Expanded hours, community projects and ongoing transcription are all on the agenda of Oak Bay’s new archivist.
The history of the community, tucked in the basement of municipal hall and carefully tended by a group of 10 volunteers, is now led by archivist Caroline Duncan.
An Oak Bay resident for about five years, Duncan got her BA in anthropology at the University of Victoria and post-graduate, museum studies and heritage conservation masters at the University of Dundee in Scotland.
“I’ve managed a municipal archive for over a decade over in Saanich,” she said.
Her work after UVic, and before returning to Victoria, included time in England, working on a photographic archive filled with glass negatives of built London, working on a 100-year survey.
Now her son starts Grade 12 at Glenlyon Norfolk this fall and her daughter studies history at Harvard. She’s lived in Oak Bay for just over five years and the 1929 home suits her. Sometimes, Duncan said, when she steps into the yard, it still feels like 1929 Oak Bay.
“Best neighbourhood I’ve ever lived in,” she said.
When Oak Bay needed a consultant, Jean Sparks turned to the longtime Saanich archivist.
“I’ve known Jean for a long time,” Duncan said. The pair worked together on the Archives Association of BC conference in 2008. Those early contracts parlayed to her new part-time leadership role in Oak Bay. On site one day a week with her dedicated crew of 10 volunteers, she has myriad projects planned.
“I’m trying to make a complete catalogue of our corporate records,” Duncan said. “All of the actions and decisions made by Oak Bay since 1906 are captured in these records,” Duncan said. The process means compiling tax rolls and community meeting agendas and creating a database of early building records. It might sound dry, but is critical in developing history, Duncan says. Each record is a thread to individuals and where or how they lived. All compiled, they can be woven together to develop a fuller history.
Ongoing projects include volunteer Don Reksten transcribing old tax assessment rolls; 1907 and 1912 are already available online.
“We’ve been working on a World War 1 research project to compile information on each Oak Bay war dead,” Duncan said. The goal is to have a file for every veteran killed overseas. “Willows Camp is a significant place in Oak Bay. I think we could do a project around that.”
She hopes to roll that program out this fall.
“It’s the kind of work people can do in their homes in the evening,” she said. “If people like crosswords they’ll love this.”
Sparks is working on transcribing the 1911 census, and now 1921 is available. The two documents would frame the First World War and make for a valuable resource.
“I’d like to do a community project where the members of the community help transcribe,” Duncan said. “We’ll be able to follow some of the stories of families to 1921.”
The Oak Bay Archives are currently open Tuesday 9:30 a.m. to noon and Thursdays 1 to 3 p.m.
“It would be nice at some point to expand the archives,” Duncan said. that includes a longer access, better access during post-work and school hours plus increasing the holdings online.
They’re always happy to look at new acquisitions of family albums, business records or old community group documents.
Anyone looking to have her scope out their potential information for the Oak Bay Archives can email firstname.lastname@example.org.