Archivists digitize history of Manitoba

A trio of non-profit organizations are collaborating to create a Web site that will feature a digital collection of artifacts related to Manitoba’s history in the fur trade.

The National History Society said Monday it

would be working with the Archives of Manitoba and the Manitoba Museum on the portal, which is expected to be ready for testing by the fall 2005. The site will be offered free of charge as a teaching resource for Canadian schools and will put students in the roles of different people involved in the day to day operations of a trading post. These could include trappers, military personnel or employees of Hudson’s Bay Co. (HBC). The digital resource will be officially announced Monday evening at an event commemorating the 10th anniversary of HBC’s legacy gifts to the province.

National History Society Web editor Tanja Hutter said the partners would put out a request for proposal to the IT industry to find a Web designer, but they are already preparing content for the collection.

“”(It will be) a lot of scanning,”” she said. “”We have our collection of Beaver articles that we’ll be scanning for our contribution to the project. The Archives will be choosing documents to help support the fur trade theme.””

The Manitoba Museum contribution may be more involved, depending on whether the content is in its warehouse or currently on display, Hutter said. “”In terms of photographing a 3D image, it could mean up to 300 photographs.””

Nancy Noble, director of research, collections and exhibitions at the Museum of Manitoba, said many of its artifacts are already photographed, and these would likely be the first candidates for the Web site.

“”It’s very much like developing an exhibit, actually, except that you’re doing it in a much different medium,”” she said. “”You need to have a general storyline, and from that you look at what you can have in your collections — what you have to tell that story . . . you have to look at what you have versus what you want to say.””

The site may also include audio files of traditional folk songs, but the emphasis will be on the digitization of primary sources, Hutter said, many of which will be text-based.

“”In a digital medium, you can’t replace the experience of putting on little white cotton gloves and being an environment-controlled room and turning pages,”” she said. “”At least you get to see original handwriting and the notes people might have been writing in the margins.””


Noble said digital collections are becoming an important complement to many organizations, which is why the Museum of Manitoba is in the third year of a five-year project to create its own virtual archive.

“”We’re in the last stages of that,”” she said. “”We’re doing digital images of all our collections and the data.””

Teachers will be given the opportunity to try out the site once it’s in the final stages, Hutter said. “”In my experience of doing project management, I always like to add a few extra months to account for all the things you haven’t really anticipated,”” she said. “”First and foremost is respecting the different schedules because everybody else has their regular job.””

The National History Society will also host the digital resource, which is expected to be a standalone site linked to the sites of all the partners involved, Hutter said. Parks Canada will also provide some support and research materials, while CN Rail is a corporate sponsor of the project.

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