Association of Canadian Archivists Conference 2017

In early June, I attended the annual Association of Canadian Archivists conference in Ottawa. The theme was Archives, disrupted – an exploration of “how archivists and archival institutions progress, respond, change and persevere in response to disruptive forces, which may arise from outside or can be self-imposed” (from the conference program, which can be found here). Here are some of the highlights.

Rideau Canal, Ottawa. Photo by Michel Rathwell (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr


In keeping with the conference theme, sessions addressed a variety of emerging and potentially disruptive issues in the archival field, and explored the challenges and opportunities that might arise.

In a session titled O Triple Store, What Art Thou?, Evelyn McLellan of Artefactual Systems, Kate Guay of the Northwest Territories Archives, Tim Hutchinson of the University of Saskatchewan Archives and Special Collections, and consultant Anne Ward presented on the potential impacts of linked open data on archival practice. Wikipedia defines linked data as a “method of publishing structured data so that it can be interlinked and become more useful through semantic queries” – that is, using existing Web technologies to publish data in a way that enables computers to read, query, and connect data from different sources. Publishing archival descriptions as linked data has the potential to facilitate discovery of related resources across institutions and provide richer contextual information about records’ creators, creation and use.

Data modeled as a graph. Slide courtesy of Artefactual Systems

The application of semantic technologies to archival work was discussed in more depth in a session titled Disrupted description? New directions in archival theory and practice. Kat Timms of Library and Archives Canada presented on the ongoing work of the International Council on Archives (ICA) Experts Group on Archival Description (EGAD, which has to be one of the best acronyms in the field), who have drafted the Records in Contexts conceptual model (RiC-CM) and are working on RiC-O, to be expressed as a W3C OWL (Ontology Web Language). RiC is intended to supplant the existing four ICA standards for describing archival records (ISAD-G), records creators (ISAAR (CPF)), functions (ISDF), and archival institutions (ISDIAH), providing a semantic web-ready way to capture and describe archival contexts in all their glorious complexity. Giovanni Michetti of Sapienza University of Rome addressed this complexity as it applies to the concept of provenance, while Chris Prom of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign discussed the challenges to traditional archival description posed by Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Disruption is certainly in the air, and I look forward to seeing how the ideas and efforts described may translate into everyday archival practice in the near-ish future.

An archival description conforming to RiC-CM presented as a diagram. From Records in Contexts: A Conceptual Model for Archival Description, Consultation Draft v0.1, September 2016


The day before the conference officially began, I took part in The Archives and Technology Unconference, or TAATU. TAATU is an annual opportunity for folks working at the intersection of archives and technology to get together and share knowledge and ideas in a fun, relaxed atmosphere, and 2017 marked the tenth anniversary of the event. This year’s TAATU was generously hosted by the City of Ottawa Archives at their (relatively) new purpose-built facility. Participants swapped stories of digital forensics efforts, migration of multiple databases to a single system, and development of generic-yet-sufficiently-granular digital preservation workflows, as well as enjoying a few rounds of IT Balderdash, proposing fake definitions of terms including grey goo (real definition here) and frobnicate (real definition here).

City Archivist Heather Gordon also attended the ACA conference this year, allowing us to take advantage of the many concurrent sessions on offer. Of particular interest was a session on monetary appraisal which provided an update on the work of the National Archival Appraisal Board and a lively discussion of fair market valuations in the age of digital recordkeeping. Also of interest was a debate-style session involving Michael Moss and David Thomas from Northumbria University and Daniel German and Leah Sander from Library and Archives Canada. The resolution posed was “To serve the common good, archivists must reject ‘Archives as cultural heritage assets’ and embrace their role as strongholds as evidence.” Moderated by Geoffrey Yeo of University College London, each debater had seven minutes to present and then rebut, followed by audience participation on the question. The room was surprisingly evenly split between those professionals focussed on digital preservation and data management (in favour of evidence), and those who focus more on analogue recordkeeping and preservation (in favour of cultural heritage asset). Our City Archivist suggests that the answer depends on the audience we serve at any given time, and that we shouldn’t reject one role at the expense of the other; there is room, and a need, for us to be both.

The ACA conference is an opportunity to exchange knowledge with the Canadian archival community and keep current with the latest developments in archival theory and practice. Kudos to the conference committee for organizing such a lively, engaging event!

Preserving the City’s website with Archive-It

We are pleased to announce that we have begun preserving and providing access to crawls (snapshots) of the City’s website using Archive-It, a web application developed and managed by the Internet Archive. Archive-It uses an open-source crawler called Heritrix to crawl specific web content based on instructions provided by the user (in our case, that’s us), and the venerable Wayback Machine to provide access. Over time, the preserved crawls will show how the City’s website has changed in terms of content, look and feel. today

How it works

Each crawl directs Heritrix to one or more “seed” URLs, which you can think of as the starting points of the crawl. From each seed, Heritrix browses through all links and saves any content it encounters that falls within the scoping rules for the crawl. Crawled content is saved in the WARC file format, an ISO standard for storing web content. Continue reading

What a gem! The Toni Cavelti fonds

We are pleased to announce that descriptions and accompanying scans for the records of prominent Vancouver-based jeweller Toni Cavelti are now available. The Toni Cavelti fonds contains over 2,400 drawings and design materials, promotional materials, correspondence related to the design of a necklace for Queen Elizabeth, and an unpublished autobiography. We have made a small subset of his drawings and transparencies available on flickr.

