Holdings of the Norther BC Archives (NBCA) and Advice for First-Time Archival Researchers

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Q&A with Erica Hernandez
Assistant Archivist at the NBCA
Northern BC Archives (University of Northern British Columbia)
Prince George, British Columbia

In this Q&A, Erica discusses the holdings of the NBCA and then helpfully addresses general issues with archival research and the donation of archival materials. It is a good read for anyone interested in doing forest history research in BC or elsewhere, or for families who may be considering donating papers, photographs, etc, to an archive but are unsure of what to do.


1. The Northern BC Archives (NBCA) contains records related to the formation of UNBC, as well as the history and culture of Northern BC. What are some of the largest and/or most frequently accessed fonds or collections that you have?

  • Jack Carbutt Collection
  • Barry McKinnon fonds
  • Brian Fawcett fonds
  • Interior University Society fonds
  • Prince George Oral History Group fonds
  • Ray Williston fonds
  • Mary Fallis fonds
  • Northwood Pulp & Timber Ltd. fonds
  • Prince George Railway & Forestry Museum Society Archival Collection
  • Aleza Lake Research Forest Archival Records

2. You also house the archives of the Prince George Railway and Forestry Museum. How has this donation been incorporated into the NBCA, and what materials and topics does it add to your holdings? Are there any finding aids available for this collection?

The PGRFM collection is comprised of several different sub-collections of materials pertaining to the history of railroad and forestry development in this area. There is a developed finding aid, as well, the photographs comprising two of the sub-collections are actually being scanned and will be available online in March.

3. With regards to forest history research specifically, what types of collections does the NBCA hold? For what sorts of forest history projects have researchers used the archives, to your knowledge?

Types of records we hold include: textual materials, audio cassettes, photographs, reel to reel film, cartographic material and general ephemera

  • Aleza Lake Research Forest Archival Records fonds: 3.71 m textual records (1919-1998);
  • Northwood Pulp & Timber Ltd. fonds: 4.75m graphic and other material (1963-1996);
  • Adam Zimmerman fonds: 31 m textual records (1957-1996);
  • Ray Williston fonds: 90 cm of textual records and other material (1914-1999);
  • Prince George Railway & Forestry Museum Society Archival Collection: 7.68 m textual records (1894-1999).
  • Parker Bonney photographic fonds (1926-1945; Bonney was the district forester for Prince Rupert who surveyed the Nass River Watershed and the Headwaters of the Skeena)
  • To my knowledge, types of projects for which our archives have been used include an overview of silviculture practice in the north; the development of Northwood Pulp & Timber within this geographic region; and women in the forest industry.

4. Are there any other great forest history-related topics there that you think are could be researched through your collections?

Yes, we house a massive collection of materials from the town of Cassiar, BC. This material is not yet accessible due to budget constraints and limited staffing resources; however, once it is accessible it will be a tremendously rich source of natural resource related topics.

The Archives has holdings relating to the community of Red Rock, a rural community outside of Prince George. The Archives created the Red Rock Community History Website which includes links to forestry related photographs and transcripts on-line of interviews with former community residents, some of whom were involved in logging and sawmill work c.1930s-c.1970s See:

The Archives has also acquired photographic materials documenting the geographic regions of Northern BC & Northern Yukon: its natural landscapes, wildlife habitats, and surveying activities c. 1920-c. 1950s that would be of interest to researchers of industrial and environmental history. (see A.H. Phipps fonds; Harvey Scott fonds; Knox McCusker fonds).

Other potential topics of interest could include: how Northwood contributed to the establishment and cultural composition of P.G.; the culture of logging camps; the evolution of pulping techniques; the evolution of silviculture and harvesting techniques; the study of rivers and forest composition over time; ethno-botanical research; the possibilities are truly endless given the richness of the material in our holdings.

5. If a researcher who is relatively unfamiliar to the archival research process contacts you with an interest in doing forest history research at the NBCA, what steps might you take to assist them in making their access request and review?

I would do a sit down (or telephone) interview with them to really flesh out what their thesis topic is and how the material we have could help them.

I would provide an overview of our database and how to use it so that it best helps them in their research.

I would discuss the nature of archival material and how researching primary sources differs from conducting library and online research; I would also explain proper handling techniques and reference room etiquette.

I would show them additional on-line resources for conducting primary research.

Finally I would set up a separate viewing appointment for which I would pull out archival material they had already identified as being of interest to them (this would be done after they conducted research on our database).

6. Do you have any general recommendations for researchers who wish to use archives such as the NBCA? How can researchers carry out this process most effectively and professionally?

In general I would say, identify your topic and establish your research agenda – have the scope of your research inquiry in mind when you begin your archival research;

Conduct online research into the Archives you will be visiting before making an appointment;

Make a consultative appointment with an Archivist in order to ensure that the material in the Archives will be useful to you, and to ask any questions you may have re: use of the Archives’ database;

Set aside a couple of hours/day to undertake this primary research;

Bring in a laptop or a pad and pencil to make notes with (no pens allowed).

7. Are you often approached with offers of collection donation? How do you balance the desires of many people to have their materials preserved with the need to have an effective and organized archive? Do you have any suggestions for someone who finds a collection of old photographs or other such materials that they want to bring to an archive?

For any material that is being considered for donation create an inventory: include titles, dates, context of possession, an overview of previous storage conditions, and any other bits of information related to this material (this is VERY important);

Locate an Archives that is in the same area from which this material originated (i.e. if the photos are of Ft. George or within the area of Northern British Columbia north of Williams Lake to the Yukon Border, contact the NBCA, if they are of Stanley Park contact City of Vancouver Archives, etc.) Archives generally restrict their collecting to a geographic area;

Understand that this material may not be publically accessible for quite some time due to backlog (unfortunately very common in Archives);

Determine if this material is to have any access restrictions (i.e is there any personal information within that you don’t want the public to see for a set number of years);

Know that most Archives do not have a budget for purchasing any archival material; the only incentive we can offer is that of tax receipt. Therefore determine ahead of time if you want a tax receipt;

Determine (before gifting) if any other member of your family wants this material, either in its original format or a copy thereof. If a copy is requested speak to your local Archivist about this process before undertaking it yourself as they will be able to provide technical guidance. It is important to have familial consensus if making such a gift on behalf of family as this can lead to unnecessary internal family strife – it is very difficult to undo a gifting agreement once signed.

Featured image: Photo by Dick Hoskins on Unsplash.

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