Our Stories

Peek behind the scenes at the Royal BC Museum. This is the place to hear expert voices tell their stories about the collections. Meet archivists, curators, collections managers and the other people who work here.


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Ann ten CateArchivist (Retired)

Why did you want to become an archivist?
Old records always fascinate me. When I hold a letter written 100 years ago, I imagine myself in that person’s life. I am touching paper that they touched, and reading their thoughts. It is like being a psychic time-traveller!

How did you become an archivist?
After getting a history degree at university, I got a summer job in an archives and was hooked. I worked in a lot of different archives, big and small, getting as much experience as I could. If I was starting out now, I would probably get a master of archival studies from a university.

What does an archivist do?
Archivists collect, organize and look after important records of many different kinds so that we will have a reliable memory of the past.  They also help people find information in those records, whether they are writing a family history or the history of a province or country.

Stories by or about this person

CBC radio visits BC Archives for Archives Bootcamp. This audio recording presents Archivist, Ann ten Cate facilitating a public event designed to introduce and demystify archives research.

Archivist, Ann ten Cate leads viewers through the basic steps of family history research (genealogy) at the BC Archives.

Archivist, Ann ten Cate, writes about genealogy.

Claudia CopleyEntomology Collection Manager

Why did you want to become an entomologist (someone who studies insects)?
I was keen on insects from as early as I can remember, so becoming an entomologist was a natural fit. I always had jars with live insects in them and I am told I even insisted they be in my crib with me! Of course when I was little no one told me I could do what I loved and get paid for it, but that is exactly what has happened. My interests extend to everything biological, but my passion is for terrestrial arthropods—insects, spiders, and their relatives.

How did you become an entomology collections manager?
For schooling I have a undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in biology. In between I also did a high school teaching degree with an emphasis on math, general science, and biology. What I found out during my teaching experience was that not everyone loved nature and science as much as I do, so I came back to my true love: entomology.

I am still learning new things every day that relate to my career and interest in nature and am always on the lookout for courses where I can learn even more about the species that make up the huge field of entomology. On that note I have taken a course called The Bee Course, another course on bark beetles, and I am keeping my eye on the schedules of The Ant Course, The Hym Course, and others.

What does an entomology collections manager do? 
My overall role is to make sure the entomology collection is available for research. There is still so much left to learn in entomology that the collection is in high demand for study. A typical day for me could include putting together a loan of specimens for shipment to researchers anywhere in the world, or a visiting researcher could come here and work directly in the collection. I spend most hours each week making sure the specimens are well curated: prepared properly (labelled, pinned, stored in preservative, etc.), that all the information about the specimen is captured digitally so we can search what is in the collection, putting things into the collection where they go, and making sure they are easily found when they need to be. I can only do all of this with the help of a big group of volunteers.

I also answer questions about all aspects of entomology every day and these questions come at me via email, phone calls, and some people even come right to the museum with critters in containers.

Something I don’t do every day but what I consider a critical part of the job is to add to the collection through fieldwork. It is amazing to spend even a short amount of time every year in natural areas all over the province.

Stories by or about this person

Read Entomology Collection Manager and Researcher Claudia Copley’s article about the bees of British Columbia in the Fall 2014 edition of What’s Insight.

Read Entomology Collection Manager and Researcher Claudia Copley’s and Conservation Manager Kasey Lee’s article about Dermestid Beetles in the Winter 2014 edition of What’s Insight. Find out how these insects threaten collections throughout the museum.

Meet Entomology Collection Manager Claudia Copley and peek behind the scenes in entomology. Credit: RBCM, J. Weller

Royal BC Museum Entomology Collection Manager Claudia Copley, joins Sophie and Steve at Global News to talk about fall spider season. Credit: Courtesy Global News

Colleen WilsonTextile Conservator


Why did you want to become a textile conservator?
I like to work with my hands. I like old things because they bring to mind stories of who used them in the past. I have sewn since I was eight years old and like the connection to other sewers through close examination of their work. Textiles are literally the fabric of our lives and the fabrics of the lives of people who have lived in other times and places.

