George Whalley

March 1, 2012

Was there anything that George Whalley wasn’t good at? A beautiful certificate attesting to his second place achievement in a Meccano Model building contest in the 1920’s.


Canadian Flag prototype on cheesecloth

February 15, 2012

Happy National Flag of Canada Day! Queen’s Archives is the proud recipient of John Matheson’s papers, including his work as a leading member of the committee to choose a new design for the Canadian flag. One of the many treasures regarding this committee is a Canadian flag prototype on cheesecloth, as seen in this photograph.

This prototype was used by Joan O’Malley to sew the first Canadian maple-leaf flag that was presented to the Canadian Parliament by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson in 1964.

At the stroke of noon on February 15 1965, Canada’s new flag was raised for the very first time.

Love in the Archives

February 14, 2012

Last year, we stumbled across this wonderful drawing in the March 4 1924 issue of the Journal.  After doing a bit of research, we realized that this drawing was done by our benefactor, Kathleen Ryan (neé Whitton), back when she was a student at Queen’s.

To our delight, once we saw their yearbook photos we also realized that the drawing was of her and her eventual husband Sylvester Frank Ryan.

We know that Kathleen and Frank knew each other before they came to Queen’s for they went to the same high school in Renfrew Ontario. But we like to think this drawing gives us some insight into their romance: that perhaps their love blossomed while researching primary source material in the Archives.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s one of the reasons why Kathleen Ryan decided to help fund the renovation of the New Medical Building to house Queen’s University Archives in 1981.


Happy Birthday, Mr. Dickens!

February 7, 2012

In celebration of Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday, we thought we’d present the author’s views on Kingston from his travels to North America, as documented in American Notes, published in 1846:

The   time of leaving Toronto for Kingston is noon. By eight o’clock next morning the traveller is at the end of his   journey, which is performed by steamboat upon Lake Ontario, calling at Port Hope and   Cobourg, the latter a cheerful, thriving little town. Vast   quantities of flour form the chief item in the freight of these vessels. We had no fewer than one thousand and eighty barrels on board between Cobourg and Kingston.

The latter place, which is now the seat of government in Canada, is a very poor town, rendered still poorer in the appearance of its market-place by the ravages of a recent fire.  Indeed, it may be said of Kingston, that one half of it appears to be burnt down, and the other half not to be built up.    The Government House is neither elegant nor commodious, yet it is almost the only house of any importance in the neighbourhood.

There is an admirable jail here, well and wisely governed, and excellently regulated in every respect.  The men were  employed  as   shoemakers, ropemakers,  Black­ smiths, tailors, carpenters,  and stonecutters;  and    in building  a   new   prison,  which  was   pretty  far  advanced towards completion.   The   female prisoners were occupied in needlework. Among them was a   beautiful girl   of twenty, who had been there nearly three years. She acted as  bearer of secret despatches for the self -sty led  Patriots on Navy Island during the  Canadian Insurrection: sometimes  dressing as  a  girl, and   carrying them in her stays; sometimes attiring  herself as  a  boy, and  secreting them in the lining of her hat.  In the latter character she always rode as a boy would, which was nothing to her, for she could govern any   horse that any   man could ride, and could drive four-in-hand with the best whip in those parts. Setting forth on one of her patriotic missions, she appropriated to herself the first horse she could lay her hands on; and this offence had brought her where I saw her.  She had quite a lovely face, though, as the reader may suppose from this sketch of her history, there was a lurking devil in her bright eye, which looked out pretty sharply from between her prison bars.

There is a bomb-proof fort here of great strength, which occupies a bold position, and is capable, doubtless, of doing good service; though the town is much too close upon the frontier to be long held, I should imagine, for its present purpose in troubled times. There is also a small navy-yard, where a couple of Government steamboats were building, and getting on vigorously.

We left Kingston for Montreal on the tenth of May, at half-past nine in the morning, and proceeded in a steamboat down the St. Lawrence River. The beauty of this noble stream at almost any point, but especially in the commencement of this journey, when it winds its way among the Thousand Islands, can hardly be imagined. The number and constant successions of these islands all green and richly wooded; their fluctuating sizes, some so large that for half an hour together one among them will appear as the opposite bank of the river, and some so small that they are mere dimples on its broad bosom; their infinite variety of shapes; and the numberless combinations of beautiful forms which the trees growing on them present; all form a picture fraught with uncommon interest and pleasure.

In the afternoon we shot down some rapids where the river boiled and bubbled strangely, and where the force and headlong violence of the current were tremendous. At seven o’clock we reached Dickenson’s Landing, whence travellers proceed for two or three hours by stage-coach: the navigation of the river being rendered so dangerous and difficult in the interval, by rapids, that steamboats do not make the passage. The number and length of those portages, over which the roads are bad, and the travelling slow, render the way between the towns of Montreal and Kingston somewhat tedious.

Our course lay over a wide, unenclosed tract of country at a little distance from the river-side whence the bright warning lights on the dangerous parts of the St. Lawrence shone vividly. The night was dark and raw, and the way dreary enough. It was nearly ten o’clock when we reached the wharf where the next steam boat lay; and went on board, and to bed.

