Thanks to a $10,000 grant from the RDEK, the Fernie and District Historical Society (FDHS) is working to digitise historical copies of The Free Press newspaper to preserve public access to the area’s history in print.
According to Sara Edmondson, who is executive director of the FDHS, the Fernie Museum was recently loaned 16 reels of microfilm of The Free Press from the Friends of Fort Steel Society, with the microfilm covering newspapers from March 1899 to December 1947.
The copies of microfilm will be digitised as part of UBC Okanagan’s British Columbia Regional Digitised History (BCRHD) project.
“(BCRHD) is now entering its fifth year of operation and offers digitisation services and a collaborative online discovery platform for over 40 heritage organizations in southeastern British Columbia,” said Edmondson.
“We have been working with the BCRDH since fall 2020 to digitize our extensive photograph archive.”
Media digitised through the BCRHD is then curated as digital files and editions that can be searched and explored by members of the public online.
Edmonson said that the FDHS hoped that the digitisation of the microfilm copies of The Free Press would be completed by fall 2022, and they were investigating options to digitise hard copies of The Free Press from 1947 onwards. The FSHS has historical editions of The Free Press in hard copy, but they are in bound form, and in delicate condition.
The digitisation project is possible thanks to a grant from the RDEK’s discretionary funds for community projects.
Area A Director Mike Sosnowski said that he and the Electoral Area Advisory Committee (which had chosen the project for funding) believed that the preservation of history had to be a priority for the community.
“Having (The Free Press) digitised is the best gift that anybody can ever give to the city of Fernie and the surrounding area because The Free Press covers the whole Elk Valley,” he said.
“If history isn’t preserved in print, somebody will re-write it.”
Another recent recipient of discretionary funds to preserve the history of the area was the Fernie Holy Family Catholic Church, and the repair and restoration of the bell tower roof.
Edmondson said that the support of the RDEK and Sosnowski was very much appreciated in the FSHS’s mission to build and preserve community memory.
“By digitising our precious archives and providing online access to the public, we can protect the original documents from the effects of time while the Elk Valley community enjoys our collection for long into the future,” she said.
“The advantages of digitised archives extend to many different purposes, including professional research, curiosity of family history, or simply gaining an insight into the past life in Fernie.”
Hard copies of historical editions of The Free Press are held by the FDHS and The Free Press, but they are currently not accessible to the public due to their fragile condition.
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