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By Ryan Taylor

"The Archives of Ontario is our history. This is what the people of Ontario want to preserve, and it is being degraded."

With these words MPP Michael Prue (Beaches-East York) expressed his concern about the future of Ontario's documentary heritage. Speaking in the Legislature on 1 March, he asked Gerry Phillips, Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet with responsibility for the Archives, about its future. He received a bland reply.

At issue is a place to house the Archives. In its early years, it had its own building at Queen's Park. When it needed to expand, it moved across the park to a 1960s vintage office building.

While this place was conveniently located, it did not provide the needed archival atmosphere. Historical records need to be kept cool, dry and clean. The Archives now suffers from mould and cramped quarters. There are even reports that the upper floors are sagging from the weight of materials stored there. The building is so old, it does not even have a sprinkler system in case of fire.

The government had announced plans for new purpose-built quarters for the Archives, but these were cancelled last October. Since then, there has been little activity.

Phillips stated, "We're doing two things. One is, I spent an hour with the chief archivist, reviewing all of the things that we need to be doing to preserve the integrity of our archives. I said to her, 'Are we doing what's appropriate here? Are we protecting the archives in terms of fire and mould and preservation?' I think we are doing, in the short term, all the things that she would recommend."

He went on to say that in the long term, a new facility was needed. Over the next few months, the government will be studying what might be done to build one.

Heritage expert Kathie Orr of Toronto observes, "It will take time to build or refit a building so we are looking at a delay of 2 to 5 years." In the meantime, many historical documents are being lost through damage or the Archives' inability to accept necessary new donations.

Orr is urging anyone with concerns about the future of Ontario's documentary heritage to write expressing their views to Hon. Gerry Phillips, Minister at Management Board Secretariat, 77 Wellesley St W, 12th Flr, Ferguson Block, Toronto ON M7A 1N3. You might follow up with a phone call to 416-327-2333. You can also e-mail the minister at gphillips.mpp@liberal.ola.org.

Be brief, reasonable and express your concerns in your own words. You may want to indicate the value of archives to the community, the necessity of ensuring their safety and long life, and the need for space for new collections at AO.

Archives are a low priority for most governments. They hardly rate the same attention as immediate health or education issues. However, the history of a community is important also. A society which loses track of who it is and where it came from, is bound to go astray in deciding its future.

Politicians, whose main concerns focus on tomorrow's headlines, need to be reminded of this. They should also know that there is a substantial section of the Ontario populace who care about their heritage.

Posted April 2, 2005
Column copyright © 2005 Ryan Taylor

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