Wednesday, February 11, 2004

A-G SAYS CANADIAN HISTORY IN PERIL

Obviously there is a tonne of news and commentary being produced about the Auditor General's report. There's too much for any one person to write about, unless of course you have the powers to distil the most relevant and serious points the way Paul Wells does. For the macro-perspective I refer you, as usual, to him.

As for me, I'll focus on the one thing that piques my own self-interest. Which is this:

Report: Canada's historic sites, documents at risk

Canada's historic sites, national archives and library are crumbling as budget cuts and government neglect threaten to drive the last spike through the nation's culture, Auditor General Sheila Fraser said Tuesday.
...
One of the worst cases involves Fort Henry in Kingston, Ont., built in 1834 to protect against invading Americans.
Described as "seriously impaired," the site on the St. Lawrence River will completely crumble in two years without serious attention, the audit warns.
...
More than 90 per cent of the collections in the National Library of Canada are housed in terrible conditions that don't meet standards of temperature and humidity.
Currently Parks Canada, the National Library and the National Archives, "can hardly meet their mandate to protect heritage," warns the audit.
That doesn't just hurt historians and researchers.

Of course it doesn't just hurt historians and researchers. The article says it also affects the thousands of regular citizens who access the archives each year doing personal geneology history but it is far more than that. The public archives are literally the memory of our nation. Of course the disintegration of documents affects historians work, but if historians do not have the resources to retell our nation's past the entire nation suffers from literally not knowing itself.

Things may not be quite as bad as the auditor's report suggests. The National Archives are in the process of digitizing its entire collection. This is a massive undertaking that will take years but it will ensure the preservation of, and allow for greater access to, critical documents. Still, those documents need to preserved in their originals because nothing can replace their authentic look and feel.

This story sent me over to the website of the National Archives. It really is quite an incredible site if you are at all interested in Canadian history. Some of the highlights of the digital and online collections include:

The diary of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King

If King were alive today he would be blogging and it would be a way better blog than that of our current PM. Almost every day between 1893 and 1950 King recorded the events of his life and his thoughts about those events. If you want to know what the Prime Minister was thinking about during the first month of the depression or at the height of the Battle of Britain its all here.

The manuscript forms for the Census of 1901

The 1901 census was the largest census undertaking to that date. All of the nominal forms have been digitized. That means the personal information of everyone who completed a census form (name, address, marrital status, age, place of birth, ethnicity, religion, employment etc. etc.) is available. This is an incredible resource of information for historians. If you know where your great/grandparents were living in March 1901 you can find their information.

The Dictonary of Canadian Biography

This project was begun in 1959 jointly by the University of Toronto and the Universite Laval. The DCB is a collection of biographies of major and very minor persons who played a role in Canadian history. Based entirely on original schoarship, the DCB is an excellent source for quick information or as a starting point for further research. Currently the entries for all people who died between 1000 and 1920 are online.

Take a look at these things and the other archive collections. It is the very stuff that Canada is made of. It can't be lost.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:30 AM