How did you become a textile conservator?
I have a degree in history in art and did two years of postgraduate training at the Textile Conservation Centre at Hampton Court Palace in England. Conservation is a field where History, Science and Fine Arts intersect; a detective's interest in physical clues, a chemist's willingness to analyse and experiment and an artist's eye for detail are all assets.

What does a textiles conservator do?
Conservators try to ensure that the physical evidence of the past is preserved. It's one thing to read about the way people lived – seeing the tools they used, their toys and clothes is also informative. Artifacts are historical documents of a different kind, they communicate information that is not always written down. Although sometimes we work directly on artifacts such as the McInnes uniform, we also build mounts to support unusual shapes, we devise means to prevent careless handling and to filter light, moisture and dust, as all of those things can shorten the life of an artifact.

Stories by or about this person

Curator of History, Dr Lorne Hammond and Textile Conservator, Colleen Wilson, write about the mystery of Lieutenant-Governor Robert McInnes’s uniform.

Dennis J. DuffyArchivist (Retired)

Why did you want to become an archivist?
I've always been interested in stories about BC's pioneer days, ghost towns and so on.  Like ghost towns, archival records are another kind of relic from the past and provide us with windows to look into that past.  My work with archival films and sound recordings gives me a set of especially interesting windows to look through.

How did you become an archivist?
Through my background in audio-visual media.  I was first hired in 1978 as a summer student, to copy sound recordings for preservation.  I later worked as a contractor and my role gradually expanded; I was asked to research, write and edit books, to identify films made in British Columbia and eventually to help the BC Archives acquire and preserve historic films about BC.  Finally, in 1998, I was given the opportunity to join the regular staff of the archives.  (It only took me 20 years!)

What do you do as an archivist?
I still do some work with the sound and film collections.  But I also help to deal with new acquisitions of archival records; with arranging and describing collections of records; with descriptive data and databases; and with many other projects.  Recently, I edited a video production based on old films of soldiers in Victoria and Vancouver, training and preparing to leave BC to fight in the First World War.  The video will be part of an exhibit commemorating the 100th anniversary of that war.

Stories by or about this person

Royal BC Museum Archivist, Dennis J. Duffy, writes about archival films from the First World War.

Read archivist Dennis Duffy’s article on oral recorder and historian, Imbert Orchard.

Follow a family’s BC camping trip in 1957 and 1958. First visit Miracle Beach on Vancouver Island and then travel to a provincial campsite at Okanagan Lake.

The Browning children enjoy a snowy day at Britannia Beach in about 1930.

Young Gladys DeWolf and her friends give a dance recital in the back yard, filmed by her dad Allan in Cranbrook, BC, in about 1926.

Two boys from the DeWolf family enjoy playing in boats—both real and pretend. What pretending games do you like to play?

In the 1940s, the town of Ymir, BC hosted large family festivals. Watch some May Day celebrations, a May Queen pageant and crowning, children dancing around a maypole and a baseball game. These colourful May Day celebrations were filmed by Lester G. Morrell in 1940.

Two boys from the DeWolf family enjoy playing in boats—both real and pretend. What pretending games do you like to play?

Dr Rob CanningsCurator Emeritus of Entomology

Why did you want to become a scientist and a museum curator?
Luckily for me, I grew up among the beautiful lakes, grasslands and pine-clad hills of the Okanagan Valley in southern BC. My family loved the natural world and we eagerly explored and studied the plants and animals of the Valley. My Dad worked at the Agriculture Canada Research Station in Summerland, so I grew up among all sorts of biologists and other scientists working on interesting problems. They let me hang out in their labs when I was a kid.

I loved museums from an early age and fell under the spell of the identification handbooks of the Provincial Museum. I decided that museum life combined all my interests and that’s where I wanted to work – so here I am!

How did you become an scientist and curator?

The path to a museum job began when I was really young, before I went to high school. In my summer holidays during university, I worked as a Park Naturalist in BC Parks, talking to tourists, leading nature walks, and making displays. I learned a lot about the natural world and how to inspire people about it. Good museum training!

