Archeion for Ontario’s Environmental History

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For scholars of environmental history and hobbyists alike, there is a wealth of archival resources to be discovered — the trick is knowing where to look for them. Thankfully, archivists and other information professionals are in the business of making these resources discoverable and available. Many heritage professionals in Ontario are using Archeion to provide free access to descriptions of records relating to Canada’s environment.

What is Archeion?

Archeion is an online archival information database that acts as a directory for Ontario’s archival resources and the institutions that maintain them. Archival resources can range from photographs, to textual records like diaries, letters, reports and ledgers, to audiovisual materials, sound recordings, maps and so much more. Heritage institutions holding archival resources typically keep some kind of records describing their holdings, to assist researchers in finding relevant materials. Institutional members of the Archives Association of Ontario (AAO) contribute descriptions of their archival holdings to Archeion, as well as descriptions of the creators of those archival holdings and information about the collecting institution. The records described in Archeion cross time, space, and all manner of subject matter. Those interested in researching the history of Ontario and Canada’s environment through archival sources should begin with Archeion.

What kinds of records are out there?

  • Photographs: Over 16,000 digital images are published in Archeion, and countless more are described in the database. Digital copies of photographs or other graphic materials that are not directly uploaded to Archeion can often be requested from the holding institution, or onsite visits to see physical copies of items may be arranged. A few examples of environment-related digital images found in Archeion are included here.
023-1-.1-2-.196-11. 196-40. September 1940
One image of solid iron ore and Roberts River overlooking a landscape of trees at the closed Moose Mountain Mine in Sellwood, Ontario. Another mass of solid iron ore can be seen in the background on the hills.
Sudbury Star Fonds. City of Greater Sudbury Archives. https://www.archeion.ca/196-40.
This photograph shows Wendy Elrich, an employee with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, holding a sample collected from the Speed River. Ministry employees were in town all summer collecting data on water quality and quantity.

Photograph appears courtesy of the Guelph Public Library Archives, Ministry Employees Study Grand And Speed Rivers (F45-0-1-0-0-257), May 28, 1975. Guelph Mercury fonds.
  • Newspaper clippings: Esquesing Historical Society describes a number of environment-related newspaper clippings, with titles like: “We must act now if the environment is to be saved” (Aug 09 1989; MG7 A1 – John Sommer Collection), “Canoe Country’s Julie Pomeroy is committed to the environment” (06-Jun-98; Collection MG3 A34 – Canoe Country, Norval), and “Printed work a century ago reflects the life and environment of Halton’s early residents” (1955; MG1 A4 – Luena Campbell Collection). You can contact the Esquesing Historical Society if you would like to read any of these articles.
This photograph shows seven University of Guelph students who were undertaking a summer project to study and record sensitive environmental areas of Wellington County. On the project team were, from left: Jan Vandehulst, Chris Waterston, Wendy Elrick, Doug Foster, Paul Eagles, Marg Stewart, and Stu Muirhead.

Photograph appears courtesy of the Guelph Public Library Archives, Group of Seven Studies Environment (F45-0-8-0-0-368), June 16, 1976. Guelph Mercury fonds.

Crash course on finding environmental records

Now that you know what kinds of records are available in Archeion, it’s time to learn how to find them!

There are a number of ways to find resources on a particular subject, using Archeion. The first is by browsing Archeion’s list of Archival institutions by thematic area. Under Advanced search options, click on the Thematic area drop-down list, and select a theme. These thematic areas consist of subjects represented in the archival holdings of a particular institution. Readers of The Otter may be interested in the Environment and Natural resources thematic areas, among others.

Screen capture of the Advanced search options in Archeion’s list of “Archival institutions,” with “Environment” selected as the Thematic area. You can also filter by Archive type and Region, if you would like to further narrow your results.

A second way to find relevant resources is by browsing Subjects, also known as Subject access points. These terms are used to tag archival resources with shared subjects, in order to gather like resources to improve discovery. The same is also true of Archeion’s Places taxonomy, which brings together resources relating to particular geographical locations. In order to find resources relating to Ontario’s environment, a researcher may want to browse the Subject access points for Environment, Geographic features, and Energy and natural resources.

Pictured here is Martin Parker, whose archival fonds is described in Archeion, and tagged with the Subject “Environment.” Parker was the Regional Coordinator for the Parry Sound District for the second edition of the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, which was compiled between 2001 and 2005. A keen naturalist, Parker had previously been the Regional Coordinator for Bruce County for the first edition of the Atlas in 1981-1985.

Citation: Martin Parker, 2000, CA ON00408 F048, Martin Parker fonds,
Nipissing University and Canadore College Archives and Special Collections, North Bay, ON.

If you are looking for something in particular, the best way to do so is to perform a basic or advanced search. You can perform a basic search by typing a word or combination of words into the Search box in the header bar of any Archeion page. A basic search for the term “environment” yielded 381 results, though some of those discussed the “workplace environment” or other irrelevant topics. We could refine this search by using the Advanced search options

Screen capture of the results page for a basic search of Archeion for the term “environment.” The total number of search results (381) is provided at the top of the page; the Advanced search options are available below.

There are a few ways to perform an Advanced search of Archeion. You can click in the header bar search box where you would perform a basic search, and you will see an Advanced search button. You can also click to expand the Advanced search options on the results page of a basic search, like the one shown above.

The same basic search results page as the one shown above, with the Advanced search options expanded.

Advanced searches allow you more control over your search results. As pictured in the screen capture above, you can limit your search terms to particular fields (for example: Title, Creator, or Scope and content — which generally provides a free-text description of the archival resource). You can also limit your Advanced search using a number of other filters, including whether the archival description has a digital object attached. Digital objects might be JPEG photo files, PDF textual documents, MPEG-4 video files, or a number of other possible attachments. You can also filter your search by date range, which can be helpful in narrowing down your search results to relevant resources. On a search results page, you will also see facet filters for language, archival institution, subject and more; those filters will further refine your search results in more meaningful ways.

TL;DR: use historical archives!

A vast majority of Canada’s environmental history is tucked neatly away in acid-free boxes and file folders in archival institutions dotting the landscape “from sea to sea to sea.” Archeion is a powerful tool for discovering hidden treasures amidst the holdings of Ontario’s heritage institutions, and similar databases exist for other provinces and territories. Who knows what we will discover, if only we take the time to explore?


Feature image: Solid iron ore and Roberts River overlooking a landscape of trees at the closed Moose Mountain Mine in Sellwood, Ontario. 023-1-.1-2-.196-11. 196-40. September 1940. Sudbury Star Fonds. City of Greater Sudbury Archives. https://www.archeion.ca/196-40.
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Jazmine Aldrich has been the Archeion Coordinator since April 2022. Archeion is the Archives Association of Ontario (AAO)'s archival information system, providing access to archival descriptions, authority records and institutional profiles for archival institutions across the province of Ontario.

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