Celebrating International Archives Day with a special anniversary
City of Calgary Archives celebrates 40 years preserving history
It’s International Archives Day and we are celebrating something big: this year marks the 40th anniversary of The City of Calgary Archives.
Although it may have taken until 1981 to formally establish our Archives program, the City Clerk as far back as 1893 purchased a fire-proof vault to begin safely storing the records that help tell our city’s story. The City of Calgary Archives has been providing value and service to civic employees, researchers, writers, students and the public for 40 years. It has preserved the memories, records of decision making and the delivery of services to our city, increasing government transparency and accountability. More recently, the creation of online exhibits is making our collection’s highlights even more accessible for citizens.
“Municipal records document the evolution of our society throughout the years by providing evidence of what was considered to be of importance at a given moment in time,” said Susanne Clark, The City of Calgary Archives Coordinator. “This accessibility to information allows us to learn from our past experiences in order to build a better future.”
Our Archives provides us with a window to the past, shedding light on decision making that helps us learn to build a better future. The most frequent users include city employees seeking information on past decisions, agreements and infrastructure to inform and support current service delivery. We have citizens seeking information on the history of their properties or businesses that may have been in their neighborhood. Media outlets and writers seek information to provide historical context to current issues. Academic researchers or students may consult archival records to understand historical issues, events or architectural controls. There is a wide variety of inquiries and each day we learn something new about the wonderful city we live in, says Kate Martin, City Clerk. “It is my privilege to support The City of Calgary Archives program and guide it into its next decade of service as we transition to providing more access to information online and increasing accessibility to the Archive’s valuable holdings."
So how did it all begin?
The City of Calgary Archives was formally established in April 1981 with the hiring of the first City Archivist, Anthony L. Rees. The mandate was to preserve our permanently valuable records and to make them available to the public. In earlier years, Mayor Harry Hays and newspaper columnist and author Ken Liddel expressed an interest in establishing an archives to gather records for the city’s centennial in 1965. However, an archival program was not established at that time.
In April of 1971, the City of Edmonton established its own municipal Archives, but in Calgary, the Records Control Committee was in charge of records disposition. The Glenbow Foundation and Calgary Public Library were responsible for the appraisal and selection of historic city records. This arrangement was formalized in March of 1973 by the Board of Commissioners and the Glenbow became the official City Archivists. This arrangement continued until 1979, when the growth of city records outpaced the Glenbow’s ability to manage within its mandate. In addition, The City’s overflow records storage on the 2nd floor of the Simmons Mattress Company Building became structurally unsound, so City Clerk Joyce Woodward started making plans for a City-operated Municipal Archives.
Although the City of Calgary Archives was formally established in 1981, City Archivists continued to work in the Glenbow location. It soon became clear that The City of Calgary Archives required its own space, so in the mid-1980s the Archives relocated to the Public Building at 201 - 8th Avenue S.E.
Keeping Olympic records
When Calgary hosted the XV Olympic Winter Games in 1988, there was a need to house the Olympic records and artifacts. City Archivist Elizabeth Denham negotiated an agreement with The Olympic Winter Games Organizing Committee and the Calgary Olympic Development Association to host the records and artifacts of the XV Olympic Winter Games in exchange for 10 years of funding and costs covered to renovate and relocate to a larger facility. The City of Calgary Archives was the first host Olympic city to come to such an agreement.
On June 7, 1990, the Archives opened its doors to its new location on the 1st Floor of the Administration Building. This new space included an environmentally controlled storage area and a larger reading room to better accommodate staff and researchers.
The continuing growth of the archival holdings resulted in the need for additional offsite storage. This resulted in a move to the 4th Floor of the Trade Centre Building in 1993. This new location was walking distance from the Administration Building which facilitated records retrieval from offsite storage.
The year 1994 was a time of fiscal restraint at The City. The leadership of The City of Calgary Archives was blended with Corporate Records. The archival program continued to grow and develop. It grew to a point where in 2012 more specialized offsite storage was needed, so a new special storage area was constructed within a northeast warehouse.
Surviving the 2013 flood
The timing of this move to the new offsite warehouse location was fortuitous, as the Trade Centre was isolated and under water during the 2013 flood. The main holdings of The City of Calgary Archives were spared from the disaster due to the elevation of the City Hall C-Train platform and the Municipal Building parkade. According to maintenance personnel, the flood waters came within inches of breaching the floor of the Archives storage.
In 2019, under the new leadership of Susanne Clark, City of Calgary Archives Coordinator, the Archives has continued to evolve to deliver services to Calgarians, Administration and City Council. Recently, The City of Calgary Archives enhanced its web presence to better support the delivery of digital content and measures have been taken to preserve digital records.
The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 resulted in the longest period of public closure of The City of Calgary Archives since its inception in 1981. In order to continue providing a high-level of public service, the Archives temporarily revised its reference service model and conducted research on behalf of researchers to minimize service interruptions.
And now, as The City of Calgary Archives marks 40 years, it will continue to build on the legacy that this milestone anniversary celebrates. It will continue to bolster interest in our collections and expose the Archives to a wider audience through the development of online exhibits, participation in promotional events such as Historic Calgary Week and Doors Open YYC, give presentations, and promote our city’s history and holdings through social media.
What you can find in City of Calgary archives:
Besides Council meeting minutes and documents and bylaws, the Archives is home to property assessments, parks annual reports, building history and land use research. You can find a sampling of archival records in our gallery
For more information on the Archives or to access the records at The City of Calgary Archives, email firstname.lastname@example.org .
For more information on the International Council of Archives and International Archives Week, click here.