Vancouver Archives may be on the move

Forty years after it moved into its current home, and months before it celebrates its 80th birthday, the Vancouver Archives might be on the move.

The city's budget has called for a review of the "overlap" between the Vancouver's two sites for archived material: the Major Matthews Building in Vanier Park, where the majority of documents are located, and the central public library. The budget includes an early recommendation that everything move to the library.

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The Major Matthews Building was named for Major J.S. Matthews who created the archives in 1933.

Heather Gordon, a manager at the archives, said Matthews' dream for a building designed to create a stable environment best for preserving records was realized two years after his death.

"It was part of his deal with the city that in order for the city to own his collection, they would build a proper storage facility for it and out of that came this building in '72," Gordon said.

The building is undergoing a preservation upgrade, with the goal of making the space a couple degrees cooler and 20 per cent drier.

"We're basically looking at [the library] as a possibility to see if it'll work, but it's really, really early stages," said Gordon, adding that the renovations needed to happen regardless of a move.

Anne Wyness, chair of the Friends of the City of Vancouver Archives, got involved after donating family business records that dated back to the early 1900s.

"I know that going forward, people are looking at relocating the archives and space is certainly a factor," said Wyness, adding that accessibility of the Vanier location and visibility of the low-lying building is also a concern.

Most important, she said, is the snapshot of the city the building contains. Things like her family records, personal diaries, records from the Vancouver Olympics and archival photographs. Anyone can donate historical records to the city.

Gordon called it a "total archive," a uniquely Canadian concept that blends both civic and private sector records. The city records account for about 50 per cent of the holdings, and include items like council minutes, bylaws and land use records from Vancouver's 126-year history.

Wherever the archives end up, its move to online availability will continue. The archives has uploaded about 80,000 of its more than one million photographs to the website.

Matthews might not turn over in his grave about a move away from the building. In The Man Who Saved Vancouver, author Daphne Sleigh said Matthews would have been disappointed with building designer Bill Leithead's "brutalistic" style and instead would have wanted a "fine monumental building."

Wyness said it doesn't matter much where the city's history is housed, as long it's preserved, including the Matthews building.

"In a way - 40 years - it represents the vision of the time in terms of architecture. I think it would be a shame to lose it, myself. I hope the building stays if the archives move."

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