Making an exhibition of ourselves: This time it’s personal

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We archivists tend to promote our collections far more than we promote ourselves and our daily work. For one thing, collections are our life’s work and, thanks to that work, will long outlast our individual lives. For another thing, archivists follow certain professional codes of ethics that mean we strive not to impose our individual prejudices on how we collect, describe, and provide access to historical documents and official records.

Nevertheless, archives all over the world need informed citizens to support the labour that goes into preserving communal and corporate documentary memory. This is why in this blog we’ve tried to show you what goes on behind the scenes in archives. We think it’s important to realize that behind archives are not only the people who created the documents, but also the people who take care of them.

Since archives staff are people too, privately we have our favourite records. This is why we made our most recent exhibit all about us – in a way. Staff members have each been assigned an exhibit case, headed by their short biography, to populate with a selection of their favourite records. Not only that, but our display labels reveal our personal responses to these records. We hope this exhibit showcases the way archives connect people over time.

We’ve discovered that a person’s favourite archival records tell as much about them as their favourite books or movies (if not more). But to get to know us through our personal picks, you’ll need to visit the Reading Room. (Our mini-biographies below don’t tell the whole story of our multi-faceted personalities!)

Following are some tasters from the exhibit. Meet the team who provides archival services to the 1.4 million residents of Peel and its various municipal governments, and check out a handful of our favourite records.

Jim Leonard, Regional Archivist

300-JimI have always been interested in architecture, history, politics and art. I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to work in a profession that has let me explore my interests.

My very first summer job was inventorying heritage buildings in my hometown Cobourg. The bulk of my career has been in the archival profession, as City Archivist in Peterborough, Provincial Heritage Registrar with the Ontario Heritage Trust and now as Regional Archivist at PAMA.

However, I have also been able to travel along a few different paths. My first full-time job was in museum collections management, working in community museums and art galleries in south-central Ontario and then at the Ontario Museum Association. Later I worked in municipal heritage planning for a number of years. Along the way, I have been able to help document and conserve different facets of our fragile cultural heritage.

Jim’s Pick

US President Dwight D. Eisenhower visits Ottawa, July 8, 1958
Russell K. Cooper fonds

PN2007_00779For whatever reason, I have a keen interest in US presidential history. I was quite thrilled when I first arrived at the Archives to come across an unexpected series of negatives of US President Dwight Eisenhower. They were taken by Peel based photo-journalist, Russell Cooper in the late 1950s. Cooper worked for the Toronto Telegram newspaper.

Cooper also took great photographs of Sir Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth II and even Richard Nixon (while still Vice President).

One series of negatives depicts President Dwight Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower visiting Ottawa on July 8, 1958. This photo was taken at CFB Uplands in Ottawa. Here Governor General Vincent Massey, along with Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and his wife Olive, greets the President.

Kyle Neill, Senior Archivist

300-KyleI have always loved history, and I am grateful that I have found a career that allows me to indulge my interests. Born and raised in Mississauga, I never thought I would be fortunate enough to serve as an archivist for this area. However, armed with degrees in History, Teaching, and Information Studies, and with some incredible luck, here I am.

My fascination with official records was sparked by working with classified national defence and NATO records at Canada’s national archives. As a Peel archivist, I am similarly drawn to what I refer to as our “glorious government records,” records created and/or collected by the various municipal governments that have existed in this area since the early 1800s.

Kyle’s Pick

Caledon Township town hall meeting minutes, 1821-1849
Township of Caledon fonds

PN2017_02342

I am particularly fascinated by the public administration of the Peel area prior to the creation of our modern municipalities. As a result I was incredibly excited when I learned about a volume of minutes of Caledon Township “town hall” meetings that took place between 1821 and 1849. At this time a township was not a unit of local government as we would understand the term, and had extremely limited local authority (ability to appoint pathmasters, tax collectors, and other local officials carrying out instructions from the Province). This all changed in 1850 with the passage of the first Municipal Act, when town hall meetings were supplanted by more formal and empowered meetings of the Township Council. Such councils were thereafter allowed to pass and enforce their own bylaws.

Samantha Thompson, Archivist

300-SamanthaI first became interested in how manuscripts are preserved during my doctoral studies on a thinker from late antiquity. I also learned a lot by teaching university undergraduates research skills. Later, while studying to be an archivist, I took a course on preserving local history where I worked on a project about nineteenth-century relationships between First Nations people and settlers in my area of Mississauga. So began my quest to help save and tell the stories captured in archives.

As an archivist my favourite collections include personal papers, especially letters and diaries. I’m also generally interested in nineteenth-century manuscripts, the social history of technology, advocating for archives, and paleography (reading old handwriting).

Sam’s Pick

Journal of Dr. David Heggie, 1880-1900
Region of Peel Archives textual records collection

IMG_3176This journal helps to remind me of the people who lived and sometimes died in the building I work in every day. Dr. David Heggie provided medical care to inmates in Peel’s County Gaol, now the archives. In this notebook he documents the condition and treatment of the poor and sick, the homeless, and prisoners who all shared space here.

In his notes about their symptoms, prescriptions, behaviour, and causes of death, Dr. Heggie grants his patients a last measure of dignity; he also occasionally indulges in angry commentary about the circumstances that brought them to the jail. In a few lines, people are brought to life who might never have otherwise been remembered.

Nick Moreau, Reprographics Specialist

300-NickAfter being trained in advertising and graphic design by Mad Men-era creatives, I received a commission from the Peel Heritage Complex to redesign a computer kiosk. That led to a contract for the art gallery, and stints working for visitor services, education, development, and the museum, before settling in long-term with the Archives. I deal largely with digitization of the collection for preservation or alternative access, and related things like Twitter and the web.

As a child, I had an active interest in history, which included creating a Brampton history-themed board game as a child, which easily won its category at the Brampton Fall Fair.

Nick’s Pick

Ben Hokea’s orchestra, 1926
Cecil and Florence Chinn fonds

I love accidentally “rediscovering” people who were notable at one point, but who have largely faded from the public consciousness. Who knows how many compelling stories are still untold in our collection?

For example, Ben Hokea (1898, Honolulu-1971, Montreal) was a touring ukulele performer and radio personality. Modern publications only have trivial references to him, despite his extensive commercial recordings. He was also a commercial photographer, which is how I’m guessing he met photographer Cecil Chinn, who eventually worked in Brampton. Hokea wasn’t a Peel resident, but through Chinn’s literal and metaphorical lens, we have insight into Canada’s “King of the Hawaiian Guitar.”


The exhibit is open now until late November 2017, and is accessible during the Reading Room’s operating hours.

by Samantha Thompson, Jim Leonard, Kyle Neill, and Nick Moreau

2 responses to “Making an exhibition of ourselves: This time it’s personal

  1. Peel (and beyond) is well-served by the staff in the Archives! As one of their predecessors I’d like to add my pick – the first glass plate negatives I ever handled and was permitted (challenged) to print in a makeshift darkroom – the Robertson Matthews Collection from 19th and early 20th c. Bolton/Albion. Pure magic from a photographic perspective, and part of a collection of a fascinating man with far-seeing thoughts on the future.

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    • Thanks Diane! It was extremely difficult to limit ourselves to a few picks. Robertson Matthews is indeed an incredible collection – we can only imagine what it must have been like to watch it emerge from the shadows. Hope you can drop by sometime to see the exhibit and share some more favourites!

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