What are the next steps for the archives of the Long Branch Historical Society?

The Long Branch Historical Society is currently deciding what to do with its archives.

Over the past year, I’ve been gathering information about the options available to us.

This is a small part part of a story being played out at one level or another across Canada.

Some local communities are able to find a secure, permanent local repository for their archives, are able to digitize their records for online viewing, and can provide easy access to the records for anyone who wishes to visit the archives in person.

With regard to the archives of the Long Branch Historical Society, we need to move our archives out of the storage space where they are now located, and have not so far found an alternative space. What options are available to us, in the circumstances?

On the left is a vintage washing machine (covered in green plastic). At the back is a filing cabinet with documents. In the foreground are a portion of the archival materials that have been donated to the Society over the years. The cartons visible in the photo comprise about a quarter of the total numbers of cartons in the room.

The contents must be easily accessible

We owe thanks to the people who’ve contributed archival materials over the years. We have a responsibility to these individuals.

We also have a responsibility to current and future residents of Long Branch. People have an interest in Long Branch history. The sharing of information from the archives will help to keep our local history alive.

In the course of my research about options worth exploring regarding the archives of the Long Branch Historical Society, in December 2011 I came across a comment by Dave Cook, a member of the Society who’s written extensively about local history, that has stayed with me.

That comment was that an archive has value to the extent that its contents are readily available to people who are seeking local historical information. Under ideal circumstances, you turn up at some facility, explain what you’re looking for, and a person is on hand to help you find what you want.

During an early stage of research, I also learned that the archives of the Toronto Island community had been donated to the City of Toronto Archives.

I also learned, at that early stage of my research, that an agreement had been reached whereby the Toronto Island community could, possibly, take back the archives in the event a suitable facility for archival storage and display became available on Toronto Island.

This arrangement is an exception to the general rule, which is now uniformly in effect, that if local archives are handed over to the Toronto Public Library, or the Toronto Archives, then whichever facility receives the archives will take ownership of them.

I’ve spoken with many other people in the course of my research. By way of example, I’ve spoken with Jane Fairburn, whose book Along the Shore, about the history, landscape, and people of the Toronto waterfront, including the Lakeshore, will be published in 2013. She described her experiences referencing privately and publicly-held local history collections throughout the City of Toronto.

Richard McQuade visited the archives room in March 2012.

Archival documents must be kept together

In March 2012, members of the Society met at the archives storage room with Richard McQuade, Director of Archives at St. Michael’s College School at the University of Toronto.

One of the key messages he shared with us was that if a particular person has, years ago, contributed a number of cartons of archival documents and the like to the collection, it’s essential that such documents be kept together.

This is, he explained, a basic principle that archivists adhere to.

Information about cross-links among items – for example, about photographs about the same historic building – can readily be made available in a database.

Under no circumstances, however, would it be recommended that photos or documents from different collections of cartons be separated from their cartons and stored together as a collection of photographs or documents all dealing with the same subject.

Ownership of archives is usually taken over by the facility that assumes responsibility for cataloguing, storing, and making them available

In the course of my research, I’ve also met with officials of the Toronto Public Library and the City of Toronto Archives.

My meeting with Toronto Public Library officials was a follow-up to an executive meeting of the Society in the fall of 2011, at which time I received authorization from the Society to gather information with regard to a possible transfer of archival materials to the Toronto library system.

The library officials offered to take over the cataloguing of the archives, but on the understanding the library would take ownership of the materials. This offer was communicated to the executive of the Society. The offer was rejected as the executive felt it would not be appropriate to give up ownership of the materials.

As a result of an email that I had sent to David Juliusson, Program Officer, Historic Fort York, City of Toronto, I also got in touch with Michele Dale, Supervisor, Collection Management and Standards, City of Toronto Archives

On May 11, 2012, I met with Michele Dale at the Toronto Archives at 255 Spadina Road in Toronto.

Toronto Island archives

I was especially interested in the story of the Toronto Island archives. The archives, Michele explained, have gone through two incarnations.

In the first case, Peter Holt had been collecting archival documents related to the Toronto Island community for many years. He donated the documents to the Toronto Archives some years ago. At the time, the Toronto Archives had a less clearly developed policy with regard to donations than it does now.

