History repeats itself: city archives could head back to Carnegie Library

City's historical documents could head back to refurbished Carnegie Library

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Irreplaceable photos and documents from Winnipeg’s past could finally get a permanent home.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/11/2021 (390 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Irreplaceable photos and documents from Winnipeg’s past could finally get a permanent home.

A new public service report calls for the city’s archives to be relocated to the Carnegie Library, a vacant heritage building at 380 William Ave., from a leased warehouse at 50 Myrtle St.

The library had housed the archives until it was badly damaged by flooding from a 2013 rainstorm, which forced the historical documents to be moved.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Sarah Ramsden, Senior Archivist with the City of Winnipeg, pulls the 1953 East Kildonan council minutes off a shelf in the 50 Myrtle Street warehouse location.

A heritage advocate said the plan is a great fit to preserve both the building, which opened in 1905, and the archives.

“You’re putting your archives, your city history, in a building that has history itself. It makes perfect sense,” said Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg.

Since Carnegie was the city’s first public library, Tugwell said it’s critical to ensure the building is repaired and occupied, while its downtown location is well-suited to provide easy public access to the archives.

“It’s a beautiful heritage building. (In the past), it (was) accessible for people,” she said.

On Nov. 10, council’s property and development committee will vote on a call to refer the $12.7-million plan to move the material and renovate the library to the city’s 2023 budget process. A final council vote on the budget that year would be needed to for final approval of the work.

The group fighting to protect the archives hopes the plan can be approved in the 2022 budget instead, arguing the archives are at great risk as long as they remain at the warehouse.

“There are no environmental controls… which control the humidity and temperature conditions in a proper archives building. And so that is a major factor in the deterioration of older and more fragile records. In effect, where they are now, they are slowly rotting away and I think Winnipeggers would not be pleased to see their history rotting away like this,” said Tom Nesmith, a member of the Association for Manitoba Archives.

Nesmith said his organization agrees returning the archives to a refurbished Carnegie Library would mark a “great step in the right direction.”

The association questions why it has taken so long for the city to find a permanent home for the archives. The city report links that delay to a storm damage insurance settlement that wasn’t reached until 2020.

Nesmith believes the city should have already found the funding to protect its photographs, blueprints and other government records, some of which date back to 1870.

“We have a very, very valuable body of records that have been marginalized in an aging industrial warehouse in an obscure part of the city where their security and preservation has been at great risk and public access to them has fallen off terribly,” he said.

The report notes the warehouse wasn’t meant to be a permanent home for the historical documents, since it has “substandard environmental controls” to protect the collection. It states the move to Carnegie is the most affordable option, estimating that building or leasing other properties to house the archives would cost from $20 million to $26 million.

Coun. Cindy Gilroy, chairperson of council’s property and development committee, said she expects to support the 2023 budget referral.

“We are encouraging more people to get downtown… and I think the archives would be a very good addition to that work,” said Gilroy.

The councillor said she doesn’t expect the project will be funded in 2022, since the city started work on next year’s budget months ago. She suggested federal funding could help support the archives project, since protecting Indigenous records would mark a step toward reconciliation.

joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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