By Graeme Niedtner and Georgia Twiss
The third week of November marks Archives Awareness Week in British Columbia. The week is meant to raise public awareness for archives and archival records in communities across the province. This year’s theme is “The Past, The Present, and The Future of Archives,” which asks us to think through the foundations of our work, while also challenging us to imagine the ways we can evolve for the future.
The core mandate of the MONOVA Archives is to collect, protect, and use archival records relating to the history of North Vancouver. As we undertake this work the environment is always at the forefront of our minds. In accordance with MONOVA’s guiding principles, we are fully dedicated to recognizing that our natural environment has profoundly influenced and continues to shape our community. The waters of the Burrard Inlet alongside the jagged peaks of the North Shore Mountains, the traditional lands of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, create the natural borders of the City and District of North Vancouver and are used as sites of recreation and play, and the flora and fauna of the region have fed, clothed, and housed countless generations of people living on the North Shore.
The environment is essential in other ways as well. Temperature-controlled settings are crucial for preserving and protecting archival records while preparing for threats like forest fires, floods, and other natural disasters are a mandatory part of archival planning. Climate change, then, dramatically impacts our work as it shapes the way we look at the past, present, and future, bringing forth the question: how do we as archivists play a role in mitigating the impact of climate change? And, additionally, what is our role in environmental justice?
One of the ways that we can take on this role is by serving as an information resource that shows how climate change has impacted the environment over time. To illustrate this, the MONOVA Archives team has chosen to highlight the Chatwin family fonds and its journey from a donation to a publicly accessible resource. These records were chosen as they reflect the importance of archival records to environmental history, and at the same time serve as an excellent way to learn how donations make their way from a donor to the public.
The Chatwin family fonds, donated in 2022, is made up of approximately 700 photographs, 1200 negatives, and 18 film reels. The majority of the photographs were taken by Len Chatwin, a member of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club (BCMC) and a prolific photographer who worked for the National Film Board of Canada. The records mainly focus on mountaineering and the natural environment, but also include personal photographs that illustrate the lives of the Chatwin family from the early 1930s to the mid-1950s. They were donated by his daughter Ann Chatwin to MONOVA in October of 2022.
“My purpose for donating my family’s archival images to MONOVA is for the materials to help preserve the magic of mountaineering in earlier times, and to educate about the importance of protecting the environment,” noted Ann when asked recently about her decision to donate to MONOVA. “My father, Len Chatwin, and mother, Norma Chatwin experienced such pure joy and passion while climbing and witnessing the majestic beauty of mountains. My hope is that the images can help preserve some of the essence of this joy and inspire young people to venture into the mountains and to cherish nature. Mountain scenery has changed so dramatically with glaciers melting, and my hope is that these images can be educational, bringing more awareness to the need to increase environmental protection. MONOVA is the ideal home for these materials since most of the photography was done locally, and MONOVA has a good reputation for its collection of mountaineering archival materials.”
PRE-PROCESSING A DONATION
The first step to making records publicly accessible begins with the donor reaching out to the archives which instigates the formal donation process. This includes an appraisal of the materials being donated to determine if they fit into the mandate of the organization and if they are in good condition and the signing of an official donor agreement. Questions an archivist can consider at this time include: how were the records created, used, and kept? Are there any preservation issues? Are there any copyright or legal issues that would restrict the use and access of the records? And, what types of mediums are part of the donation (ie. audiovisual, cartographic, etc.)?
PROCESSING A DONATION
Some records arrive in a clear order, meaning that it is clear how the donor created, used, and stored them. Records that are well organized require little intervention from an archivist and can be kept in their original order. However, some records do not arrive in any order. For example, they are placed in a box, but it is not clear how they are related to each other. This means that archivists are then required to impose an order which can be challenging when the full context is not known and might mean that some information is lost or altered.
Placing records into a clear file structure helps archivists determine the extent of the records and makes them more accessible to the public, but it is a time-consuming process. For physical materials, the work involves physical rehousing (like placing photos and paper in acid-free folders and boxes as part of long-term preservation). Once organized, description work occurs to provide archivists and researchers context for what is included in each file and when and how the records were created.
Len Chatwin annotated many of his photographs and negatives, which significantly aided our organization and description work, as it meant that it took less time to research and determine the context of the photos (ie. where they were taken, who was pictured, and when they were taken.). This also helped with the arrangement of the records, as we could then easily organize the photographs that were related to each other as we knew where they were from. As of the present, the pre-processing, processing, and describing of the Chatwin family fonds has taken approximately 160 hours of labour. We estimate there is at least another 100 hours of work needed to make the collection entirely accessible to the public.
AN IMPORTANT REMINDER
Many of the places pictured in the photographs from the Chatwin family fonds are familiar sites in the Greater Vancouver area such as the North Shore Mountains, including Hollyburn, Grouse, Brunswick, the Lions, amongst others, Golden Ears, Garibaldi, and the City of Vancouver. But while many of these places are recognizable, they are also strikingly different to the modern eye. Large glaciers have now receded and sparsely populated areas are now densely urbanized. The evolution of these places, caused by the impact of climate change and the growth of communities, is evident when looking through the lens of Len Chatwin. Ensuring the preservation of his photographs allows researchers today, and in the future, to tell the story of environmental change over time, and is a vital reminder of the importance of our work as archivists in protecting this part of the history of North Vancouver and beyond for years to come.
VIEW SOME OF THE PHOTOS FROM THE CHATWIN FAMILY FONDS
Click through the images below to see some of the photos from the collection.
We rely on contributions, monthly or one-time gifts, to help MONOVA safeguard and expand our community’s archival and museum collections, build learning experiences and inspire future generations.
Donations are accepted through the Friends of the North Vancouver Museum & Archives Society, Registered Charity No. 89031 1772 RR0001.
We respectfully acknowledge that MONOVA: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver is located on the traditional lands of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations, whose ancestors have lived here for countless generations. We are grateful for the opportunity to live, work and learn with them on unceded Coast Salish Territory.