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125-year-old firm donates a treasure trove of history

Gift by the numbers: 2,400 client files, 300 photographs, 40 maps and about 180 bound volumes of correspondence

Pemberton Holmes hit 125, and the B.C. Archives hit the jackpot.

Created in 1887 as Pemberton & Son, it is one of the oldest real-estate companies in North America. It is celebrating its quasquicen-tennial by donating reams of documents to the archives.

Everything from estate-management records and legal documents to accounts of the company's community involvement through the years is contained in the collection, which is currently lined up on shelves and spread on tables in the archives' sorting area, formerly the lobby of the Royal B.C. Museum's Newcombe Auditorium.

The opportunity for the public to see the items, which connect to B.C.'s social history as well as its business past, is expected to start early next year after the preparatory work is done.

All told, the B.C. Archives has been given more than 2,400 client files, 300 photographs, 40 maps and plans, and about 180 bound volumes of correspondence that date from the origin of the company to the 1970s.

Provincial archivist Gary Mitchell said receiving the material is a boon for the archives and the museum.

"It's not every day that this institution gets such a large donation," he said.

"As you know, the history of British Columbia is made up of the stories of British Columbians, and that we here at the museum and archives collect those stories so that we can keep them for today and future generations.

"Today, we have accepted into our holdings not only the story of a great family and their contributions to British Columbia, but of a great company that has influenced and contributed to the life of our province."

Mitchell said he hopes other businesses will consider doing what Pemberton Holmes has done and give accumulated material to the archives.

The Pemberton collection is already yielding daily discoveries for researchers, Mitchell said, likening it to "the Indiana Jones feeling for archivists."

Brothers Richard and Michael Holmes, company principals, were on hand as the collection was officially transferred Thursday.

Richard Holmes said he was happy to help make it happen.

"We're delighted to see this collection being brought into the light of day," he said. "[It] sat in the basement of an old building on Langley Street for many, many years - many, many decades, actually."

Rub your finger over some of the items "and you'll find there's still masses of dust accumulated," he said.

Michael Holmes said it is interesting to see how the company documents link to other well-known names from local history. He noted that the company namesake, Joseph Despard Pemberton, was a member of the colony of Vancouver Island's first legislative assembly, and that his brother, Augustus, was Victoria's first police chief.

"He used to run the jail and they called it the Pemberton Hotel."

Michael Holmes said real-estate sales at the outset of the company were done in a different way than today, in particular through auctions.

The nature of the business back then meant the company kept mortgage records it wouldn't keep today. "In those days, banks didn't lend money. The only way you could get money was either from the vendor when you were buying land or from a private mortgage company."

Pemberton & Son added Holmes to its name in 1937 when H. Cuthbert Holmes joined the fold. It remains family owned and operated.