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Manitoba History: Cools Things in the Collection

by Scott Goodine
Archives of Manitoba

Number 61, Fall 2009

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Before coming to Winnipeg to work at the Archives of Manitoba, I was in charge of Private Records acquisition, appraisal and description at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA). At the PAA, a small team had the onerous—and exhilarating—task of ensuring the documentary heritage of all Albertans was preserved through the acquisition and preservation of non-governmental archival records in all media. In the course of doing this work, many times archival treasures came in and turned an ordinary day into a memorable one.

It is this experience of the excitement of working with new donations that led me to agree to Manitoba History editor Gordon Goldsborough’s request to have staff at the Archives of Manitoba write a column entitled “Cool Things in the Collection.” This was an idea that greatly intrigued me as I have come to appreciate that every archivist has personal favorites that vary greatly according to the archivist. For example, while in Alberta, I had two favorite archival fonds that appealed to me for very different reasons. One was the Jennifer Leigh McCullough fonds. Jennifer was a young Albertan woman who was killed by a drunk driver in 2003. In 2004, her mother Linda McCullough contacted me and the PAA acquired 1.6 meters of records relating to the life and tragic death of an “ordinary Albertan.” But the records were far from ordinary. They documented a young life, in text and photos, that ended abruptly with no closure—the records were fundamentally the same as they had been before her death. One could view the maturing process of a young woman and her often stormy relationship with her parents. Archives rarely get the records of children but this time, because of a senseless, criminal act, the PAA was able to acquire records that speak, in often harsh and negative terms, to life as a teenage girl in suburban Edmonton in the 1990s. To her credit and with my admiration, Linda McCullough adamantly insisted that no culling take place of sensitive materials and no access restrictions be placed on the records. The records are now fully available for research.

Another of my favorites was the fonds of John Patrick Gillese, a writer who became head of the Government of Alberta’s literary arts branch in the 1970s. Prior to taking on this role, Gillese claimed to have authored over 5,000 freelance articles. Given the mass of articles and drafts in his records, I would say he was fairly close though this was difficult to verify as he wrote under several pseudonyms. As a bureaucrat, Gillese was very frank in articulating that writing was a business rather than an art. This led him to several run-ins with prominent Alberta authors such as Rudy Wiebe and Aretha Van Herk when he was in charge of doling out money to support Alberta’s writing community during the free-spending Lougheed years. Interestingly Gillese generally wrote in outdoors or Catholic magazines. Some of his more interesting material was written under a female pseudonym counseling Catholic schoolgirls on how to avoid “temptation.”

Those are just two examples of records that interested me—there are so many more that this column could go forever! Other archivists have different interests and that is what will make this column so exciting for the Archives of Manitoba, and I hope for you. For each issue of Manitoba History, starting with the next one, the Archives of Manitoba will select a different staff member to produce a column. The selected staff member will have full freedom to select anything in our holdings to write about—it could be a single photograph or map or it could be an enormous collection of government records. Each selection will be different and this will be the strength of this column. In fact, it will illustrate one of the great strengths of the Canadian tradition of Total Archives and its wonderful but chaotic mixture of official government records with the records of private citizens and groups—the material is so varied we will never know what to expect. I will add, however, that the Archives is imposing one restriction on each column: the records must be described and available in Keystone, our Collection Management Database, to allow those interested the opportunity to visit these records. Hopefully everyone will enjoy looking into the back corners of the Archives of Manitoba in future columns.

By the way, for those interested, descriptions for the Jennifer Leigh McCullough fonds and the John Patrick Gillese fonds can be found here: Select the “Search Online” link then “Archives Network of Alberta Database,” searching for the names of these two people.

Thanks for the memories. The Archives of Manitoba, located in downtown Winnipeg in the old Civic Auditorium near the Legislature, contains extensive collections of invaluable historical records. Some will be profiled in future installments of “Cool Things in the Collection.”
Source: Archives of Manitoba

Page revised: 11 May 2016

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