Peter Holt’s documents constituted what was called a ‘permanent loan.’ This meant, as I understand, that Peter Holt maintained ownership of the materials. Such an arrangement would not be possible today. The Toronto Archives has not made such an arrangement for many years.

In the second case, a second incarnation of archival documents involved Albert Fulton, who had a house on Toronto Island, and another one in Wychwood Park in Toronto. The latter had built up a set of archives for Toronto Islands, and another for Wychwood Park.

His widow, Emily Fulton, had ownership of the Wychwood Park archives, and donated them to the Toronto Archives.

She wanted to do the same for the Toronto Island archives. There was interest in the local community, however, to keep the archives on Toronto Island.

The problem was that Emily Fulton could no longer accommodate the Toronto Island archives, housed in about twelve filing cabinets, in her Toronto Island cottage, which had become her permanent residence. The archives were moved to a building where there was a restaurant on the main floor and storage space for archives on the second floor.

The problem, however, was that the archives were not secure in this setting, and no one was managing the materials. This situation became a source of concern for the community.

Consequently, Emily Fulton, Peter Holt, and Adam Zhelka formed a corporation called the Toronto Island Archives, Inc. The corporation acted as the donor of the materials. There was an attempt to get a ‘permanent loan’ arrangement.

As Michele Dale explained to me, from the viewpoint of the Toronto Archives, there is no reason that can be advanced in favour of a permanent loan for the contents of local archives.

Once records are donated to the City of Toronto Archives, a considerable investment of resources is involved. The archivist re-houses the records into proper storage containers, catalogues the records and makes this catalogue available in the on-line database, stores the records in a safe, climate-controlled environment, and makes the records available to researchers in a reading room.

It is not in the interest of the Toronto Archives to invest so much time and effort into something if ownership is not transferred to the Archives.

Standard template

In the case of the Toronto Island archives, the standard template for an agreement regarding the donation of archival documents was in fact changed.

In this case there is agreement that if at some point in the future the Toronto Island community is indeed able to establish an archival repository, and provided that they could guarantee that they can provide easy public access, then the Toronto Archives may consider returning the records.

Such a case is highly unusual. The records from Toronto Island are special. There’s a huge interest in Toronto about Toronto Island. Albert Fulton had done a great job in the organizing of the archives. Both sides worked to arrive at a compromise.

The Toronto Island community is, as I understand, happy with the outcome. The records are now available to everyone in Toronto, whereas before they were easily accessible only to people on Toronto Island.

When Jaan Pill visited the Toronto Archives on may 11, 2012, he observed a sizeable display on the second floor of photographs selected from archival materials that the Toronto Island community had donated to the Toronto Archives.

Toronto Public Library or Toronto Archives?

If a local historical Society in Toronto were to decide to donate their archives, they can choose between the Toronto Public Library and the Toronto Archives.

I asked Michele Dale if, in her view, there was an advantage to one or the other.

Michele said that both institutions would care for the records, and that the Society would be safe in choosing one or the other.

She shared a number of points:

First, if the Long Branch Historical Society’s archives end up at either the Toronto Public Library or the Toronto Archives, they will be preserved. If they’re left in a parking lot or driveway, they would not be preserved.

Secondly, at either facility, the materials would be accessible to anyone who has an interest in Long Branch history.

She noted that the Toronto Public Library or the Toronto Archives would be able to provide a larger outreach to the public, in terms of access to materials, than a local historical Society would typically be able to provide. Among other things, the materials would in time all be described in an online database.

How an archives works

I’ve been looking forward for some time to learning about how to go about doing archival research, an activity that I’ve avoided until now because I’ve been able to learn a great deal through other means of research – including speaking with people who have spent years doing archival research, and conducting oral history interviews with long-time residents of Long Branch.

Given that I have an interest in getting started with archival research, Michele Dale described to me a key aspect of how archives are organized at a facility such as the Toronto Archives or the Archives of Ontario.