She lay there all night, and started as soon as it was day. The morning was ushered in by a violent thunderstorm, and was very wet, but gradually improved and brightened up. Going on deck after breakfast, I was amazed to see floating down with the stream a most gigantic raft, with some thirty or forty wooden houses upon it, and at least as many of these rafts afterwards, but never one so large. All the timber, or “lumber,” as it is called in America, which is brought down on the St. Lawrence, is floated down in this manner. When the raft reaches its place of destination, it is broken up; the materials are sold; and the boatmen return for more.

At eight we landed again, and travelled by a stagecoach for four hours through a pleasant and well- cultivated country, perfectly French in every respect: in the appearance of the cottages; the air, language, and dress of the peasantry, the signboards on the shops and taverns; and the Virgin’s shrines and crosses by the wayside. Nearly every common laborer and boy, though he had no shoes to his feet, wore round his waist a sash of some bright color: generally red: and the women, who were working in the fields and gardens, and doing all kinds of husbandry, wore, one and all, great flat straw hats with most capacious brims. There were Catholic Priests and Sisters of Charity in the village streets; and images of the Saviour at the corners of crossroads, and in other public places.

At noon we went on board another steamboat, and reached the village of Lachine, nine miles from Montreal, by three o’clock. There we left the river, and went on by land.

Queen’s Archives also possesses two letters, purchased by the University in 1977.  Perhaps our readers may wish to try their hand at transcribing what is written within in our comment section?

Does Digital = Disposable? (Part 2)

January 26, 2012

By Jeremy Heil

Folder arrangement example

In my last post, I illustrated just a few of the problems we face when trying to preserve digital records over time.  As promised, I’m back to provide a few pointers on what you, as a records creator, can do to preserve your files for yourself, your children, your grandchildren and beyond.

Choose the right equipment

Keeping accessible records starts from the first day you turn on your new computer.  The operating system and software you choose for creating documents will have an impact on how easy it will be to view those files five years later.  You are certainly familiar with the .doc (Word) and .wpd (WordPerfect) file types as perhaps the most common word processing formats.  Because of their popularity, your chances are good that Microsoft and Corel will try to find ways to allow you to read these files in the future – but your fate rests in their hands.  Saving your files as OpenDocument text (.odf) can create an extra level of certainty, as this is a word processing format developed and supported as a world standard.  Standard formats for other types of files include .tif (digital images – scans or other post-photographic images), .dng (photographs), .wav (sound files) and .m2v (video).  If your video camera or recorder allows you to save in these formats, you will have fewer worries in the long run.

Keep control of your files

You can save yourself a lot of headaches down the road by naming your files in a reliable and descriptive manner, and sorting them into appropriate folders.  Did you take 100 photos of family at your niece’s birthday party?  Name them “Nieces_Birthday-2012” (the computer will number them individually) and place them all in a similarly named folder.  Better still (and if you have the time), name the people in the photos in the file name, e.g. “Aunt_Joan_and_Uncle_Dan.jpg,” stored in the “Nieces_Birthday” folder.  Organizing your Word documents and e-mail in a similar way (by project, correspondent, or however else) will also help you keep track of everything you create or receive.  And don’t forget to empty your trash – this will keep your computer clutter free for only your important documents!

Make copies and store them separately

Keeping two or three copies on separate media helps hedge your bets against one CD deteriorating, or a USB key getting accidentally erased.  Most modern computers make it easy to produce backups just by plugging in an external hard drive. Take advantage of this feature, but feel free to burn important photos and documents to CDs as well.  To ensure more complete security, store your backup drive at work or another family members’ house (maybe you can do a backup swap) – this will ensure that should anything happen (fire, flood, etc.), your computer will have a clone safely stored elsewhere.  You can even take advantage of online network storage, like the iCloud, to back up important files.

Revisit your old files

This is your chance to reminisce!  As you take a walk down memory lane, you’re not only remembering past events, you’re also taking note of whether the path is in need of repair. Does your CD give you an error message when you try to click on a jpeg?  You can resort to finding a copy of the image from one of your other backups.  If this is one time you did not get the chance to make a backup, find an expert in data recovery.  Corrupted files may not always be salvageable, but if it’s important, it may be worth a try.  As file formats age, some software may even have difficulty finding a way to open the files.  It’s at this point you can also take stock of any other obsolete file formats in your personal archives.  These files can be migrated (opened and resaved) into a modern file format for easier access, but this process does require some additional level of skill and care to ensure you are not losing vital information from the original document (nonetheless, always hold on to the original format as well – just in case).

What I’ve given you here are just a few tips to think about – this is by no means an exhaustive list of what you can do.  Creating records in a digital world takes no effort at all, but keeping them requires a little work from time to time.  You can read further details on what you can do in the InterPARES document Making and Maintaining Digital Materials: Guidelines for Individuals.  I am happy to answer your questions, too – just add it to the comments below!

