Archives History

The BC Archives is the oldest archival institution in Canada west of the Great Lakes.

In 1894, when the new provincial Legislative Buildings were under construction in Victoria, a library was included in the plans. Fortunately for the history of BC, the first Legislative Librarian—R.E. Gosnell—was also an avid historian, who began immediately to collect and preserve the new province’s documentary records. Afraid that records of the early days of the province would be lost, he mounted an advertising campaign asking for “reminiscences of pioneer settlement . . . old letters, journals, files of newspapers, books, pamphlets, reports, charts, maps, photographs, sketches and so on.” An example of the advertisement appears in The Inland Sentinel, 1 June 1894, p. 3.

In 1908, the government recognized the importance of the archives and appointed Gosnell provincial archivist (as well as provincial librarian) and established the Provincial Archives as an institution separate from the Legislative Library. This early recognition of the importance of archival collection and preservation is unusual in western Canada. Saskatchewan was the next province after BC to establish an archives—but not until 1945. The Provincial Archives of Alberta weren’t set up until 1965. Even the eastern province of New Brunswick, which began as a Loyalist colony in 1784, didn’t have a provincial archives until Canada’s centennial year, 1967.

In 1915, the Provincial Archives moved to their own space in the newly completed Connaught Library in the Legislative Buildings, where they remained for the next 55 years. During the early years, although the province’s archivists—first Gosnell, then E.O.S. Scholefield—were filled with enthusiasm, the acquisition, organization and cataloguing of items was not systematic, and the archives was not open to the public.

In the 1920s, Provincial Archivist John Forsyth finally introduced a system for organizing the archives, and it was opened to the public. By 1970, when the archives moved to its present location, the Connaught Library had become terribly cramped and every available space was filled to overflowing with government records, manuscripts, photographs, framed paintings and prints.

The current archives building is part of the Royal BC Museum cultural precinct, sitting at the corner of Belleville and Government Streets. It was built with a sizable research room and secure storage for archival holdings. Thousands of researchers come here each year to view the records in our collection.

Timeline

  • 1894 The Legislative Library began to collect historical records (both official and non-official)
  • 1908 The Provincial Archives was founded as a separate agency and R.E. Gosnell was appointed provincial archivist. The archives continued to share space with the Legislative Library.
  • 1910 Ethelbert O.S. Scholefield was appointed provincial archivist. He was appointed provincial librarian in 1900. Scholefield created the first inventory of archive holdings and made a concerted effort to collect government records from various regional centres.
  • 1915 The Provincial Archives moved into the Connaught Library of the Legislature Buildings. The collections were not open to the general public.
  • 1919 Scholefield died. Today, a giant copper beech tree on the Legislature grounds honours his contributions.
  • 1920 John Forsyth was appointed provincial archivist. He introduced a system for organizing the archives.
  • 1926 John Hosie was appointed provincial archivist.
  • 1934 Dr. W. Kaye Lamb was appointed provincial archivist. He later served as dominion (i.e., national) archivist from 1948 to 1968.
  • 1940 Willard Ireland was appointed provincial archivist. In 1946, he is also appointed provincial librarian.
  • 1970 The Provincial Archives moved out of the Connaught Library into its present Heritage Court location.
  • 1974 Willard Ireland retired. His 34 years is the longest tenure of any BC provincial archivist.
  • 1974 The positions of provincial librarian and provincial archivist were permanently separated. Allan R. Turner (formerly provincial archivist of Saskatchewan) was appointed provincial archivist.
  • 1977 The Honourable Grace McCarthy officially opened the Emily Carr Gallery on Wharf Street, a satellite facility of the archives and showcase for archival paintings.
  • 1979 John A. Bovey was appointed provincial archivist. Prior to his appointment, Bovey had been provincial archivist of Manitoba, and archivist of the Northwest Territories.
  • 1980 The Aural History Programme of the Archives expanded and was renamed the Sound and Moving Image Division.
  • 1982 A formal records management program was created within the BC Government. It had a separate reporting structure but was closely allied to the Provincial Archives.
  • 1987 The Records Management Branch and Provincial Archives were joined with the intended agency name of Provincial Archives and Records Services (PARS).
  • 1988 Formal amalgamation as the British Columbia Archives and Records Service (BCARS). The new branch was an integrated records management and archives service.
  • 1991 After fourteen years, the Emily Carr Gallery on Wharf Street closed.
  • 1996 BCARS and the Information and Privacy branches were merged to create the BC Information Management Services division with Information and Analysis Service (records management and information and privacy) and the Archives and Information Access branch (the traditional archives).
  • 1998 John A. Bovey retired after nineteen years as provincial archivist.
  • 1998 Gary A. Mitchell, CRM was appointed as the new provincial archivist.
  • 1998 The Archives and Information Access Branch was renamed the British Columbia Archives. Information and Analysis Service was renamed the Information and Data Branch.
  • 2000 The BC Archives re-assumed staff and responsibility for the corporate records management function within government from the Information and Data Management Branch. The remainder of Information and Data Management Branch was renamed Corporate Privacy and Information Access Branch, with staff and responsibility for privacy and the administration of Freedom of Information legislation.
  • 2003 The Royal BC Museum Corporation was established, merging the Royal BC Museum, the BC Archives, Helmcken House and the Netherlands Carillon into a new “cultural precinct”. The records management component of the BC Archives, renamed Corporate Information Management Branch, moved to the Ministry of Labour and Citizens’ Services.