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Is it time for Port Moody to establish an official city archives?

The online search tool for the archive in neighbouring Coquitlam had almost 300,000 page views in 2022.
Coquitlam archivist Jamie Sanford shows off several bound editions of the Tri-City News newspaper that were recently donated to the city's archives. He said the preservation of such collections help tell the story of a community to future generations.

Port Moody will look into doing a feasibility study to determine whether it should establish a city archive.

Council referred a recommendation from its arts and culture committee for just such an inquiry back to staff during its meeting on Tuesday, April 9.

An archivist with neighbouring Coquitlam says it’s a vital — if under sung — service.

Jamie Sanford, who manages that city’s archive that was established 11 years ago, said it’s more than a repository of official records like minutes from council meetings, bylaws, maps and aerial photos.

An archive also preserves community memories that might tell small, personal stories, but added together help paint a larger picture of how it's evolved.

Sanford said by creating a place where those memories can be collected, catalogue and made freely accessible to all, an archive becomes a steward of the community’s identity and sense of itself.

“It’s important for people to know how they got here,” he said.

It can be a demanding role.

Sanford said successful, vibrant archives are often championed by individuals or groups who believe it’s important to share a community’s history. They have to forge relationships with other organizations like arts and sports groups, school boards, the local historical society and the library that may have their own informal collections of records and artifacts.

And, Sanford said, an archive requires real estate where its collection can be preserved, safely stored and visited by researchers, historians, students working on a project or residents just curious about their family’s roots in the community or the evolution of their neighbourhood.

“You have to be able to get to it,” Sanford said. “If you’re only collecting, then it’s just hoarding.”

The sign-in sheet for visitors to the Coquitlam archive isn’t very long; it can be a month or more between names. Many people who come through its door on Pinetree Way confuse it with the entrance to the adjoining City Centre library branch.

Sanford said the ubiquity of digital technology has become a double-edged sword for archives.

On the one hand, it’s made it easier than ever to preserve records and artifacts and create databases where they can be catalogued and easily found. In 2022, for instance, the Coquitlam archives’ online search tool had more than 293,000 page views from 43,000 unique visitors.

On the other hand, though, people often don’t think of the memories they’ve collected digitally, like the photos on their phone, or thoughts and observations they’ve recorded on a blog or even a post to social media, as a permanent record of a moment in time that could have value in the future. Photos get deleted when storage space becomes dear, phones get lost or become obsolete, hard drives crash, digital storage technology changes.

Sanford said having an archive in town helps raise awareness about the importance of preserving its memories and keeping them accessible.

“Everything gets old eventually,” he said. “The internet doesn’t have everything.”

📣 SOUND OFF: Do you think Port Moody needs an official city archive? Have you ever used an archive? How have you tried to preserve your own history? Let us know your thoughts in a Letter to the Editor. Please be sure to include your full name and city of residence.