Object permanence: PoCo Heritage putting historical artifacts online

Digitizing museum’s collection of objects was ‘daunting’ task

First, there were the pictures.

Rows after black-and-white row of images from the past: kids posing for class photos a hundred years ago, settlers sawing through logs as thick as Godzilla’s wrist, the rail line and a black train belching a cloud of white. There were divers that looked like six-foot insects in a low-budget science fiction movie, businesses that once thrived, parades, serious men with impressive mustaches, and, of course, Terry Fox.

photo supplied PoCo Heritage Museum and Archives

It was the history of Port Coquitlam and it needed to be put where Port Coquitlam residents could see it: online.

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The work of digitizing every photo in the collection was spearheaded by former manager and curator of the PoCo Museum and Archives, Kelly Brown. But after that job was finished, a new one suggested itself.

“The natural next step there was to digitize the object collection, which is a little more daunting,” explains Alex Code, the museum’s new manager and curator.

A few of the objects in the collection. photo supplied PoCo Heritage Museum and Archives

Objects ranged from old uniforms to amber bottles to glass plate negatives dating to the 1890s.

“Walking into a room full of thousands of objects is a little scary,” Code says.

After starting the undertaking in the spring of 2021, five staff members and four volunteers recently finished photographing every artifact in the collection.

Assistant curator Mallorie Francis digitzes negatives. photo supplied PoCo Heritage Museum and Archives

In the process, they stumbled on some artifacts that had had been stored by the museum but never documented.

“We found lots of things that stumped us for a bit,” Code says, explaining that, prior to the museum’s existence, many of the items had been stored by citizens concerned about preserving the city’s history.

One of the most intriguing discoveries were photographs of a family from the 1890s through the 1910s.

“They turned out to be Wingrove family photos,” Code says, explaining the family emigrated from England to Port Coquitlam about 130 years ago.

Given that many of the photographs featured the Wingrove family cuddling the family dog, it seemed appropriate that the money to preserve and digitize those pictures came from last year’s pet election fundraiser, Code says.

With a bit of help from “some Canada summer jobs students,” the artifact photos are slated to be part of the museum’s online database by the end of summer.

“It’s an important step to get it all onto our database software so that we can have a better idea about the collection ourselves so that we can also bring it to the public.”


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