At the University of BC I studied biology and loved the entomology (study of insects) courses taught by Dr Geoff Scudder, who became a mentor. He supervised me as a masters student. To this day, he and I work on insect projects together.

Aiming to get a job at the Royal BC Museum (it was called the BC Provincial Museum then), I worked hard to get useful experience – I wrote a museum handbook on BC dragonflies, I produced exhibits for various museums, I collected lots of insects and wrote about them, I got to know many entomologists. When my dream job appeared, I was ready to go! Later, I earned a PhD, which helped me be a better curator.

What does an entomology curator do? 

My usual research asks questions such as: What species is this? Has it been found before? Where do these species live and how, over millions of years, did they get there? How are all these species related? How did they evolve? It’s all a fascinating puzzle and the research involves a lot of detective work. Thousands of BC’s insect species are still unknown and I’ve spent much of my career helping to build the Royal BC Museum insect collection so that everyone can learn more about this big part of BC’s natural world. I love field work, and finding insects has taken me to the far corners of the province –and the world! Identifying specimens and organizing them in the collection is a crucial and time-consuming task. But studying insects is not everything – a curator must tell people about all those discoveries. So writing and speaking about insects, as well as helping produce exhibits about them, takes up a lot of my time. 


What have you learned from working with insects?

I love learning about insects and the unbelievable lives that they lead. Their complexity and  mind-boggling variety excite me and give me an all-consuming appreciation of this huge group of marvellous organisms with which we share the earth. I have collected insects, photographed them, talked and written about them. Curiosity and the thirst for knowledge, not fancy labs and equipment, are the basis for good science and a museum curator’s work.

Stories by or about this person

Curator Emeritus of Entomology Dr Rob Cannings talks about dragonflies and damselflies. Credit: RBCM

Dr. Erica WheelerBotany Collections Manager

Why did you want to become a botanist?
For as long as I can remember, I have loved the world of plants.  I have very fond memories of days spent picking Salmon Berries in the back yard, weaving placemats from cherry tree bark and imagining a tiny world of fairies in the moss along the creek.  When I grew up, my affection for plants became a fascination with their beauty and diversity and with their importance in our lives.  Plants make the oxygen we breathe!  When I learned that trained botanists spend their days studying plants, I decided that's what I wanted to be!

How did you become a botanist?
I studied biology at university and was especially interested in plant taxonomy and biodiversity classes, which taught me about the differences between major groups of plants such as mosses, ferns, conifers and flowering plants.  I wasn't always the best student in the class, but I worked very hard to learn and was soon doing my own research projects as a graduate student in plant taxonomy.  I now have a doctorate degree (PhD) in this field and this helped me get a job as a botanist at the Royal BC Museum.

What do you do as a botany collections manager?
My job is to take care of the botany collection at the Royal BC Museum, which includes over 215,000 specimens of pressed, dried plants. I make sure that the collection is safe from damaging things such as water, light and insects.  I help with the work of adding new specimens to the collection every year and love going to the field to collect.  A big part of my job these days is making sure that the information about our botany specimens is recorded in a computer database so people from all around the world can easily learn about our botany collection.  I also help other botanists with their research by sending specimens to them by mail for their studies. 

 

Stories by or about this person

Botany Collections Manager, Dr Erica Wheeler talks about what inspired her love of plants and what a botanist does.

Botany Collections Manager, Dr Erica Wheeler, talks about Mary Gibson Henry and her contributions to BC botany. Part of this video was shot during a 2014 field research trip in northeastern BC.

Dr. Gavin HankeCurator of Vertebrate Zoology

Why did you want to become a curator? 
I am a collector and I have always been interested in nature. As a student, I spent many hours collecting fishes, amphibians and reptiles and helped build a research collection at the University of Manitoba. I prepared skeletal material and reconstructed reptile skulls starting in high school and I have hands-on experience building models and dioramas. Museum work is a perfect fit for me. 

