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Peek into Victoria’s history gets easier with searchable online archive

The faster the City of Victoria can become the “go-to spot” for easily searchable online archives the better, says Coun. Ben Isitt, arguing taxpayers would support additional spending for the work.

The faster the City of Victoria can become the “go-to spot” for easily searchable online archives the better, says Coun. Ben Isitt, arguing taxpayers would support additional spending for the work.

Isitt’s comments came as the new City of Victoria Archives Online Search was launched. It’s a searchable database containing more than 10,000 digitized archival photos and records.

“I think this is a really great initiative — and it’s not just because I’m a historian that I’m saying that,” Isitt said.

Interest in archives is high, Isitt said, noting there are several private online platforms with thousands of members sharing archival photos.

“Being the capital city, valuing heritage so much in terms of our annual contribution to the built form and our Old Town — it’s a part of our economy, it’s a part of our quality of life,” Isitt said.

A really high quality, cutting-edge digital archive, “I think would be supported by residents and they’d be OK paying for that,” he said.

Isitt suggested the city also look to collect Indigenous records including oral histories from Songhees and Esquimalt elders.

Coun. Chris Coleman called the initiative “a massive step forward.”

“We should be incredibly excited by this. It’s a move forward. Yes, other jurisdictions have gone here before, but we are catching up and it’s a great advancement for us,” Coleman said.

Coun. Pam Madoff agreed, saying the digitization of collections is one that all archives wrestle with.

“Ten thousand images is wonderful. I’m expecting we probably have hundreds of thousands of images in our collection and we’re going to have to determine how to deal with that in a timely way as we look at what other collections have been doing and what the grant opportunities are,” Madoff said.

The searchable online archive database that the city launched on Thursday includes:

• A collection of photos from H.U. Knight including candid photos of Emily Carr in her studio in 1934.

• A large collection from photographer W.E. John, known for his quirky and candid shots of people living their lives throughout the city, particularly in the 1960s. The collection includes photographs from a “love-in” held in Beacon Hill Park in 1967.

• Photos chronicling evocative moments in the city’s history, including soldiers marching off to war, haying on Dallas Road, wooden paving blocks being pulled up on Yates Street in 1947 and soldiers digging trenches in Beacon Hill Park as part of a training exercise prior to deployment in the First World War.

City clerk Chris Coates called the new digital service “the first step into this digitization process.”

Records are to be added to the site over the coming months, including descriptions of documents such as city reports, maps, plans and news clippings currently held in the Archives Reading Room.

The City of Victoria Archives Online Search uses Access to Memory, an open-source standards-based system. City council allocated $50,000 for the archives digitization project.

To access Archives Online Search and for more information on the city’s archives, go to archives.victoria.ca.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com