We all have that shoebox full of memories like old love letters or a junk drawer of family pictures and concert tickets. Those people who are organized enough have scrapbooks and photo albums.
Cities have them too, and they are called archives.
Rene Georgopalis is the local archivist at the Musée Héritage Museum. She doesn’t shy away from being called a history nerd, but she stresses that many people don’t realize the wealth of information and resources that she has available.
“We’re the keepers of the history of communities,” she began. “All the stories … the primary sources are in the archives. It’s so important, the work that we do.”
Every year, the first week in October is designated as Archives Week. Keeping and preserving local history is so fundamental to a community’s cultural life that it often gets taken for granted.
Georgopalis hopes that Archives Week helps to change all of that. Earlier this year, the federal government issued major funding cutbacks, threatening not only the work of the country’s archivists but also all the local history that they are in charge of.
It’s an issue that she doesn’t take lightly.
“We do depend on government funding in order to function because we are a public service. That has been a huge challenge. It has affected every archives across the nation.”
This has affected the Musée by making fewer grants available. Such funding has allowed them in the past to hire temporary workers to process archives. She said that St. Albert is even lucky to have an archive in the first place, mentioning that Millet had to discontinue its own archives because of the funding shortfall.
The prospects for the future don’t look very bright either, despite recent protests both locally and in Ottawa.
“I think right now there aren’t signs that it’s going to improve but it’s really brought archivists together to fight for what we believe in.”
One of the first assignments she had at the Musée back in 2009 was repatriating old photographs of residential schools.
“I took them back to their communities. Just hearing the stories of the families whether they were bad or good… it had quite an emotional impact on the people.”
Lately, however, she has been occupied with the Victor Post archives, a recent acquisition to the museum. She has been working on it for a few months already and still doesn’t know the full extent of it.
“It’s coming. We hope to be finished by January. It’s 26-metres of shelf length. I’m still counting the photographs.”
Archives Week events
Even though Archives Week doesn’t formally start until Monday, the Musée is getting the ball rolling early with a few special events. The first one takes place today.
From noon to 3 p.m., members of the public can participate in Families in the Archives, a show-and-tell event that invites adults to share their own scrapbooks with museum staff. There will also be activities for the kids and adults like finding spots on maps to help them get more familiar with archival materials.
This, Georgopalis explains, is a fine complement to the exhibit Cut and Paste that the museum has on display until Oct. 21. She will also be conducting free behind-the-scenes tours of the on-site archives during the afternoon event. There will also be crafts.
People can also participate in Georgopalis’ photograph preservation workshop on Thursday, Oct. 4 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Space is limited. To pre-register call 780-459-1528. Participation costs $10 per person. Attendees are encouraged to bring in their own old family photos and albums.
“We’ll discuss ways they can help make them last longer.”