The essential point – and, she explained, many people “don’t get this” – is that a key principle for archivists is to keep the records of a creator (an individual, a company or an association, for example) together. Unlike a library, which groups individual books on the basis of subject, an archives will group records on the basis of creator. This means that the records of the Long Branch Historical Society will always be kept together if they are donated to an archives.

The technical term for this way of keeping things together is ‘fonds.’

The online Business Dictionary defines fonds as the “entire collection of the records originating from the same creator, archived with other such collections.”

Archives try to maintain the records of a creator together. Using a fonds system, the records of a given creator of records are kept together so that they reflect the activities of that creator.

Libraries, if I understand correctly, take a different approach. They deal with discrete items. The Oxford English Dictionary (2004) defines discrete, in the sense it is used here, as “(1) separate or individually distinct; (2) discontinuous; consisting of distinct or individual parts.”

Michele Dale added that archives are interested in unique records. They don’t as a rule have room for copies.

Interior view of City of Toronto Archives, May 2012

10 replies
  1. harry oussoren
    harry oussoren says:

    Thanks for this, Jaan, I am glad that you and others have the interest, energy, and commitment to keep this history accessible. Good work. Cheers, Harry Oussoren

    Reply
  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Good to read your comment, Harry. I’m pleased with the positive responses to this blog post from many people. I wish you every success in your own work on behalf of the Lakeshore communities.

    Reply
  3. blain miller
    blain miller says:

    With the advent of Facebook and the social media of this computer age people are coming together on group sites wearing nostalgia on their sleeves. Sadly the back and forth conversations of people searching for the history of where they grew up or may still live is pathetic in this new age of computers. Everything from searching old classmates to the history of the old buildings on the streets they walk is a hodgepodge of internet surfing. The “red tape” of library science for simple record keeping of our roots is insane. I submit there are millions of people who would simply like to access the history of their place of residence in a data base in one location. Instead highly paid so-called archivists assert ownership of history.
    To all who endeavour to preserve history I commend you but it is a losing battle. My respect for your efforts is endless. Find the people on the social network groups, organize them, and maybe our history will mean something someday. God knows the history of the past is paved with concrete from “me first” developers.
    The working class people from the”LAKESHORE” was the fuel that created TORONTO and that’s an undisbutable fact. The street car loop building in Long Branch was built in 1937 and still stands as shelter today. Why Long Branch??? AS THEY SAY THERE IS MORE TO THIS STORY………….BLAIN MILLER

    Reply
  4. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    It’s a delight to read your comments, Blain.

    I’m really pleased that people from across Canada, who have some connection with Long Branch (in Toronto, Canada), are contacting me to say they enjoy their visits to the Preserved Stories website.

    I also get inquiries regarding Long Branch in New Jersey, and have been pleased to learn that officials from Long Branch (New Jersey) and the Village of Long Branch (from the days before it became a part of Etobicoke which in turn later became a part of Toronto) have in the past kept in touch with each other.

    I launched this site a year ago and am delighted with how things are progressing. With regard to efforts to preserve history, my sense is that we do what we can. I’m delighted with how my own project has been moving along.

    I am delighted with what I have learned to date through interviews with people, now in their seventies, eighties, and nineties, who grew up in Long Branch.

    I’m also delighted with stories that visitors have shared about delightfully happy childhoods at the mouth of Etobicoke Creek and in the area of the Colonel Samuel Smith homestead. I look forward to posting those stories along with videos and texts based on my oral history interviews.

    I think of this process, which each person is involved in who visits this website, as being in the nature of a conversation. In that context, I’m a keen fan of Jane’s Walks as a conversation. The Jane’s Walks are another great way (along with social media conversations) to share information about local history, wherever in the world we may may be living:

    https://preservedstories.com/2012/05/07/south-long-branch-janes-walk-went-beautifully/

    The response to the Preserved Stories website has been much more than I would have imagined would be possible when I launched the site after several years of working on its design and development with help from Walden Small Business Marketing.

    I owe thanks as well to Mary Bella of Maestra Web Design for helping me to launch the site. A chance conversation at a volunteer job at a local school made all the difference, in that regard. Had I not spoken with her it would have taken me much longer to launch the site, and it would likely not have been as well organized as it was when I launched it.