How did you become a zoology curator?
My education? At the University of Manitoba I did a bachelor of science in general zoology and master of science on exotic fish introductions. As a hobby, during my master's degree, I published research on placoderm fossils from the Interlake region of Manitoba. My doctorate degree (PhD) at the University of Alberta focused on fossil fishes but, instead of placoderms, I looked at acanthodians and an odd group of fishes thought to be related to the cartilaginous fishes (sharks, rays and ratfishes). Shortly after my PhD in 2001, I was hired back in Winnipeg as the zoology curator at the Manitoba Museum. In early 2004, I headed west.

What do you do as curator of vertebrate zoology?
I collect specimens for the museum (particularly fish, amphibian and reptile) and write research papers which are published and available internationally. I help other researchers with their work and maintain contacts with other agencies in British Columbia to obtain as many specimens as possible—from areas where we rarely visit (like northern BC). I have particular interest in exotic species introductions in Canada and the role of the pet trade and food industry in exotic species dispersal. Curators also help develop exhibits—both travelling exhibits and permanent displays here at the Royal BC Museum—and act as a filter to make scientific literature accessible to a general audience.

 

Stories by or about this person

Royal BC Museum Curator, Dr Gavin Hanke, describes the sometimes smelly, but always interesting, work of preparing the museum’s first humpback whale skeleton.

Curator of Vertebrate Zoology Dr Gavin Hanke writes about Assfish, Brotulas and Cusk-eels in The ABCs of the Royal BC Museum on page 25 of this electronic copy of What’s inSight.

Royal BC Museum Curator, Dr Gavin Hanke writes about removing and preserving baleen from a Grey Whale.

A short article about the art of illustrating fish for scientific work.

Curator of Vertebrate Zoology Dr Gavin Hanke writes about fishy research trips and discovering fish species new to British Columbia on page 14 of this electronic copy of What’s inSight.

Royal BC Museum Curator, Dr Gavin Hanke, describes how different types of specimens are preserved.

Dr. Ken MarrCurator of Botany

Why did you want to become a botanist?
I grew up spending my summers at a research station that was founded by my father, in the mountains of Colorado. I was continually exposed to people with a passion for inquiry, who knew the names of plants and I wanted to learn from them.  In the broadest sense, botany includes agriculture and ethnobotany, two subjects that fascinate me because of their connections to global food security and the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples.

How did you become a curator of botany?
I have been very fortunate in that nearly every job I have had, had something to do with plants, often involving some aspect of plant identification: environmental consulting, range technician, ecological studies and ethnobotany.  After finishing my bachelor of science degree in environmental biology, I thought I was finished with school forever. I never intended to go to graduate school and obtain master and doctoral degrees.  After spending four years as someone else's technician, I realized that if I wanted to determine the course of my career, I was going to need more education.

What do you do as curator of botany?
A lot of my job involves using references and the collection to identify plants that have been sent to the museum by others, or that I have collected, or that have languished in the collection for many years. Sometimes I find plants with an incorrect or non-current name (in which case I make the correction to the best of my ability).  For 13 years I have been involved in a project to survey the alpine flora of the mountains of northern British Columbia and to use DNA markers to trace the migration of arctic and alpine species in the northern hemisphere, with an emphasis on British Columbia.

Stories by or about this person

Curator of Botany, Dr Ken Marr describes his inspiration and work as a botanist.

Curator of Botany, Dr Ken Marr and Botany Collections Manager, Dr Erica Wheeler describe the process of collecting, preserving, and storing specimens for the Botany collection at the Royal BC Museum.

Dr. Lorne HammondCurator of History

Why did you want to become a historian?

When I was young we lived and vacationed among a mix of Etruscan, Roman and Renaissance sites and World War II battlefields in Germany and Italy.  Right from the start history was about people, museums and art galleries, objects, books and physical landscapes.  And I had great teachers.

How did you become a curator? 

I moved from academic classrooms to the museum when my wife Monica spotted an interesting history job and I applied.  They liked my mix of skills. I was very fortunate to be mentored by a deeply experienced staff and was immediately thrown into the busy world of collections, exhibits and work with the public.

