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Preserving Coquitlam's heritage

Coquitlam archivist Emily Lonie. - janis WARREN/THE TRI-CITY NEWS
Coquitlam archivist Emily Lonie.
— image credit: janis WARREN/THE TRI-CITY NEWS

Coquitlam's first ever archivist has done a lot of digging through the history vaults since she was hired last summer.

And soon, Emily Lonie will be uncovering a new policy framework for the city for how it should handle its collections.

Lonie, who has a masters degree in public history from Carleton University, spent four years at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, where she was one of 85 archivists at the national centre. There, she was charged with transportation and policy files.

But when the job popped up in Coquitlam for its new archival program, Lonie jumped at the chance. "It's a dream come true," she told The Tri-City News in a sit-down interview at city hall last month.

Currently, in her 300 sq. ft. ground-floor space, Lonie is responsible for the community archives — that is, text and images that are not 3D.

Among them are documents from Don Cunnings, Coquitlam's first parks and recreation director; clippings and photos from now defunct local newspapers The Herald, The Enterprise and The Columbian; board minutes, song books and pictures from the Como Lake Preschool, which operated from the Scouts building at Blue Mountain Park from 1953 to 2011; School District 43 records; and 1914, 1915 and 1918 police logs from Emeri Paré, the city's first police and fire chief.

Lonie said his entries in English are written phonetically as French was his mother tongue. "You can almost hear the way he spoke by his writing," she said.

The collections were donated from various organizations and many more continue to be repatriated from the cities of Port Coquitlam and Port Moody, via the station museum.

In total, she has 10 metres of community archives and thousands of photos.

Still, more are on the way from the city's record management, which is overseen by the clerks' office.

Lauren Hewson, Coquitlam's information, privacy and administrative services manager, said city records that have an archival value will be transferred to the new archives department. Part of Lonie's job is to make sure that access provided to those records meets privacy standards.

The active records, however, will remain with the individual city departments so that Hewson can have access to them for Freedom of Information requests. "The distinction relates to the status of the records and whether they are still in use or not, and whether they have archival value," Hewson said.

Lonie said the new policy framework for archives will set out current and future mandates to acquire, preserve and make available historical records.

To do her work properly, she believes the city needs up to 2,500 sq. ft. of space. Already, Lonie has spoken with the city's arts and culture advisory committee; she has also formed partnerships with the Coquitlam Public Library and the Coquitlam Heritage Society and, next month, she will talk about the new program with the Coquitlam Sunrise Rotarians as part of her outreach.

Jill Cook, executive director of the Coquitlam Heritage Society, said Lonie's appointment is a "big step forward in the business of preserving and presenting our heritage. Having a professional archivist with whom we can work and who can help us assess the donations which we receive almost daily assists us in determining the value of the donations and their appropriate destination."

Lonie admits she has her work cut out. "Vancouver has had its archives since 1933," she said. "For me, I see this as a real opportunity because I get to create a program from scratch."

 

jwarren@tricitynews.com

 

 

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