June 3, 2020
An open letter to Premier John Horgan and Jack Lohman, CEO of the Royal British Columbia Museum
RE: Unacceptable Closure of Provincial Archives Reference Room
Dear Mr. Horgan and Mr. Lohman,
The British Columbia Historical Federation represents over 100 historical societies in the province whose mandate is to foster understanding of our collective past. On May 26, 2020 we learned that the reference room at the British Columbia Archives would remain closed until an undisclosed date in 2021. This extended closure of access to the bulk of the provincial collection is not only unacceptable because of the impacts it will have on cultural and heritage activities at the community level in all corners of the province, it is also poorly timed as we move into the provincial sesquicentennial in 2021.
British Columbians rely upon the Provincial Archives to safeguard their heritage and history — and to enable easy access to it. Online access reaches only a tiny fraction of the provincial collection; it cannot replace the deep holdings foundational to our understanding of this province’s complex history that are read in person in the reference room by community historians, civic workers, Indigenous researchers, graduate students, and contract researchers working on behalf of community celebrations, Indigenous groups, libraries, archives, museums — and indeed the provincial government itself. These documents, maps, oral histories, photographs, art, and movies are central to our evolving understanding of ourselves as well as to the creation and presentation of programs by and for citizens —a fundamental relief to British Columbians suffering through these difficult times.
British Columbia’s Restart Plan has seen other sectors come up with creative solutions to safely re-open. Museums, libraries and archives across British Columbia are opening their doors again so that the public may have access to their holdings once more. If the Provincial Museum component of the RBCM can open to the public, how can the Provincial Archives component not?
The Archives must open soon in a safe, prudent manner so that British Columbians may carry on with their important work.
President, British Columbia Historical Federation