How would you describe a typical day at work?  

I was told when I was hired "you will never be bored".  That is still true.  A day is a mix of public inquiries, email research questions, collections work, media requests, mentoring interns and work with docents on collections or public education training. A constant is the team work on projects across a wide variety of departments.  No two days are exactly the same.

Stories by or about this person

Find out about the Bossi family’s Christmas card collection.

Dr Lorne Hammond and Colleen Wilson write about the mystery of Lieutenant-Governor McInnes's uniform.

Royal BC Museum Curator of History, Dr Lorne Hammond, reveals the back story on Sir Francis Stillman Barnard, the 10th Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia and his influential family.

Dr. Melissa FreyFormer Curator of Invertebrates

Dr. Melissa Frey is the Collection Manager, Malacology at the Burke Museum in Seattle, WA.

Why did you want to become a curator of invertebrate zoology?
I have always been curious about nature – I love to collect, identify, classify, study and learn. As I pursued a career in biology, eventually the idea of being a curator became more tangible, more real. Seemed like the perfect fit! 

How did you come to be a curator?
Shortly after earning a bachelor of science degree in zoology and a master's degree in oceanography, I worked as a biologist at the Smithsonian Institution. It was during this behind the scenes experience that I fell in love with museums and the work that they do. So I returned to graduate school to pursue a doctorate degree (PhD) in population biology, focusing on evolutionary, biogeographic and systematic studies of marine invertebrates. Working with museum collections played a large role in my graduate studies, as I studied collections from many of the major museums throughout the world. Upon finishing my dissertation, I became a research associate at the Royal BC Museum, and eventually landed the position of curator of invertebrates.

What did you do as a curator at the Royal BC Museum?
My work was split between collections and research and exhibits and learning programs. One of things that I love about my job is the constant change and opportunity to learn: studying specimens within the collection and translating this knowledge into research papers, exhibits and learning programs. And then there's my favourite – fieldwork – collecting along the spectacular coastlines, forests and freshwaters of BC. As a curator, my role is to enhance our understanding of the natural history of this region, by collecting, identifying, studying and sharing. My hope is that other people also will be inspired, curious and delighted by learning about our natural world.

Stories by or about this person

Dr Melissa Frey talks about her background and role as curator of invertebrates (animals without backbones) at the Royal BC Museum.

Dr. Tzu-I ChungCurator, History

Why did you want to become a historian?
History has always intrigued me – I’ve wondered how people lived and acted, how the past informs the present, what utensils people used and what clothes people wore (and how it felt to wear those clothes). I’ve been especially interested in what people in the past thought and assumed (what they unconsciously accepted as normal, like social class, gender roles and perceptions of nature) about their lives and times.

How did you become a curator?
During and after my doctoral studies, my years teaching in American universities strengthened my belief in the importance of diversity and historical education, and my commitment to public outreach. My position as a curator at the Royal BC Museum is a remarkable opportunity to work with scholars and professionals in public outreach, educational programming and exhibits.

What does a curator do?
To curate means to care for. My job involves caring for, developing, displaying, studying and sharing our museum’s history collections and our province’s history. My work can be divided into three major areas: research, collection development and interpretation, and outreach.

I conduct research on the artifacts in our history collections to find out the stories behind them, and how these stories connect to our provincial, national and global history. I also evaluate donations to the Royal BC Museum’s history collection and make short-term and long-term plans and arrangements to acquire new items. And, to provide content and context for major exhibits, I select artifacts and write their stories.

My outreach activities include writing articles, giving lectures and doing tours for various groups, in order to share information about BC’s history and cultural diversity, our collections and our exhibits.  I also respond to inquiries from the public and participate in conferences and community and scholarly projects.

Stories by or about this person

Dr. Tzu-I Chung explores how gold seekers from many parts of Europe, the Americas and Asia followed the gold trail around the world. The gold rush brought the first major settlement of Chinese people to Canada, and what would later become known as British Columbia.

