Supply and Services

Provincial Archives draws thousands to its doors, millions to its website (05/05/27)

NB 634

May 27, 2005

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following feature article on the Provincial Archives was prepared by the Department of Supply and Services.

FREDERICTON (CNB) - Are you interested in early studies on tidal power, the 100th anniversary of New Brunswick's famous Chestnut Canoe or tracing your long lost ancestors?

Stories like these from the pages of New Brunswick history come alive at the Richard Bennett Hatfield Archives Complex at the University of New Brunswick, where thousands of visitors come each year for information and millions more do research over the Internet.


"The Provincial Archives is a busy place," Supply and Services Minister Dale Graham said. "The demand for information and services is high. In-person visits to the facility total about 7,000 per year, while the website is one of, if not the busiest website of the Government of New Brunswick. Access to programs and services at the Archives by the general public can only be described as outstanding."

The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick website is now recording over three million hits per month, a dramatic increase in online activity as compared to 1,500 hits per month in 1999. Visitors surf the website from more than 80 countries around the globe. Many inquiries involve online genealogical research for vital statistics (births, marriages, deaths) as well as cemetery listings. These searches are often followed by requests for official documents from the archives.

Thousands of other public inquiries are made to the archives each year through letters, e-mails, faxes and telephone calls.

"With all the advances made in technology, the pace of life has quickened and this seems to have led many people to develop a thirst to learn of the life their ancestors lived," said Ruby Cusack, a well-known genealogist from Saint John. "Looking through the window of the past gives us a better understanding of how previous generations coped. Also, for those of us who research our families, it gives us a better understanding of ourselves and how we contend with every day living. Without hesitation, I would say the New Brunswick Archives is one of the best research facilities in Canada for genealogical information."

The Provincial Archives also operates an outreach program where exhibits, finding aids, indexes and transcriptions of genealogical interest can be viewed at various community events. Last year, an estimated 15,000 people were able to view these materials at workshops, fairs and festivals around New Brunswick.

"For us, the benefit of the outreach program is the heightened profile for our collections," provincial archivist Marion Beyea said. "We are able to introduce the public to the work we do, connect with other researchers and occasionally discover a new treasure that a visitor never thought the archives would be interested in having."

Newspaper clippings on microfilm, priceless maps, architectural drawings, video tapes, audio recordings, bound volumes, manuscript collections, government records, census records, letters and diaries, photographs and films, souvenir pictures from royal visits, or snapshots of New Brunswick life 'in days gone by' are also found at the archives.

Currently, a walk-in black and white photo exhibit at the Archives focuses on Canada's participation in the Second World War and the 60th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands.

Online exhibits include New Brunswick at War, Women at Work, Royal Visits to NB, and Canoeing on the St. John River. Interesting historical documents on the soldiers who fought as loyalists in the American Revolution are a new attraction on the website as well.

The Provincial Archives is also used for retrieving land records for highway or industrial development projects as well as architectural records and blueprints for heritage properties or the housing industry. Sometimes large sums of money may be at stake, for example, where a right of way is at issue, or where land or wharf rights are in question. So, too, are found historical documents about churches, communities, books, plays, music, academic studies, and governments of the past.

A collection of early studies on tidal power on the Bay of Fundy are also found. The author of the collection was Ewalt van Walsum, a civil engineer from the Netherlands who worked in New Brunswick decades ago and promoted the development of tidal power plants in the Maritimes.

"This is an interesting collection in view of the fact that only recently the Government of New Brunswick announced it would participate in a new study on tidal power as a means to find environmentally sustainable ways to generate electricity in the future," Graham said. "The Provincial Archives charts our past and often points to our future. It represents our history and identity as a province."

As 2005 is the 100th anniversary of the famous Chestnut Canoe, information stored at the Provincial Archives will assist the St. John River Society in celebrating the legacy of the venerable craft during the first annual Fredericton River Festival scheduled for June 11-12 in the capital city.

"From every perspective, the Provincial Archives have been very helpful to our cause," said Molly Demma, executive director of the St. John River Society. "It would have been difficult for us to bring the history of the Chestnut Canoe together (as a New Brunswick icon) without the photos and information obtained from the Archives. We're very appreciative of what the Archives have been able to offer for our River Festival."

At its peak, Chestnut Canoe was the largest canoe manufacturer in the British Empire. The canoe was first manufactured in 1897 in Fredericton, New Brunswick by Robert Chestnut and Sons, making it the oldest in Canada. The superior quality canoe was known for its cedar and canvas construction. Many originals still survive today.

The office building now housing the provincial Department of Training and Employment at 470 York Street in Fredericton once served as a factory for the canoe-making company.

The Provincial Archives has all of this information and much more in its vast collection. The facility has been the guardian of the documents of the people, institutions and government of the province since 1967.

In 2003, the Government of New Brunswick invested $5 million in a new state-of-the-art storage facility as an expansion of the Archives. The storage facility houses permanently valuable records in a climate-controlled environment in order to prolong the life expectancy of important archival material.


MEDIA CONTACTS: Judy Cole, communications officer, Supply and Services, 506-457-7903; Marion Beyea, provincial archivist, 506-453-2122; Ruby Cusack, Saint John genealogist, 506-652-8887; Molly Demma, executive director, St. John River Society, 506-450-8709.