A promotional photograph showing a gold necklace.
Reference code: AM1670-S2-F3-: 2016-051.385

Cavelti was born in Illanz, Switzerland in 1931. When he was fifteen he began his apprenticeship with the goldsmith Richard Bolli in St. Gallen, Switzerland. He completed his apprenticeship in 1950. Soon afterward he moved to Geneva and began work at a watch and jewellery atelier in an industrial setting. There he felt unable to fully utilize his skills and expand his craftsmanship. After seeing a painting of the Vancouver Harbour in a display at a hotel, he made the decision to move to Canada. He arrived in Vancouver on June 13, 1954. Continue reading

Architectural photographs: the Art Grice fonds

We have recently made descriptions and high-resolution scans available for the photographs in the Art Grice fonds. We have also made a selection of the images available on flickr. These are high-quality images created by a professional photographer and they document views and details of some buildings in Vancouver. All of the images in the fonds are signed prints and we have included the signatures.

Houses row near Hawks Avenue East Pender Street, looking south, 1972. Reference code AM1536-: CVA 70-77.

Arthur (Art) Grice was based in North Vancouver at the time he took these photographs. These images were created in 1972 and 1973, so some of the buildings no longer exist. The row of houses shown above is one example. Continue reading

Significant changes to our online search

NOTE: The clipboard feature described below is currently unavailable. We are working on the problem.

Our online search has been upgraded to version 2.4 of AtoM and with that has come many changes in its look and behaviour. We’d like to guide you through the major differences.


One of the more exciting new features is the change in your access to copyrighted digital objects. Previously, if you were searching the database from home you could only access the thumbnail of a digital object under copyright to a third party (that is, not the City of Vancouver) or of unknown copyright. If you tried to look at a larger image, you would see a warning that said “This digital object can only be accessed in person at the Archives because of the associated rights”. You would have had to come to the Archives to see the full image online.

With our upgraded system, you will now see the larger image in the full record page. Continue reading

Association of Moving Image Archivists Conference 2016

This past November I attended the 2016 conference of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA). It took place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – the City of Bridges. Here are a few of the highlights.

The Roberto Clemente Bridge – one of 446 in Pittsburgh! Photograph by Jana Grazley

The Roberto Clemente Bridge – one of 446 in Pittsburgh! Photograph by Jana Grazley


A pre-conference tradition since 2013 is the AMIA/DLF (Digital Library Federation) Hack Day, wherein participants collaborate on short projects to develop solutions to various problems associated with moving image preservation and access. Hack Day is a free event focused on practical outcomes and skill-sharing amongst developers and non-developers. This year’s projects included: Continue reading

New in the public domain 2017

On January 1st, the copyright expired for some of our holdings: they are now in the public domain in Canada. These digital materials may now be legally re-used for any purpose. Here’s a quick look at some of the images, maps, moving images and audio that have become easier to re-use.

Black Sunday in Gastown is a recording of a June 13, 1966 CBC radio program which describes the events of the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886. It features interviews with five Vancouver seniors who remember the fire. Major J.S. Matthews, first City Archivist of Vancouver, is heard paying tribute to all the survivors of the fire. Note the audio starts about 18 seconds in to the recording. Here’s our full description.

Continue reading

Happy Holidays

The Archives will be closed from noon December 23 to 9am Tuesday, January 3.

Front of card from Tucker Battle to the Hamber family. Identifier : CVA 703-

Front of card from Tucker Battle to the Hamber family. Identifier : CVA 703-

Back of card from Tucker Battle to the Hamber family. Identifier : CVA 703-

Back of card from Tucker Battle to the Hamber family. Identifier : CVA 703-

This 1957 Christmas card to the family of Eric Hamber is part of the Social series of the Hamber Family fonds. That series documents the Hamber’s friends and social activities. This card was kept because it contains an image of the sender, Tucker Battle. It also contains an audio greeting on a tiny 78rpm disc, which might one day be digitized.

The 2016 Vancity Theatre Screening is now on YouTube

Last month we had another successful run at Vancity Theatre of some of our newly digitized film and video. For those who are unable to attend, and those of you would like another look, we post all past shows on our YouTube channel, including this year’s Vancouver: Exponential Change. Please note that the online content does not include the pre-screening presentation, commentary, or accompanying music. To read more about this year’s screening, please visit our previous post.

Below is the list of films featured in Vancouver: Exponential Change.

Bastard Love – reel 1 (1928)

Bastard Love – reel 2 (1928)

Bastard Love – reel 3 (1928)

Vancouver Honeymoon (1961)

P.N.E. Parades 50, 51, 52, 53, and 56 – P.N.E. Ground[s] 60 and 61 (c. 1960, 1961)

Vancouver on the Move (1986)
AM1576-S6-2-: 2011-010.2702

Make Vancouver Sparkle campaign (1986)AM
1576-S6-2-: 2011-010.2699

Vancouver Centennial song (1986)
AM1576-S6-2-: 2011-010.2704

Expo views (1986)AM1553-8-S7-: MI-239

“Expo” day 3 – cam[era] rolls 4-5 (1986)
AM1553-8-S7-: MI-244

“Expo” [camera rolls 1-3] (1986)
AM1553-8-S7-: MI-240

Vancouver Legacies Program photographs now online

We are excited to announce that 610 photographs from the Vancouver Legacies Program records series are now available online.

 Rendering of Granville Bridge Gateway of kinetic signs, a Legacies project that was not realized, ca. 1985 Reference code: PUB-: PD2471, page 7

Rendering of Granville Bridge Gateway of kinetic signs, a Legacies project that was not realized, ca. 1985. Reference code: PUB-: PD2471, page 7

The Vancouver Legacies Program was initiated by City Council in 1985 to prepare Vancouver for hosting the upcoming Centennial celebrations and Expo ’86 festivities.

In the words of Mayor Mike Harcourt, the purpose of the Vancouver Legacies Program was “to embellish our city with a fine collection of legacies in honor of our 1986 Centennial.”[1] Continue reading