Take a look back in time at the news of the Elk Valley and beyond thanks to the digitization of The Free Press editions from 1899 to 1947.
The digital archive project is managed by the Fernie & District Historical Society (FDHS), and a link to the old editions can be found through a portal on the Archives and Artifacts section of the Fernie Museum website.
Phase one of the project includes editions from March 4, 1899 to Dec. 25, 1947. Phase two of the project will take the digital archive all the way up to 1998, according to Lori Bradish, a board director with the FDHS.
They are aiming for January, 2023, for the completion of the phase two portion of the project.
Bradish said the project “really speaks to the mandate of the (FDHS), of really preserving the local and area history for the residents of the valley.”
“Now, it’s incredible that just anybody can go to our website and go online and literally look at a paper from (1899).”
“We’re really excited and happy that we’ve got this stage done, and we’re really looking forward to the next stage,” she said.
The FDHS has worked with various different groups to make the digital archive possible.
According to a timeline of the project provided by Bradish, in spring of 2021, the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) Area A director, Mike Sosnowski, awarded a $10,000 grant for the project. Moving into the summer of 2021, the Fort Steele Heritage Town loaned 16 microfilm reels of The Free Press editions from 1899 to 1947 for digitization.
In the summer and moving into the fall of 2021, the museum coordinated the processing of the reels “with suppliers in Vancouver and with the BC Regional History Digitization program at the Okanagan campus of UBC.”
In fall, 2021, six microfilm reels of the Sparwood edition of The Free Press from the early 80s were obtained from the Sparwood Museum. Then, in January of 2022, the digitized database was uploaded to the Fernie Museum website, hosted by the BC Regional Digitized History program.
Now, the museum is moving on to phase two, and seeking more funding from the RDEK for the rest of the archive, from 1948 to when the paper started publishing online.
In an interview with The Free Press, Sosnowski said that he supports funding phase two of the project.
“I will take the ask to the board with my support,” he said.
He said he was “thrilled over the top” with the results of phase one.
“Because I got to look at the very first page of the very first Fernie Free Press, and I’m from Fernie, I was born and raised here, my dad was born here and my grandfather came here, about the time that the Fernie Free Press started. And so I was just thrilled to be able to see that accomplished.”
“It was nice to be able to give them the help from the regional district, and Lori and her team that work so hard, I got to give them full credit,” Sosnowski said.
When asked if anything in the archives struck him as particularly interesting, he said “just everything.”
“What struck me is, it’s a lot like reading last week’s Free Press. Many things have changed, but it’s still the newspaper. It’s the news.”
He also affirmed the importance of historical preservation.
“If we don’t preserve our history, in the written word, somebody will rewrite it in their words.”