Manitoba History: The Archives of La Société historique de Saint Boniface
by Gilles Lesage
In 1902, la Société historique de Saint Boniface (SHSB) was founded during an excursion organized by a group of Francophones who hoped to discover the site of La Verendrye’s Fort Saint-Charles. Since then the SHSB mandate has been that of promoting and preserving francophone heritage in Manitoba. To this end the SHSB has undertaken archaeological and historical research. It has developed a museum collection containing many Métis and French-Canadian artifacts. It has organized an important archival repository and library relating to Francophone history in Manitoba. In the last few decades, the SHSB has expanded its range of activities to include displays and workshops dealing with museology, archival sciences and genealogy. Management skills and interpretation of historic sites have also been added. These activities, all conducted in French, give the Société a vocation cachet and make it a unique organization.
The Archives’ collection began with the conservation of the original documents of the North West Angle expedition. A journal, photographs, documents describing the artifacts and the results of the archaeological dig and minutes of the meetings were all part of this early collection. The addition of administrative records produced by new activities and the acquisition of records from persons working in historical and genealogical research, greatly increased the prominence of the archives. Individuals such as Pierre Picton, Antoine D’Eschambault and Antoine Champagne deposited with the archives the result of their life’s passion for historical research. Various documents from parishes, towns and individual families, such as the Riel, Dubuc and Boutal families, were also acquired over the years, greatly enhancing the collection of archives.
The most recent survey conducted shows that the SHSB holdings now contain 3.62 metres of administrative records, 104.82 meters of acquired documents, 1,000 published documents preserved in the archives, 275 large documents, 150 maps, 8 architectural drawings, 37 microfilms, 17,118 photographs, 217 hours of recordings, 35 paintings and 12 drawings.
Many institutions have now entered in an agreement with the SHSB to deposit their records on an ongoing basis. These include the “Societe franco-manitobaine,” “La Federation provinciale des comites de parents,” “Francofonds” and others. Individuals also choose to deposit personal documents. The archives of the SHSB has become an increasingly important repository for research purposes and consultation for all areas of interest which concern Franco-Manitobans, be it in the field of education, family history, local history, culture, economy, religious organizations, or social issues.
The acquisition mandate for the archives is very broad and includes all records which are produced as a result of the presence of any Francophone in the West, particularly those living in Manitoba. The mandate, however, also acknowledges that certain institutions such as religious communities manage their own archives. The SHSB maintains contacts with these institutions in order to direct researchers to the proper sources.
Much effort has been put into making the SHSB records accessible to the public. Nine finding aids have recently been produced for the collections described below through grants made available by the National Archives of Canada and by the Manitoba Heritage Federation. A finding aid for the collection of negatives has been produced. The AECFM Collection (Association d’Education des Canadiens-Francais du Manitoba) was also arranged and documents the history of the organization of french education from 1916 to 1969. This collection includes school programs, teacher training programs, records pertaining to the administrative structure at the local and provincial level, and school reports. The Godias Brunet Collection contains information on Brunet’s activities in the field of education, radio-production and literature. The Simon Boivin Collection and Radio Saint Boniface Collection have been made accessible and records documenting the history of French radio in Manitoba are now available. The Marius Benoist Collection contains documents pertaining to Benoist’s activities in the fields of music, literature, radio productions, historical research and genealogy. The Lionel Dorge Collection contains Dorge’s research papers on Taché and on themes related to Franco-Manitoban history. The arrangement of the Centre culturel franco-manitobain Collection has also been completed making records related to the cultural scene accessible to the public.
Recently, an oral history project made possible with a grant from the Provincial Archives of Manitoba has resulted in the recording of interviews and the production of an index. The interviews preserve the testimonies of persons who have lived in Saint Boniface. Projects are also planned for other parts of Manitoba.
The SHSB is now looking to the future and working with other interested parties to ensure a proper development of its archives. A study is under way which will focus on the creation of an archives center in Saint Boniface.
With expanded facilities, an active service will be in place to promote archival conservation. An improved consultation service will also be offered to researchers. It is hoped these measures will prevent the disappearance and destruction of significant historical records and cut down the flow of archives from Manitoba to centers in other provinces which is still too often the case.
Page revised: 23 March 2014