The construction crew of the Vernon Courthouse in 1911, prior to the completion in 1914. (Vernon Photo Co./Greater Vernon Museum and Archives)

Okanagan history preserved online

Historial documents, photos available to public through partnerships

The Okanagan Historical Society is pleased to recognize the success of the B.C. Regional Digitized History (BCRDH) project in supporting the study of local history by creating and providing access to digital copies of unique historical resources maintained by community museums and archives throughout the central, southeastern section of the province.

Its web access portal at bcrdh.ca now includes over 43,000 photographs, 22,000 newspaper issues, and hundreds of oral histories which are all freely available to the public. BCRDH provides access to a broad range of historical resources including archival documents, maps and plans, audio and video recordings and publications, the largest of which is a complete set of back issues of OHS Annual Reports dating from 1926.

BCRDH originally began five years ago as Digitized Okanagan History (DOH) focussed on the valley with project coordination and leadership provided by the UBCO Library. Recognizing both the importance of moving unique historical resources online and that most local heritage organizations lacked the technical expertise and the financial resources to create and maintain their own digital repositories, project personnel have provided digitization services and an integrated platform shared by partner organizations.

There are currently 29 participating organizations from the original catchment area for DOH, a figure that itself exceeded original project estimates. The initial success of DOH spawned interest in repositories and organizations in the neighbouring region to the east and when a new Kootenay Columbia regional collection was added to DOH, BCRDH was born. There are now 11 partners in the Kootenay Columbia region and plans to expand to a third and final region encompassing the Thompson Nicola area early in 2022. BCRDH now has a total of 44 community partners participating and contributing content to the platform.

While enhancing access to largely hard-to-access and under-utilized holdings in many community repositories provides the primary motive for this initiative there is also a preservation aspect to this digitization work that should not be ignored as demonstrated by natural threats over the past two years. The global pandemic which resulted in the closure or significant curtailment of public access to community museums and archives further exacerbated existing access issues, while the fires and floods that destroyed or threatened a number of repositories made all to clear the precarious balance on which the storehouses of community histories often exist. The more material that is digitized and made available online will provide at least a backup and avoid the complete loss of local memory in the event of a disaster.

BCRDH has tackled the challenges of digitization on a regional basis across many different repositories and historical organizations to grow the collective capacity of the heritage community to preserve and provide access to local history to support research and provide a more comprehensive understanding of our past. While the results that have been achieved so far are significant, there is still much more to be done and it is our hope that this initiative will continue to expand and flourish.

For questions, please contact Lois Marshall, president, Okanagan Historical Society

okanaganhistoricalsociety.org

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