I’ve always enjoyed history. A few years ago, I came upon a map of Ottawa from 1895. This was no ordinary map with a street grid and index. It was a hand-drawn bird’s-eye view, with business advertisements around the perimeter. A history lover’s dream! I could see that most of the street names in downtown Ottawa remained the same except for Laurier Avenue, because he had yet to become Prime Minister, and King Edward Street, because he had yet to become King.
But the most compelling thing about this map was the quality of the reproduction. A high-resolution scan in an uncompressed format meant I could see all of the details, the “light rail”, running along Elgin Street, and the business names on top of the small hand-drawn buildings. Normally, scanned maps found on the internet are of such poor quality that you can’t even make out streets, let alone the text.
This inspired me to fix the damage the 100-year-old map sustained in an attempt to make it look like new. It also inspired me to explore more. I found images of the Parliament on large glass plates as good as any image taken with a modern camera. And other maps and images from where I grew up in Southwestern Ontario.
The surprising thing about all these images is that I found them in the US National Archives. Amazing pieces of Canadian history, accessible on a foreign country’s servers.
Library and Archives Canada does have a variety of material available online, however I believe there are better ways to make it available to the public. Of course, images could be provided at much higher resolution than currently available, but there is so much more that could be done. Archival images and documents could be more easily accessible and discoverable, and while not everything can be digitized tomorrow, there could be better information on what is digitized, what is planned to be digitized, and how to request a certain item or collection be prioritized. I believe building a digital infrastructure where the public can easily accessible and deposit information would help make Library and Archives Canada an example the world over for how a modern public Archive should operate.
I started this site to get like-minded people to gather and plan the best means of achieving this goal. The breakneck speed of technology and the endless possibilities of creativity inevitably clash with the deliberate pace of government and its “appeasement” efforts on policy. I welcome all people to contribute their stories about why they think better digital archives may benefit them, as well as ideas as to the best method to pursue this goal.