Anyone who’s ever spent a few hours straining their eyes on a microfilm reader while searching for an obscure item in an old newspaper has thought, “There must be a better way.” Now, at last, there is.
Thanks to the University of B.C. (UBC), needle-in-the-haystack searching is a thing of the past, at least as far as several local papers are concerned.
The British Columbia Historical Newspapers Project, which officially launched this month, has made several Kootenay-Boundary newspapers, mostly from the 1890s and early 1900s, available online, fully searchable by keyword and browsable by date.
Here are the Nelson Miner, Tribune, and Economist, Sandon Mining Review, New Denver Ledge, and Ainsworth Hot Springs News, among 18 others. Previously, a few B.C. newspapers had been digitized but these are the first from our area.
“We’re trying to make it so you don’t have to go to a library that has the specific microfilm and then struggle with the microfilm to get to the right place,” explains Allan Bell, director of the UBC library’s digital initiatives program.
“This makes this material so much more available and you get the serendipity of putting in the keyword and seeing how that has been represented throughout the province and across time.”
The project was about a year in the works, and accomplished in part through a donation from a private family foundation. To begin with, they identified about 200 papers that folded before 1925, which were easier to deal with for copyright reasons.
“Out of that, our archivist, Chris Hives, picked 24 to be geographically distributed across the province and also hit communities that you don’t usually see,” Bell says. “A lot of these were papers that didn’t have a big run, so they were pretty obscure.”
They scanned microfilm masters supplied by the BC Archives, broke up the pages into individual images and then worked on improving the optical character recognition that allows for the keyword searches.
“Because they’re on microfilm, you have to do some clean up,” Bell says. “But we got pretty lucky. If you put in keywords, you’re going to get results that at least put you in the territory.”
Single pages can also be downloaded in JPEG format, while entire issues are downloadable as PDFs.
More papers will likely be added, including others from West Kootenay, but there are already enough online to keep most history buffs occupied a long time.
“I think from a local history and genealogy point of view, this is going to be amazing,” Bell says. “A lot of people are going to find things it would have been very difficult to find before.”
Indeed, as many historians will agree, the most interesting items rarely come with a banner headline — they are more often relegated to two lines in the back pages.
Bell says local newspapers provide a unique perspective on Canadian heritage and “reflect the social and cultural life of the community.”
“My favourite thing is looking at the First World War and how that affected local communities,” he says. “How they banded together to meet the challenge.”
The site is at historicalnewspapers.library.ubc.ca.
Kootenay Boundary newspapers newly digitized by UBC, with dates available:
The Miner (Nelson) (1890-93)
The Tribune (Nelson) (1892-94, 1897-98)
Nelson Economist (1897-1900)
Kootenay Mail (Revelstoke) (1894-1905)
Boundary Creek Times (Greenwood) (1896-99)
Grand Forks Sun (1914-20)
Hot Springs News (Ainsworth) (1891-92)
Mining Review (Sandon) (1897-1903)
Moyie Leader (1898-1911)
Phoenix Pioneer (1900-16)
The Ledge (Nakusp, New Denver, Fernie, Greenwood) (1893-1913)
The Prospector (Fort Steele) (1899-1905)
– Greg Nesteroff, Black Press