Burns Literary Society records

January 25, 2012

Happy Robbie Burns Day! We are fortunate to have in our collection the records from the Burns Literary Society (Toronto).  The records, mostly consisting of minute and account books, date from 1898-1932, and were donated to us in 1979 by the last president of the Society – Duncan McCowan.

The point of the Burns Literary Society was to celebrate the life and work of Robert Burns, and the meetings involved reciting his poetry and singing his songs. Every year, the Society held a Robbie Burns Dinner on his birthday.  As seen in the above meeting minutes from January 25 1926, there was always a haggis presented at the dinner with “Address to a Haggis” recited.

The Burns Literary Society (later renamed the Burns Club in 1947) ceased to exist in the 1960s due to a lack of new members.

Cataraqui Cemetery Now a National Historic Site

January 18, 2012

Cataraqui Cemetery, 1891

Congratulations to Cataraqui Cemetery for being designated as a National Historic Site of Canada yesterday.  It truly is a national treasure, and we are proud to be the repository for their historic records. Measuring in at 7.8 metres of records, the Cataraqui Cemetery Company fonds is a gem in itself.  Dating back to 1853, the records include many interesting items such as a register of lot owners (1856-1897) and various maps of the cemetery.

Does Digital = Disposable? (Part 1)

January 17, 2012

by Jeremy Heil

Image of diskettes, tape and other archival media
What would you do if you were told that all of your family photo albums would simply disappear in the next five years? Would you take action to ensure the contents would live on in some form, by copying the photos, reprinting them or storing them in a secure location? Or would you simply let it happen? Chances are, these records mean something to you. The photos don’t just sit in a box; they are organized and kept by you or someone you know, and recall some special memory.

Unfortunately, the rapid loss of our own history is precisely the dilemma we all face today. Digital photography is the norm, but few people actually take the appropriate precautions or considerations with their jpegs to ensure they can still be viewed five years from now. And it’s not as if the colours simply fade – a loss of a few bits – the 0s and 1s that make up digital files – can destroy the entire image forever.

Most people don’t give it a second thought. Nowadays we create almost everything on computers, smartphones and other technology. It is a “born digital” world, and I am now writing this article in a Word document, to be copied and pasted into this blog (no trees were harmed in the creation of this post).

A year ago, I completed a six-month sabbatical studying just this dilemma – how do we, as archivists, preserve the digital memory of our institution and our private donors? On the surface, the question is quite straightforward. Just as people write and type to paper, photograph to film then print to paper, and record sound to tape, they now do all of this to digital media (hard disk, flash memory, etc.).

But the move from a tangible to an intangible storage medium is fraught with many problems in the long term. Do you have the disk drives to read 5¼” floppy disks? Zip disks? Even 3½” floppies are seldom used anymore. On the software side, most of the popular word processors can read documents that were created by previous versions of the software, but not without the loss of some vital information. And to top it all off, we are generating more records each and every day than we ever have in human history.

The Archives are the end of the road for records of lasting value and historical significance. Once they have outlived their usefulness to their creators, Archives are tasked with maintaining these records forever. It is this concept that escapes most – this is not five years (the life cycle of most new technology), twenty-five years (the point at which most people forget what the old technology was like) – this is multiple lifetimes, extended for centuries. We have been the repositories of human history since the beginning of the written word, and now we are the keepers of future memory. What we preserve now will be seen and used by our progeny to understand and interpret our lifetime. What we lose will form wide gaps in this understanding.

There is no doubt that we have lost some history by virtue of technology progressing at a faster rate than our ability to preserve the records created. This does not mean that all is lost, though. Even paper can crumble into many pieces, never to be seen again – it happens all the time! Flood, fire, pests and so much more are the enemies of the historic record. Only now in the digital age, we face new enemies in the guise of rapid progress and obsolescence. Loss of records through negligence, benign neglect and ignorance of their importance is serious, and serves to undermine most Archives’ preservation efforts. The truth is, Archives can only preserve what records they receive.

Next time, I’ll tell you what you, as a records creator, can do to preserve your digital records.

George MacMartin’s diary

December 20, 2011

Queen’s Archives was featured on CBC’s Ideas program regarding an item in our holdings – George MacMartin’s diary (1905). George MacMartin was the Treaty Commissioner for Ontario and part of the team who met with First Nations leaders, resulting in James Bay Treaty Nine. This diary was thought to have been “lost”, but in reality has been in our holdings for over thirty years (Location #2999). MacMartin’s diary provides another perspective on the James Bay Treaty Nine besides those found in the government records.

Learn more about George MacMartin’s diary and James Bay Treaty Nine by listening to the CBC’s Ideas program “George MacMartin’s Big Canoe Trip”

Unusual Christmas card

December 20, 2011

Definitely one of the most unusual Christmas cards we’ve found in our collection. Dolls playing tennis?!

This was found in a scrapbook in the Comer fonds 2304.1 box2. Judging by the cards in the scrapbook surrounding it, we presume this Christmas card is circa 1880.