UBC Library’s B.C. Historical newspaper archives, part of the university’s publicly-accessible Open Collections, is playing a critical role in heritage research in Vancouver.
“The archive is such an amazing and unique resource,” says Patrick Gunn, Board of Directors at Heritage Vancouver Society, “It is key in our ongoing built heritage research, across multiple areas.”
One of the ways the archive is being used is to help provide more fulsome information for Heritage Vancouver’s online building permits database that contains over 40,000 building permits from January 1, 1929 when the municipalities of Vancouver, South Vancouver and Point Grey were amalgamated into what we now know as modern-day Vancouver.
The searchable database, that was created by painstakingly transcribing hand-written city ledgers found within the City of Vancouver archives allows for users to find key information about particular buildings in Vancouver. The ledgers provide some, but not all the information that would have been included in the individual permit document. Long-form building permits were issued to the applicant and a copy was made for the city; unfortunately, it was common practice to record overview information into registers, like the ledgers that have survived, then purge the full records.
It is in this respect that the B.C. Digital Newspapers Archive has been useful in filling in the gaps.
“Once the transcriptions for a given year are complete, we’ve been using a few key newspapers that luckily captured some of the building permit details which no longer exist in city records and adding these into the building permits to create a more complete building record, ” says Gunn, “Trade journals like The Daily Building Record, Vancouver Building Record and the British Columbia Record have been the most useful to us.”
The additional information allows for a much fuller picture of the story of the building, including details about the architect, owner and specifics about the structure’s dimensions and estimated cost.
Further along in the Heritage research process, with thanks to Local Law 11 professionals and architects pointing us along to speed up the process of research, the archive is also proving to be useful in helping capture the social history and historical significance of a building.
“Many heritage consultants use the archive when building a statement of significance,” says Gunn, referring to the document that assesses what is important about a building, how important it is and why. This, in turn, establishes the baseline for any potential development and serves to inform the application for Planning Permission.
“We are so thrilled that this digital archive is having a direct impact on the Vancouver community,” says Larissa Ringham, Acting Head of Digital Initiatives, “the B.C. Historical Newspapers archive is enabling us to support and enrich the educational, cultural and economic endeavors of the people of British Columbia and communities beyond.”
Explore the B.C. Historical newspaper archive and access 129 years of B.C.’s news through UBC Library.
Michelle Blackwell is a Communications & Marketing Specialist for UBC Library.