EXCLUSIVE: A look into the city’s archives

Keeping the city’s corporate history intact is no easy task. Archivist Christina Wakefield showed some of the items from the city’s vast collection.

THUNDER BAY — Archiving a town’s history is a lot of work, and working with some very old objects is both a blessing and a great responsibility.

Christina Wakefield, city archivist at the Harry Kirk Archives Records Center, took several hours to show this reporter some of the unique pieces that are held at the archives.

The Archives has a staff of five and two part-time employees who work to keep the city’s history organized.

One of the oldest pieces in the city’s historical collection sits on a table at the main entrance of the archive.

It is a map printed on linen from 1875. It is one of the few items in the warehouse printed on linen.

Also at the front entrance of the archives are the Henderson Directories, which are available to anyone and can be used like phone books to look up a specific person who lived in the town.

Whether searching for someone by street or name, the Henderson directories provided more information about each listing. The person’s name, who they were married to, occupation and address. Details that phone books moved away from years later.

While not every room is meticulously controlled, each storage room has temperature monitors to track humidity levels and preserve all documents housed in the unit.

“Once a month, I download the information from them to track what they’re doing in each room. We like to keep things around 18 C, plus or minus a few degrees on either side and about 40 percent humidity that goes down to 30 or up to 50 is OK But for most of the year, you want around 40 Wakefield said.

She also talked about how some items that are donated to archives are in less than ideal condition and she works hard to preserve and preserve the pieces.

Archives staff also work diligently to recycle office supplies.

Each item received in a binder, including paper clips, alligator clips and other office supplies, is sorted and ultimately sent back to city offices to be reused.

One of the first rooms Wakefield visited was filled with wide chests of drawers containing original hand-drawn street maps of the city.

One map (pictured) was originally created in 1908, but has pasted updates since 1915.

She said many engineers will come to look at old maps to see the original layout of a street, or people will ask to see maps of the history of their homes.

Wakefield introduced the city’s art room, which stores pieces that are on display at city offices.

Although the archivist does not believe they own Norval Morrisseau pieces, she does believe the corporation used to own some Roy Thompson pieces.

In another room, there are several shelves dedicated to the gifts the city and its former mayors have received from visiting dignitaries over the years.

Of particular note is the top of the champagne bottle that was broken on the night Port Arthur and Fort William united into one city.

Wakefield revealed that the current building only has one shelf left for storage in its archives. The shelf space is about two feet high and more than 20 feet long—not much room left to store the city’s history, as it continues to do.

Next on the tour were two freezers in the archive room, which are not for staff lunches, but for color photos, negatives and slides.

“You know how an old photo gets kind of yellow and brown? If you have it in the freezer, the color doesn’t degrade like that,” Wakefield said.

While items from the archives are carefully stored, there are safeguards in place in the event of an emergency to keep them in their best condition.

A special fire extinguishing system that uses gas instead of water to extinguish a potential fire.

Wakefield explained that when fire alarms go off in these specialist rooms, there is a limited amount of time for anyone in the room to escape to safety before the gas is released.

The gas should drain the oxygen from the room within seconds, extinguishing the fire. There are emergency cancel buttons near the exits if someone is still in a room when the alarms go off.

During an alarm, rooms lock on exit and employees need special safety equipment to re-enter the room after an incident.

In a large room upstairs, the archivist displayed some of the oldest written articles in the combined history of the city.

The shelves are lined with cloth ledgers containing deeds, mortgages, title deeds and more, all transcribed into “copy book”.

Notes, some in red ink for corrections, can be seen in the margin, confirming who corrected the copied article and signed and dated it, as shown in the photo gallery above.

Some of the notes in the margin date from 1891 – others probably have earlier dates.

Wakefield took a moment to delight in the delicacy of the books and the marbled designs on the edges of the pages of over 130-year-old books.

There are even boxes full of city-focused albums.

Randomly opening a scrapbook, it showed articles from 1949 that had been cut from the day’s paper and pasted into the book.

A cut showed a statement made by Mayor Robinson. He proclaimed a civic holiday on February 2, 1949, in Port Arthur to honor Fort William Carnival Week.

In another newspaper clipping from the 1949 scrapbook, the article cited the Port Arthur Mental Hospital getting new beds that would likely cost $1.6 million.

Wakefield talked about getting lost in the city’s history and how he enjoys receiving requests from the public for more information.

“Someone rang and they found a band in their father’s or their grandfather’s things and it said Royal Constabulary or something… I found it in one of these albums.

“One of the royals was visiting in the 1930s and they didn’t have enough police for crowd control. So they asked for volunteers and we have the newspaper clippings asking for volunteers to stand in for the day on police duty. , this guy got an armband and then he stood there and he reached out to the crowd.”

Encountering a large mechanical machine, Wakefield said it was some kind of card punch with a time clock, but it’s not obvious how it was supposed to work.

With various dials, scales and moving parts, the device is stored as part of the city’s history.

Speaking to the organizational structure of some of the different registries, Wakefield said it wasn’t always clear why things were done the way they were.

A book contains details of property values ​​and tax charges. Instead of having pages filled with just one street, some might contain several, as that would have been the route taken by the person entering the information.

After Port Arthur and Fort William amalgamated into Thunder Bay, archive storage was still at a premium and was spread across buildings throughout the city.

In the 1990s, it was decided to unite the city’s corporate historical collection under one roof.

“So we have a collection for Port Arthur, one for Fort William and one for Thunder Bay,” Wakefield said.

“So on paper, they’re all separate, but on the shelves, they’re very much together.”

Related Articles

Back to top button