AFTER a two-year digitization process, the Winnipeg-based Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada has made two of its major collections — oral histories and newspaper archive — available for online research and browsing.
"The two main reasons for doing it are accessibility and preservation," Stan Carbone, director of programs and exhibits, said of the goal of the project (www.jhcwc.org/search-the-archives).
"We wanted to make it as easy as possible to access these significant collections about Jewish history, and to preserve these historical documents."
People around the world can now access the oral history collection at the centre, consisting of 200 audio clips by rabbis, businesspeople, professionals, politicians, Holocaust survivors and others. They were recorded between 1968 and 2011.
Online visitors can also delve into the newspaper collection, which dates back to the early 1900s and includes Der Yiddishe Vort (Israelite Press), a Yiddish-language newspaper published in Winnipeg; the Jewish Post, an English-language weekly founded in 1925; and Western Jewish News, also founded in 1925.
According to Carbone, there was a special urgency for digitizing the newspapers, due to severe deterioration.
"The paper is degrading," he said of some of the oldest newspapers in the collection. "Sometimes, it crumbles in your hands when you turn the pages."
The many items in the two collections document much of the Jewish community experience in Winnipeg over the past century, Carbone said.
"It is often the only source of information about individuals and organizations and events," he noted, adding "it could all be lost if not digitized."
Although the collection will be of primary interest to members of the Jewish community, it’s also a way for others to learn about how multiculturalism in Canada evolved over the years, he said.
"It provides perspective on what Canada was like as a country, how it treated minorities, how it evolved," Carbone said.
Photos in the collection are of family life, work and Jewish organizations. "People who have used it have found photos of ancestors they’ve never seen before," he said.
One interesting aspect of the newspaper collection is how it provides a glimpse into ways Winnipeg’s Jewish community dealt with the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, such as creating mutual aid societies and operating social and medical services to help members of the community.
The digitization is even more important now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the physical archive is closed and people can’t visit in person to do research, Carbone noted. "This makes materials much more accessible today."
The digitization project cost $50,000. It was made possible by support from the Thomas Sill Foundation, the Jewish Foundation of Winnipeg, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority and by donations from Richard Kroft and the late Mark Bernstein. The collections can be found at https://www.jhcwc.org/search-the-archives/
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.
Updated on Thursday, June 11, 2020 at 10:33 AM CDT: Removes deck
10:55 AM: Adds donor, adds link