorporates an image from the Maritime History Archives found at Memorial University in St. Johns. The labels on bottles of 1892 Traditional Ale, brewed by the Quidi Vidi Brewing Company, feature an image from the Archives of the City of St. Johns.
Writers and storytellers also use archives extensively. How difficult would it be to create a work of historical fiction such as Bernice Morgans Random Passage or The Wreckage without the contributions of our archives? Imagine films and documentaries like The Untold Story and theatrical productions like Rising Tides The Murder of Catherine Snow without the benefit of archival material.
All of us have experienced archival moments, just by walking past a heritage building that is being restored or taking part in virtual exhibits and interpretive tours. Here in this province, historians from many communities partnered with the Johnson Family Foundation to create the historic story boards that are now on display in their towns. Most of the text and photos that appear on those boards came from various archives.
During the past year some archival moments received extensive press coverage. For example, the opening of The Rooms in St. Johns, home to the Provincial Archives, signaled that the provinces government was committed to the preservation of our history, heritage and culture. In the same month, the City of St. Johns Archives presented the Basilica Cathedral with architectural drawings that were originally thought to have been destroyed in the Great Fire of 1846.
On the topic of fire, Labrador archives suffered a setback last year when the OKâlaKatigêt Society building in Nain burnt down and more than 3,000 audio-visual recordings comprising more than 20 years of broadcast history were destroyed. The Inuit community of northern Labrador was devastated but there was a silver lining. In December it was discovered that the archives owned by Them Days magazine had copies of some of the material that was thought to be lost forever.
As for this coming year, archivists from around the country will arrive in St. Johns on June 28 for the Annual Conference of the Associa-tion of Canadian Archivists.
All these events have put the spotlight on archives and archivists and their contributions to the preservation of our history, and the work done by archivists is being valued more and more each year. So, the next time you meet an archivist on the street, not only will you know what their profession is, you can also thank them for helping preserve the unique culture of New-foundland and Labrador.
Larry Dohey is the Archivist for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Johns and President of the Association of Newfoundland and Labrador Archives. If you have a question for him regarding archives in the province, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org