    A minor detail regarding the Long Branch streetcar loop. It’s my understanding it was built in 1928, the same year that Mickey Mouse made his onscreen debut as a screen character:

    https://preservedstories.com/2012/05/20/the-calculus-of-right-and-wrong-was-eventually-built-in-to-the-structure-of-civic-advocacy/

    I’m a keen student of Disneyfication among other topics; for that reason I’ve given a lot of thought to the year 1928:

    https://preservedstories.com/2012/05/20/throughout-their-lecture-the-disney-duo-emphasized-the-role-mental-imagery-plays-in-developing-a-character/

    I like your reference to the working class people of Long Branch. I’m delighted that the working class is a key part of the social diversity of the Long Branch community, in the past and in the present. Part of my own experiences in the world of work has included working as a logger, working at a sawmill, working at resort hotels in the Canadian Rockies, and driving a truck. I’ve also worked as a construction labourer. Eventually I noticed that I could get good work as a public school teacher and that is the route that I eventually took.

    I also recall a comment that the archaeologist Dena Doroszenko shared with me, with regard to how farm buildings (such as at the Colonel Samuel Smith homestead) would get torn down and replaced, in a continuous process with the passage of time. I spoke with her during research for a talk I gave at the Long Branch Library a year or two ago.

    She also spoke of how the farm homesteads in the Toronto area would start off being out in the country and would one day find themselves surrounded by a city that had grown up around them. She remarked that in some ways, the story of the Smith homestead is the story of Toronto:

    https://preservedstories.com/2011/12/07/colonel-samuel-smith-and-his-homestead-%e2%80%93-oct-4-2011-speaking-notes/

    I find it fascinating that part of my work on this site involves talking with people online, who live far from Long Branch but who have a connection with it. I find this process most informative and beneficial.

    When I first began the site, a primary motivation was simply to organize my thinking about various topics. Conversations with people, about these various topics, is also very helpful. It enables me to organize my thoughts with more precision and depth than otherwise.

    The discussion about archives (in the blog post above) will not have any relevance, from what I can gather, to what will or will not be done with the archives of the Long Branch Historical Society.

    At a conceptual level, however, the discussion has been of interest for many people. It’s my hope that such a discussion will assist other groups in their efforts to preserve — and make available to others — what remains of local histories.

    Reply
    • blain miller
      blain miller says:

      JAAN:
      Re: Long Branch TTC loop and shelter.

      You are correct, the L.B. “track loop” for street cars was constructed in 1928 and well documented on the Transit Toronto web site. The actual shelter canopy constructed of timber frame trusses was no doubt also 1928. It is the enclosed area of the shelter that seems to confuse “old-timers” like me. All I remember is a clean, heated area including snack bar during the 60’s when using the streetcar to go to New Toronto Secondary School. Student tickets were also available for purchase at the snack bar. My point about 1937 and the “enclosed area” is more to the point of how the canopy/building evolved over time with various renovations to the “enclosed area”. Somewhere there is a 1937 photo that shows the “footprint” of the building being the same size as the “enclosed section” to this day. A moot point but some oldtimers say the original enclosed area was increased in size in 1937 to include a snack bar/ticket booth.

      I don’t do Facebook, just not my thing. However, looking at the Long Branch/Mimico/New Toronto Facebook group site you would be a terrific resource for these people starving for a walk down memory lane. Advertising is not allowed for obvious reasons on these group sites however your vocation is unique and your wealth of knowledge I believe would be appreciated. Simply separate any connections on an individual basis is my suggestion.

      RE: Col. Sam property photo.
      Or what I like to call “the last operating cattle barn in Long Branch”
      I remember the gravel roads, horse drawn trucks for ice (yes we had an Ice Box),bread and milk. There is a horse drawn truck in photo(lower right in front of flat roof apartment)…41st west side near intersection of James St.
      I stopped counting at 30 clothes lines.
      Goodyear in the distance.
      James S. Bell
      Pittsburg Paints on and on memories

      Thanks Jaan

      Reply
      • Jaan Pill
        Jaan Pill says:

        BLAIN:

        It’s of much interest for me to know of the enclosed area in the 1937 photo that you mention. I can picture what the enclosed area would have been like in the 1960s, and how much people would have enjoyed stopping there. Your description adds new significance to a structure that I’ve often walked by in the past 15 years.

