City archives supporters ask council for vote of confidence

Councilor Patricia MacQuarrie says can’t bind hands of future councils

A group of local citizens passionate about the City of Wetaskiwin Archives wanted to send a message to elected officials at the June 25 regular council meeting. But the group of citizens may have been the ones who were given a message.

At the end of the group’s presentation, after the local genealogical society members had presented, city councilor Patricia MacQuarrie told those present, who numbered roughly two dozen plus spokespersons Sharon Aney and Alice Hoyle, that city council has never made any motions or decisions regarding the archives located in the Civic Building (the old city hall) and no changes made to how or if the archives operate.

“No decision has ever been made by council to close the archives,” said MacQuarrie.

But, MacQuarrie pointed out, the current city council can’t tie the hands of future councils; for example, stating the archives will never move or never close. MacQuarrie also referred to a number of rumors circulating in the community about the archives’ future, “Most of which were not factual,” she said.

Hoyle, responding to MacQuarrie’s comments about future councils, said, “That’s not too reassuring.”

Aney began the presentation by describing how genealogical society members and archive volunteers became alarmed when a “for sale” sign was placed on the Civic Building; the archives are located in the bottom level.

She added that some volunteers had been told by city staff there was no plan in place for the archives if the building sold. Aney also noted she read in the Pipestone Flyer a few weeks ago the city went on the record stating the archives are secure regardless of the building’s sale. Aney said there is still some nagging uncertainty about what will happen to the archives if the Civic Building sells.

Aney said this is so because the archives hold hundreds of thousands of documents, such as photographs, newspapers and maps that are old and delicate and require certain care to prevent damage.

She noted digitization of the archive is possible, but it is incredibly time consuming and not cheap to do and that’s more about accessibility, not preservation. Plus, the longevity of digitized data, such as hard drives and cards, isn’t known.

Aney stated hundreds of people contact or visit the archives every year looking for information.

Hoyle continued the presentation by stating she, like many others, is very passionate about the archives because her family has deep roots in the Wetaskiwin region, dating back to the 19th Century. Hoyle stated the archives were founded about 40 years ago because that council and residents recognized the importance of preserving local history not only for locals, but for people around the world who have an interest in this area.

After the topic of digitization came up, MacQuarrie said she agreed with Aney and Hoyle about the archive’s importance, but felt more focus should be put on digitization to increase access to the archive.

MacQuarrie said digitization of the archive’s collection would allow many more people to more easily access the deep history there.

Councilors accepted the genealogical society’s presentation as information.

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