Here at PAMA, we’re celebrating over 30 years of service by Peel’s Regional Archivist, Diane Allengame, as she prepares to retire and move on to new adventures. Diane’s unswerving dedication, passion, and accumulated knowledge represent the kind of continuity that memory institutions need and thrive on.
Diane is responsible for acquiring and preserving many of our foundational collections for future generations, including the Peel Education Records and the William Perkins Bull fonds. In this and in many other ways, she has ensured the survival of the documentary heritage of a whole region.
In this post, Diane shares with us a glimpse into the personal side of an archivist’s career: how she has been affected by the people behind the records.
By Diane Allengame
When you work in the same place for 30 years, you make a lot of personal connections. When you work in an archives for 30 years, many of those connections are with people long dead.
One of my dearest friends in this way is Hannah Young, who left England in 1832 for a new life here in the wilds of Peel. She wrote poignantly about leaving friends and family behind and her sadness knowing she would never see them again. Her letter, stained and worn, survived because the family she mailed it to in England treasured it for 150 years. Eventually the letter was brought here and donated, serving as a rare testament to the resilience and optimism of a female settler. What a privilege it has been to ensure Hannah’s letter lives on.
Archives speak to us differently depending on where we are on our own journey. When I met the formidable and elderly Helen Tucker, proudly wearing her holographic broach of the planet earth and speaking of world peace and citizenry, she seemed a wise woman but far from where I was in life. Later I had the chance to read her daily diary entries written during the 1940s and 1950s. I was fascinated with her notes about family life and the progress of her children. I was then a mother of two young children. When I came to the entries in which she had a still birth, and later lost another child (probably to SIDS although not mentioned), I shared her grief. In those few entries, she became a treasured friend.
I love photography, and share that with my friend Robertson Matthews, an inventor, photographer and author who lived in Bolton for many years. What a privilege it was to very carefully take his glass plate negatives into the darkroom and through the magic of chemistry, see the latent images come to life.
During the early part of the 20th century, Bert set out to capture the rural scenery around his home town. He was concerned that wooded areas were being replaced with farms, that paths were becoming gravel roads. I watch now as development moves north at a great rate, transforming those same fields and country lanes into something much less picturesque. Bert and I feel the same about development.
Sometimes a single image transports you to the past. A wedding photo taken in front of the Calvert home on Main Street North in Brampton is to me a novel waiting to be written. The faces hold such a variety of emotions – trepidation, boredom, wistfulness, and just a hint of mischievousness… I feel like I know these people and care about what happened to them all.
On any journey, you tend to leave a bit of yourself behind. Here in the Archives I uncovered family connections in a number of places: the wedding photos of an aunt and uncle; my attendance record from Caledon East Public School; a note written by the illustrious Peel historian William Perkins Bull to my First World War veteran grandfather. One of the last records I had the privilege of processing was the Mono Road Women’s Institute Tweedsmuir History. Contained in the pages of this rich local history scrapbook are images of the local 4-H Homemaking Club on Achievement Day. Although partially obscured by the girls in the front row, my 1970s glasses are distinctive to say the least. So there I am, now part of the archival continuum in this place, perhaps to be befriended by an archivist in the future.
In the meantime, I leave my dear friends Hannah, Helen, Bert and so many others in the good and careful hands of Peel’s archivists.
Thank you Diane, and may we continue to carry the torch!