‘Old, substandard building’: Group wants a new home for the City of Winnipeg’s archives

WINNIPEG — A group representing archivists in Manitoba is calling on the City of Winnipeg to find a better home for its historical documents and archives.

Tom Nesmith with the Association for Manitoba Archives says the current home for the archives, located at 50 Myrtle Street, is not an adequate place to store history dating back to the founding of the city, for multiple reasons.

The city’s archives were previously located at the former Carnegie Library at William Avenue until 2013 when the building was damaged from major rainstorms. This necessitated the move of the records to the new location in a former warehouse.

Winnipeg archives

(CTV News Photo Ken Gabel)

“It is not equipped to be an archival facility,” he said. “It lacks a lot of the important temperature and humidity controls that help preserve archival work or archival records, and it is located in an obscure part of the city in a very uninviting building.”

Nesmith said public use of the archives has dropped since the relocation to the new facility, though public access has also been limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nesmith said the organization has lobbied the city for a better location and said they ramped up the campaign during the 2018 election. He said there has been warehouse fires in the area near the current location in recent years, and he is worried about losing Winnipeg’s history.

“We’re concerned about the security of the records, in this old, substandard building that is inaccessible to the public, yet has this great treasure related to the history of Winnipeg that is nowhere else,” he said.

A City of Winnipeg spokesperson said all options are being explored to address archival storage, including potentially renovating the former Carnegie Library building.

“The City is also exploring facility options to address the storage and preservation needs for its growing archival collection, to allow enough space for its programming, and to create an accessible space that allows Winnipeggers to continue to have access to records and conduct research,” the statement reads. “A final report by the Public Service, with recommendations for the future of the archival collection and program, will be presented for Council’s consideration of the project and funding.”

“The stories of Winnipeg and its residents are told in the records and artifacts managed by the City of Winnipeg’s Archives, and we want all residents to be inspired to explore our history.”

Nesmith said one option that has been floated is potentially turning the vacant Hudson’s Bay Building in downtown Winnipeg into an archival space to hold multiple archives around Manitoba. He said he hopes historical and cultural uses will be part of the planning of the future use, but said he wants a solution for the city archives sooner, rather than later.

“We’re certainly open to any practical proposals about relocating the city archives to a proper facility, and there are many reasons to think that the Hudson’s Bay building would be attractive,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s likely the discussions of what’s going to happen to The Bay building will go on for a long time, and the situation facing the city archives is really urgent and desperate after nearly eight years in this substandard building in which the records are basically invisible.”

In December, the city created The Bay Downtown Advisory Committee to advise on the future use of the building.

“The Committee will consider and pursue a variety of future use opportunities and advise on optimal use as well as prioritize plans which emphasize the long-term sustainability and economic viability of the site,” a city spokesperson said.

city of winnipeg archives

(CTV News Photo Ken Gabel)

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