        The streetcar line remains very much in regular use for groups of students — often adolescents who’ve been friends and schoolmates since primary school — attending a wide range of local schools.

        I look forward to visiting the Facebook group site you’ve mentioned. I would mention as well that I’ve registered a domain name for a site that I’m setting up with a focus specifically on Long Branch history. That will be separate from the Preserved Stories website.

        That’s beautiful to know how much you, and other website visitors, have discovered — and recognized — by enlarging the 1949 photo of the ‘last operating cattle barn.’

        I’ll have to get someone to show me where the old James S. Bell School and the Goodyear plant are visible in the photo, in the event I can’t locate them myself when I next look at the photo.

        One person I’ve been speaking with recently arrived from Winnipeg with her family around 1929 when she was seven years old. The family moved to Long Branch when her father got a job at Goodyear.

        She recalls it was such a revelation to walk up to the main east-west road (now called Lake Shore Blvd. West) with her dad and to see the buildings. She spoke of seeing a small house — maybe it was a shack — that was tied to a tree. Perhaps that was a way to prepare for stormy weather.

        In the early 1950s my family was on its way from Halifax (where we had arrived by boat as many immigrants did in those days) to Toronto. In Montreal, the train stopped for a while and my mother had a look around. She was so impressed with the sight of the horse-drawn vehicles, and the horse poop all over the roads. She told my father, “It’s just like Europe!” She suggested we not move on to Toronto after all.

        The family decided to stay in Montreal. It was a great place to grow up. A delightful city — and it all began with the sight of horses on the streets of downtown Montreal.

        Reply
        • blain miller
          blain miller says:

          TYPO:
          Previous comments from Jaan should read Blain not Neil as to the reply from Jaan about the Long Branch TTC. loop submitted by Blain Miller. No big deal, but may confuse others visiting site. [Comment from Jaan: I’ve made the correction, Blain. I much appreciate you pointing out the typo.]

          I don’t want to flog a dead horse on the original “enclosed portion” portion of the Long Branch TTC. loop
          shelter. Simply put, the 1928 original structure was expanded to include the “enclosed area” for a snack bar and heated area possibly in the 1930’s. Maybe 1935, maybe 1937 as I was told as a kid growing up on James St. The snack bar apparently was not run by the Transit Authority but by private contract to who knows who. Where the attendent of the snack bar went to the washroom would be a fun thing to know as to this day the structure is so small. Rumour was some sort of portable structure used by rail workers at east side of building before door on that side was installed was the “johnny on the spot” of the day.

          This I know, buying the odd chocolate bar, bag of chips,pop,coffee and yes even a sandwich was possible as late as the early sixties. I’m going to put this trivia to bed as interesting change from public respect of a convience to what I here today is the LOOP being used as a place to pee!!! From snack bar to urine odour. What disgusting change to the Long Branch of my childhood.

          One can only hope that the grit and respect for others espoused by my father born and raised in Long Branch in 1924 will return someday. History only matters quite frankly to a select few of people in this society today.

          History is no longer relevant in “a Me First Society”, only to the “old folks” looking at death in the eye!

          If this post is not appropriate a beg to differ. The battle of protecting our history is critical to who we are as the human species whether a believe in a religion or not!

          We live in an era where we have the “tools” to save accurate history. I sure would like to know how the Pyramids were built without all the conjecture.

          JAAN: KEEP UP THE GOOD FIGHT TO PRESERVE HISTORY BUT KEEP IN MIND MY FRIEND MOST PEOPLE DON’T GIVE A DAM.

          I believe there is a purpose to our existence. There is a purpose to know our history. There will be a “shift” in the understanding of who we really are in this cosmos. Take that to the bank!

          Who is Blain Miller?
          Maybe just an old soul from Long Branch who values his roots from parents who were exceptional.

          Hell, my father’s mom is a direct decendent of the Dutch who came over on the “MAYFLOWER”. Another guy on 41st is a direct decendent of “CHAMPLAIN”. Another guy was a direct decendent of “CHARLES DICKINS”, all Long Branch kids I grew up with. I won’t say who they are at this point.

