The Saskatchewan Archives Board has staffed an office at the University of Saskatchewan for nearly 70 years.
But due to a new and more expensive lease agreement with the university, the office — tucked below the Gordon Snelgrove Gallery in the basement of the Murray Building — could be forced to box up its collection and leave as early as 2015.
The archives board acquires and preserves historical provincial records. The repository includes newsprint that dates back to the 19th century, original government documents, private letters, academic work, papers tracing early settlement in the province, photographs, some audio and video.
For decades, the university has waived the archive’s tenant fees and allowed the office to operate on campus at no cost. But according to the new agreement, the university will begin charging for building maintenance, custodial services and utilities in two years.
Already dealing with their own recent budget cuts, the archives board will likely be unable to absorb the rent increase. They have hired a consultant to conduct a study on the feasibility of keeping an active office at the U of S.
If the campus office is deemed unaffordable in 2015, the records would likely be consolidated at the SAB head office in Regina.
Darren Cranfield, director of corporate services for the archives board, declined to comment on the amount the Saskatoon office will be charged in 2015, but called it a “significant” increase. Given the university’s projected operating deficit, he said he understands why the university rehashed the lease.
Besides Quebec, Saskatchewan is the only province to run an archive out of two separate cities.
I think we need to consider our options at this point. And yes, one of them is a consolidation of the operations in Regina.
James Cook is the manager of the business opportunities office at the U of S and brokers deals with tenants across campus. He drew up the new lease agreement for the Saskatchewan Archives Board last summer.
He said the university and the archives board both wanted to formalize a long-term arrangement.
“Our policy is that anyone who rents space on campus should pay at least for their occupancy charges, which are things like their utilities and maintenance,” Cook said. “We have the same discussion with everyone.”
Years ago, it was more common to have tenants on campus that were not charged basic operating fees, but Cook says that’s changed.
He said his office did not consider what the repercussions would be if the archives were forced to leave campus due to the new costs.
The formation of the Saskatchewan Archives Board and its office on campus is largely due to the work of Arthur Silver Morton, who became head of the history department at the U of S in 1914.
After arriving on campus from Toronto, Morton spent years researching Saskatchewan’s early history, laying the groundwork for a provincial archive and calling on the provincial government to establish a secure and stable funding model for the archives. In 1945, two months after Morton’s unexpected death, the archives board was established as a non-partisan agency at arm’s length from government.
The mandate of the Saskatchewan Archives Board is to document all aspects of provincial life deemed to hold historical value.
“Most people or groups record their activities, whether in the form of letters, email, diaries, minutes, financial records, photographs, moving images, maps and architectural drawings, memoires, spoken traditions or sound recordings,” the SAB’s 2011-12 annual report reads.
“The oral accounts of aboriginal elders, the written records kept by settlers, the varied yet precarious physical formats of the early 21st century office and home, provide an immediate and unique source of information of Saskatchewan’s people.”
Nadine Charabin began working at the archives on campus as a student in 1985 before taking it on as a full-time gig in 1990. She’s now the chief archivist and manager of the office.
Charabin estimates that about 100 researchers, many of whom are undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty members from the university, walk in the door each month to locate an item and use the reading room on-site.
While Erika Dyck was working towards her PhD at McMaster University in Ontario from 2001 to 2005, she came to Saskatoon each summer to research at the provincial archives on campus.
Her research focused on the history of medicine, particularly the work of Abram Hoffer, a psychiatrist who spent time working at the U of S during the 1950s. While in Saskatchewan, Hoffer and another psychiatrist named Humphry Osmond explored the potential medicinal uses for hallucinogenic drugs.
“They engaged in a series of LSD experiments here in Saskatchewan that were some of the largest and most significant in the world,” Dyck said.
Hoffer and Osmond would drop LSD, often with their wives and other scientists, to test its effects, which were largely unknown at the time. Later they would attempt to treat alcoholics by dosing them with the drug.
If the University of Saskatchewan is the people’s university, we want to have this information for the people.
Simmone Horwitz, department of history
Dyck spent four summers going through 200 boxes of Hoffer’s that were acquired by the provincial archives through a personal donation. The records, which had yet to be catalogued, included publications, newspaper clippings and about 30 boxes of handwritten correspondence, much of which was scrawled in a unique shorthand that had to be “decoded,” Dyck said.
She now works as a Canadian medical history professor at the U of S and is overseeing the work of a PhD student who is using Hoffer’s records extensively for his research.
Dyck called the advantage of having the archives on campus to serve the existing research community “tremendous.”
“If they move it’s a shame,” she said.
It’s just before 2 p.m. in the reading room of the provincial archives on campus and Marion Ghiglione is stationed in front of a microfilm machine.
She is sliding through editions of the Saskatchewan Herald from the 1880s, looking for the name William Parry Williams, her great-grandfather, who she calls the “black sheep” of the family.
Williams moved from England to Saskatchewan sometime during the late 19th century. He became a constable for the North West Mounted Police in Battleford, Sk. and remarried, even though he had a wife back in England. Ghiglione believes he may even have married illegally a third time.
She has been combing through archives for information on Williams since 1974 and pays special attention to birth, marriage and death notices in newspapers from the late 1800s. At that time, official hospital records in the province were almost non-existent.
“A lot of stuff is digitized, but this isn’t yet,” Ghiglione said, pointing to news clipping she had just discovered that tells the story of a notorious local thief, “Joe the Prisoner,” who broke into William’s home and robbed him of jewelry and rare coins.
“These records you still have to work hard for and it makes it really exciting to find something.”
Simmone Horwitz grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, and moved to the U of S in 2005 to do postdoctoral work. Two years later she accepted a faculty position in the history department.
“I teach mostly African history, but one of my areas of interest has been HIV,” she said.
That interest led Horwitz to spearhead a project in 2009 based heavily on the archives.
She and a team of research assistants, mostly undergraduates, spent several hours each week over the course of a semester digging through daily newspapers from across the province. They scanned for stories on HIV from as far back as 1982 and made notes of each one.
Horwitz used the research gleaned from the newspapers to write a paper that she expects to be published in the coming years.
The experience also benefited the student assistants, she said.
“They were able to clock long hours, so they were able to get money while working on campus, but they were also able to expand their research abilities.”
For one of Horwitz’s third-year courses, she has her class visit the archives, locate a historical document and write about it. She said the practical approach teaches students how to conduct historical research in a manner that’s impossible on the web.
“It’s an invaluable part of my teaching,” she said.
Horwitz has seen the archives on campus scale back their hours of operation in recent years and said she is concerned with the diminishing support for the Saskatchewan Archives Board. Without proper funding, she said, important parts of the province’s history will be lost.
Horwitz believes it would be a major disadvantage to students if the archives were moved off campus.
“If the University of Saskatchewan is the people’s university, we want to have this information for the people,” she said.
CORRECTION In the original version of this article, we incorrectly called African history professor Simmone Horwitz “Simmone Horowitz.” We apologize for the error.
Photos: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf
Daryl Hofmann/The Sheaf