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Article Published March 04, 2001
EAST COAST KIN (Canada)
By: Sandra Devlin, Biography & Archived Articles
National Archives Association
Is Raising CAIN
“It is a popular misconception that an archives is a place where historic documents are squirreled away. What archives are really all about is having things and having them accessible to the public,” says Fred Farrell, manager of private sector records and photographs at the New Brunswick Provincial Archives and the newly elected chair of the high-profile and vocal Canadian Council of Archives.
As Farrell begins his two-year stint as chair of the prestigious association that represents 800 archives across Canada, he is particularly enthused over the group’s major project dubbed CAIN (Canadian Archival Information Network).
The objective of the project is to mount an on-line, fully searchable database of descriptions of materials held in all archives across Canada. Digital images of original documents and photos will also be made available along certain themes.
CAIN is expected to be three to four years in the development. Once completed, the gigantic database will provide researchers with access to documents they might otherwise not even know exist.
Researchers could well find documents about their province held in an archives outside their province. The papers of well-known New Brunswick poet Alden Nowlan, for example, are held at the University of Calgary. “And that’s just one example,” says Farrell.
Genealogists are by far the most active public segment seeking information from the archives from the New Brunswick archives. “They make up about 70 per cent of inquiries. More and more genealogists are looking for a sense of community for their family histories. They want more depth, more and more.”
Canadian archives are in the commanding position of having already settled on Rules for Archival Description, known as RAD, earlier established by a dedicated committee of volunteers. “Countries from all over the world are interested in our rules. It sounds like dry, dull work, but it is important to have a standard and a consistent method of describing archival holdings,” he says.
In New Brunswick, private sector business records are sporadic. “There are no official business archives in the province, that I am aware of. Not even the Irvings,” Farrell says. Companies tend to see their historical information as useful to public relations and statistical analysis. Their historical context is often overlooked.
Other areas of the province are far ahead of the south-eastern part of the province in the number of historical photographs. “I would love to have lots more great, old photographs that identify activities and landscapes from Westmorland, Albert and Kent counties,” he says. Of particular interest are streetscapes, buildings, industrial activity including railroad, agriculture, lumbering, fishing, other work and recreation.
Some times people think their photos are not old enough for the archives. “I try to convince people that their own lifetime is historical,” Farrell says. “It is important to have images of places and activities that don’t exist any more.” Photos from the 1940s, ‘50s, ‘60s and even the ‘70s and ‘80s often show buildings that are now gone, street intersections that have changed and industries, businesses or institutions since closed up.
Photos of individuals and family groups, while personally valuable, are of less historic significance, says Farrell.
Print history from the south-east is also scant. Minutes from municipal government, fraternal organizations, sports clubs or records from private businesses and personal diaries or letters from 18th and 19th century are scarce. “We have lots from Women’s Institutes and IODEs,” he says, but other groups are disproportionately under-represented.
Researchers are often interested in records, documents and photos for reasons other than the purpose for which they were created, says Farrell. Historians will trace overall trends or extrapolate patterns from business payroll records, while genealogists would be interested in the same records to discover a family member’s work history. A student of women’s studies might be interested in the ratio of female to male workers or compare hourly pay scales, based on gender.
But others also make good and practical use of the existing records. Before the gas pipeline was installed, a lot of research was conducted before a shovel ever hit dirt about the affected local geographic areas in the province.
The usefulness of archival records in unlimited. “There is so much potential for CAIN,” says Farrell, obviously keen to pilot the association’s ambitious project.
Farrell is the fifth chair person of CCA, established in 1985, and the second from New Brunswick. Marion Beyea, the provincial archivist, was a founding member and its first chair.
On behalf of the archival community, the CCA has contributed actively over the last decade to national debate concerning the Nielsen Report, the preservation of CBC regional records and various other issues relating to heritage and culture. During 1990-1991, CCA actively supported lobbying initiatives launched in order to obtain necessary federal funding to implement the Conservation Plan for Canadian Archival Records and advocated modification of federal copyright legislation to permit fair use and access for researchers.
Besides printed records and photographs, the provincial archives is also interested in preserving maps and architectural drawings, sound recordings and moving images.
Contact: Fred Farrell, New Brunswick Provincial Archives, Dineen Drive, UNB Campus, P.O. Box 6000, Fredericton , E3B 5H1; telephone: (506) 453-3811 Fax Number: (506) 453-3288 ; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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