Winnipeg’s archives could be moving back downtown, years after a storm forced them to be held in a warehouse.
A new city report is recommending they get moved back to their original home at Carnegie Library in the Exchange District, a move historians are calling long overdue.
Everything from first-hand written city council minutes to original maps have been stored in a warehouse on Myrtle Street in the city’s industrial zone since 2013, ever since a rainstorm flooded the original building on William Avenue that was under renovation at the time.
Manitoba Historical Society president Gordon Goldsborough is calling the public service recommendation an all-around win because the current industrial location isn’t accessible to the public or safe for long-term preservation of the documents that tell the city’s story.
“The building itself was never designed for archival holdings, and so recently, for instance, they had a fire outside the building. Somebody lit a fire on the outside of the building, and there was a real risk that the collection could go up in smoke,” Goldsborough told Global News on Friday. “This building was never designed for the purpose for which it’s being used, and that’s why we absolutely need a better place to store these wonderful records.”
The “unique” and “irreplaceable” collections that extend onto three kilometres of shelfspace remain at risk for a number of other reasons, Association for Manitoba Archives committee member Tom Nesmith told Global News.
“The warehouse that they’re in has no preservation controls, which are standard features of proper archival facilities, and so, the records are exposed to rapid, extreme temperature fluctuations, which is only exacerbated by climate change.”
The report says bringing the archives back to a renovated Carnegie Library is the city’s best and cheapest option, coming with an estimated price tag of $12.69 million, a move local history blogger Christian Cassidy says would also help save the more-than-115-year-old building and make it easier for the public to access.
“They’re the archives of you and me and our parents and all the Indigenous peoples and … settlers that came and all the different waves of immigration. All the bridges that were built. You name it. It’s in these,” Cassidy said.
“This is our, the people’s story of how the city got built.”
Depending on next week’s standing policy committee on property and development meeting, the project could also be referred to the 2023 budget process, but Goldsborough and Nesmith say they want to see change sooner, adding that it could take years after that before renovations at the William-Avenue building are completed.
“The situation is still very urgent,” Nesmith said. “As we approach the 150th anniversary of our city in a couple of years, I would hate to have the archives be destroyed, shall we say, rather than part of a celebration of our 150th anniversary.”
“That’s why we’ll be urging city council and the mayor to take immediate steps to refurbish the Carnegie Library building, get that matter into the budget for 2022 if at all possible, rather than delay a further year,” he said.
The report still has a number of steps to navigate after and if it gets the go-ahead at next week’s meeting on Wednesday.