Maureen Duffus and archivist Chance Dixon flip through an old ledger in the View Royal archives.

Preserving snapshots of history

  • Mar. 16, 2011 8:00 a.m.

View Royal archive emerges from historian’s collection

Maureen Duffus has a favourite question for new residents of View Royal: “Did you know the town existed before you moved here?”

A founder of the View Royal Archives, Duffus is happy to fill residents in on any of the town’s history they may have missed — such as, whose 900-acre waterfront farm was subdivided for the town’s first residential development in 1912 (John Sebastian Helmcken)? Or how Portage inlet got its name (because canoes were carried there from Esquimalt Harbour to reach the ocean).

A sedulous purveyor of local history, Duffus accumulated many of the documents and photos in the archive while researching her 1993 self-published book on View Royal history, Craigflower Country. Proceeds from that book helped build and maintain the collection, originally stored in a cupboard, until it officially became a town entity two years ago.

Now there’s an archives office on the lower level of Town hall and archivist Chance Dixon was hired last October to manage the collections.

“There’s a lot of information here you just can’t find anywhere else,” Dixon said, sitting in the archive’s sunny front room where long tables wait for researchers to pour over the materials stored dated boxes and file cabinets.

On the walls hang historic photos and old city planning maps, including one from the 1800s when the the town known only as part of Esquimalt District and a canal was planned to connected Portage inlet to Esquimalt Harbour — a contentious proposal that popped up regularly through the Town’s history, but never came to be.

Other prized items in the collections include early newspapers, tapes and transcripts of oral histories, and ledgers (receipt books) from some of the area’s first businesses.

Dixon loves a reason to put on her white cotton gloves and pull items out.

“One of the our challenges is definitely public outreach, letting people know we’re here,” she said. “This isn’t information you can find on the Internet.”

While Dixon hopes to see the archive digitize some of its records and make them available online, currently it doesn’t even have its own website. There’s only one computer in the office and it’s used for the catalogue.

“Like many small municipal archives, we don’t have a lot of funding,” Dixon said. “We couldn’t do any of this without volunteers.”

Bill Stavdal wandered into the archive earlier this year with an interest in helping out and was quickly put to work. He’s been going to locations where historic photos were shot and snapping an updated version.

The “then and now” photos are printed monthly in this newspaper and also help the archive build it’s modern collection.

“These days with everybody taking their digital photographs, there’s not the same kind of records as in the past,” Stavdal said.

Dixon said the archive can accept disks with digital photos on them, but there’s always a need to be transferring the content onto updated formats, so information isn’t lost on outdated technology.

“We’re always looking for donations,” she said. “Diaries or journals, photographs — really anything that offers some type of snapshot of history — we can take it for future generations to see how people used to live.”

The View Royal archive, located on the ground level of the Town hall (45 View Royal Ave.) is open for drop-in Friday mornings from 8:30 a.m. to noon and by appointment by calling 250-479-6800 or e-mail cdixon@viewroyal.ca.

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