Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Our archival yearbooks should stay in our province

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They say the printed book isn't long for this world, but there's one book that's still published every year, much to the delight, of thousands of Winnipeg teenagers, if you please.

I'm referring, of course, to the appropriately named yearbook. Specifically the high school yearbook, the original book of faces, if not Facebook.

It's actually a history book that almost every student enjoys paging through at this time of year, even the ones who never understood the relevance of history and hated the class.

But even some institutions that are supposed to "get" history -- collect it, in fact -- don't really seem to "get" the yearbook.

Not in Manitoba, anyway.

Not according to local book buyer and seller Burton Lysecki, who collects and sells university and local high school yearbooks in the hundreds, most of them dating between the 1950s, through the 1980s.

That Lysecki has that many is surprising. But what shocked me is who is -- and who is not -- buying our old yearbooks from him.

Lysecki, who operates Burton Lysecki Books on south Osborne Street, recently told me he had sold a collection of 200 to 300 local yearbooks to an out-of-province university.

Lysecki acknowledged he didn't even bother to offer the collection to either the University of Winnipeg or the University of Manitoba, "because they don't seem interested."

Or have the money to be interested.

History tells him that.

Lysecki said he did offer the yearbooks to the provincial archives and the Winnipeg Public Library, but they didn't have the money in their budgets.

And buying, or even collecting yearbooks, can be expensive, according to Lysecki. Even when people want to donate old yearbooks to local institutions, Lysecki said there's a high labour cost involved in sifting the keepers from the discards.

I get that.

My wife still has her collection of Gordon Bell High School yearbooks mouldering away in a green plastic garbage bag, that only recycling would take.

And she can't throw out.

I have one 1967 edition of the St. James Collegiate yearbook -- without the missing hard cover -- that nobody would want, either.

Although Greg Selinger might want to look at it.

The province's future premier was featured 46 years ago in a postage-stamp-sized school photo, one face among the 50 on the page that made a lasting name for himself in our province's history.

You can find the city's first female mayor, Susan Thompson, in an earlier St. James Collegiate yearbook.

There are others in the 1967 edition you might, or might not, recognize as teenagers.

Laurie Mustard, of local broadcast and print fame, is there, along with a caption that sounds bang on, even after all these years.

" 'Laur' has a very outgoing personality,' loves people, animals and publicity. His great wit gets him into many predicaments."

Yours truly is even pictured, sans facial hair.

And attitude.

Of course paging through the yearbook, there are also faces there that aren't here anymore.

Bud Harden, for one.

The yearbook caption for the future star quarterback of the University of Manitoba reads: "Enjoys football, hockey, baseball, inter-room sports. Ambitions: Teach Phys Ed., become the next Kenny Ploen."

Bud didn't have to become the next great Bomber quarterback to be a success in life. All he had to do was raise a loving family.

He died way too young, of cancer, on March 23, 1996.

Which brings us back to Burton Lysecki and how he sees high school yearbooks as priceless -- well, almost priceless -- sources of social history.

"You can put people together in groups," he says. "So-and-so went to school with so-and-so. This is good biographical information."

It's also just interesting, and even fun, to look back at the way we were.

Lysecki still has hundreds of yearbooks and he's still buying them in hopes that he can sell them, both to individuals, and more importantly and lucratively, as archival collections.

Most importantly, archival collections of Winnipeg and Manitoba high school yearbooks that are housed here.

That Burton Lysecki feels he has to go to another province to sell Winnipeg yearbooks -- to sell our own history -- is an event that should shame us all.

We need our own collection of yearbooks kept in our own province.

That will take money, of course, and I know someone who might understand and we can ask.

That Grade 10 boy from St. James Collegiate who grew up to be the premier of Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 4, 2013 B1

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