          Keep up the good work Jaan, it will be a tedious venture, I just hope your efforts are rewarding to you and really that is all someone can expect.

          Cowichan Valley B.C……………………Blain

          P.S.

          I watched the Long Branch Hotel burn down.
          I watched as my parents took in the homeless from the trailers and cottages that were washed out into Lake Ontario during Hurricane Hazel.
          I lived beside John Alston a Brit who was one of the last soldiers to get evacuated from Dunkirk in a row boat only to become a POW during is next combat mission.
          My father a VET just like John Alston never became members of the Long Branch Legion.
          To them the Legion was a “social club”.
          These guys were hard core VETS who never talked about their WW2 experiences. Their wives(my mom) new very little. A few stories from relatives leaked out as these men became older, no wonder they never talked about their war experiences as they were horrific. Many Vets settled in Long Branch, some sort of peanut stipend and consideration afforded them to buy real estate. HENCE my home 99 JAMES ST built by my Dad and a friend and a case of beer. When 99 James is demolished and that day will come there is a beer bottle of the time in each corner of the framing.

          Some way these War Vets like my Dad kept their shit together and regardless of a body part explosion in front of them. Give me Bruce Miller and John Alston and no one would piss in the Long Branch Loop shelter.

          Reply
  5. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    BLAIN:

    My apologies for the typo. I’ve now made the correction. I much appreciate the fact you’ve brought it to my attention.

    It’s great to have the additional details about the Long Branch ‘track loop.’ In future oral history interviews with people who grew up in Long Branch, I’ll ask them about the loop. That’s a great topic.

    As a person with an interest in history, I’m aware that not all that other many people are interested in preserving history. I like to approach things with modest expectations.

    I start with the assumption that many people wouldn’t care less about history. They have other concerns, which are important to them and that warrant their full attention.

    I don’t see that as a problem. I see that as an opportunity.

    Also, I’m not an expert. Most people, of the people who do have an interest in local history, know more than I do. My job, as I see it, is to listen, and record, and share what I’ve learned.

    As a writer and reporter, I’m also interested in evidence. Whatever I talk about, with regard to local history, I make a point to seek out the documentation, the archival or other evidence, before I say much of anything.

    I like the fact that many War Vets settled in Long Branch. As part of the history of European settlement of the area, such a tradition goes back to the the time that Colonel Samuel Smith, who faught in the American Revolutionary War, built a log cabin in 1797, on land that is now part of the school grounds of Parkview School at 85 Forty First Street.

    Some of my interviews in recent years have focused on Hurricane Hazel. I’ve also been learning details about the fire at the Long Branch Hotel. I’m pleased there are still people around who remember the hotel.

    I also like what you have said about people showing respect for others. That’s a quality that many people have mentioned, when they talk about Long Branch of years ago.

    It was great to read your comments. Now when I ride my bike, on my way to Marie Curtis Park and along the Waterfront Trail to Port Credit and back, when I ride by 99 James Street, I think about the history that is part of the house where you lived with your family. So many houses have stories that go with them. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to be learning new things about the neighbourhood where I live.

    Reply
  6. blain miller
    blain miller says:

    Jaan:

    During our recent correspondence where you have shared so much about your roots from growing up in Montreal and all your words I absorb like a sponge. Forgive me if I do not comment on much of your journey. Suffice to say it would be better if we just do personel e-mails as I wear my heart on my sleeve when it comes to history of who we are and where did we come from.Your “History Blog” is not going to be appropriate for Blain Miller rants on HISTORY. My friend HISTORY is not just bricks and mortar and dead people. History is a PHLOSOPHY of our EXISTENCE our REALITY!! The bricks and mortar of course are important but who we are now and what we learn from history is our life blood.

    Jaan, men and women like you from the beginning of time as we know it have kept human history alive. You are in good company,this I know! The pay scale sucks but you and others like you will be rewarded,this I know.

    Blain Miller is not into Religion, he is not an Atheist, he just knows that our HISTORY will decide the human future!

    Reply

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