Two Red Deer youths walk along the railroad track in this 1970s photo, originally taken by a Red Deer Advocate photographer. (Contributed by Red Deer Archives)

Two Red Deer youths walk along the railroad track in this 1970s photo, originally taken by a Red Deer Advocate photographer. (Contributed by Red Deer Archives)

Today’s pandemic experiences will be valued by historians of tomorrow: Red Deer archivist

Jillian Staniec is encouraging people to submit personal records

These dull pandemic days will be of huge interest to future historians, predicts Jillian Staniec co-ordinator of the Red Deer Archives.

For that reason she hopes to get more submissions of photos, written or videotaped accounts from Red Deerians of how they feel about these strange “unprecedented” times.

“We are looking for a whole range of experiences,” Staniec added — from everyday protocols, such as masking and social distancing, to more emotional experiences — if people are willing to recount their hospitalizations or the loss of loved ones.

“If they don’t, it’s perfectly understandable,” said Staniec. But she believes future historians will be interested in all aspects of this period.

Protests against mask-wearing are now part of our history, she added. “Someday people will want to know why people felt this way and what they were experiencing… There are different sides to everything because everyone has their own personal vision.”

The Red Deer Archives has been around since the mid 1960s, but maintains documentation from the last pandemic in 1918 — and even further back to the mid 1800s. The area hadn’t been settled yet, early homesteaders left records that pre-date our city, said Staniec.

Often a box-full of documentation will arrive after a grandparent dies, or when seniors are downsizing and want to pass on family records.

Although Staniec can’t take everything, she’s interested in a wide array of personal, commercial, and non-profit documentation — from family photos to business websites to minutes of service club meetings.

“We have two kilometres of records, 150,000 photos and negatives, 3,000 video and audio recordings and about 5,000 maps and architectural records,” said Staniec.

These are made up of paper files, as well as material on micro-fiche and computer. Staniec said the new Preservica program allows for a lot of digital storage — and much of this can be accessed by people from their homes, through a link provided by the archives.

She added this has been a real help during the pandemic as the archives is now closed to walk-in clients. Staniec and three other archives staff members have been helping more people over the phone with information requests.

These have come in from all over the world. Staniec said the last international query was from Netflix U.K., looking for videotaped footage of Red Deer skater Jamie Salé for a documentary on figure skating.

Occasionally media will ask about historic events or figures — such as local silent film actress Olive de Wilton, who was briefly married to Boris Karloff, or Icelandic poet Stephan Stephansson, of Markerville.

But Staniec said she deals with far more requests from citizens who are interested in tracking down their family history, either for genealogy reasons, or to help with reunion plans. “I love to be able to help people find those connections where possible,” she said.

Part of her job is also keeping up with Canada’s copyright laws, and freedom of information versus privacy rules. “They are always changing and they will often impact our records,” added the archivist, who expects these will tighten further in the coming years.

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