Ember LundgrenPreservation Manager

Why did you want to work in archives and museums?

Childhood visits to interesting museums and historical places gave me an appreciation and curiosity about museums and being raised in Victoria the Royal BC Museum was a regular stop for my family.

How did you become a preservation manager?

My career in museums and archives began with volunteering during my university studies. I then went to Eastman House in Rochester, New York (the birthplace of Kodak) and trained in Motion Picture Film Preservation. A temporary position at the BC Archives opened and when it ended I was able to fill another position; photocopying records for clients, not my dream job but it taught me patience and gave me access to many different things. Eventually I was able to become a preservation specialist responsible for the physical care and management of the archival holdings.  Now as preservation manager, I get to focus on a new area of collection care: digital preservation and conversion.

What does a preservation manager do?

As preservation manager, my staff and I work with all areas of the archives and museum to help preserve and make accessible items from our collection.

Stories by or about this person

Frederike VerspoorArchivist

Why did you want to become an archivist?
While studying history at university, I did research using original records at an archives in Amsterdam.  Working at an archives seemed a perfect fit for my interest in history, my passion for research and my desire to preserve and provide access to the records which form the basis for historical research.

How did you become an archivist?
After obtaining master's degrees in history and library science and working for several years as a librarian in research libraries, chance and circumstance finally provided the opportunity to work as an archivist. 

What do you do as archivist?
I describe records, create research guides, provide reference and research assistance, and participate in public programs such as Archives Boot Camp and This Week in History. I also work on the genealogy database.

Stories by or about this person

Archivist, Frederike Verspoor, writes about the bride and groom behind British Columbia’s first marriage license.

Grant KeddieCurator of Archaeology

Why did you want to be an archaeologist?
I have always had a curiosity about many things and have a special passion to learn about human beings and other species of animals and our history on this planet.

How did you become an archaeologist?
I studied hard in school and eventually went to university to get a degree in archaeology. I taught myself how to make and use bone and stone tools and did experiments in using them, such as cutting up dead animals with stone knives.

What do you do as curator of archaeology?
I have been curator of archaeology here for more than 40 years. My job includes learning new knowledge about archaeology and discovering new knowledge myself by doing research on our collections. I go out of the museum to discover new things. I help people identify artifacts. I answer questions from members of the public of all ages who teach or work in government departments. I work with educators and exhibit designers to make school programs and exhibits. I write books and articles about our collections and talk on radio and TV programs. 

Stories by or about this person

Article about Grant Keddie by Robert Moyes.

Curator, Grant Keddie, writes about childhood experiences that sparked his curiosity and fueled his lifelong interest in ancient human history.

Curator of Archaeology, Grant Keddie, writes about a First Nations ceremony that took place in 1927 and included then Lieutenant-Governor Robert Bruce.

Curator of Archaeology, Grant Keddie, explains microblade technology.

Heidi GartnerInvertebrates Collection Manager

When did you realize you wanted to become a marine biologist?

As a child I always loved animals and science. In grade 5, I watched an educational TV series called Voyage of the Mimi. It was about a team of researchers travelling the world living on a boat, the Mimi, studying whales and the ocean. I knew instantly that I wanted to do that when I grew up. Which was kind of funny, because I lived in Ontario where there are no oceans.

How did you become the invertebrates collection manager?

I came to Victoria to study biology and oceanography at the University of Victoria. I was still interested in whales when I took my first invertebrate (animals without backbones) biology course. I was absolutely shocked and amazed when I started learning about the diversity of invertebrates and studying their varied anatomy and lifestyles. I was hooked. I took every invertebrate and related marine course I could. After my undergraduate degree I worked with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) studying introduced or alien invertebrates in British Columbia. I then went on to get my master's degree, studying invertebrate fouling communities (those growing on hard substrates such as docks and pilings) along the BC coast. Following my master's degree, I worked a number of different contract positions and then landed back at DFO, this time working with Species At Risk. It was a wonderful job, working to protect endangered species, but when the position came up at the Royal BC Museum, I knew it was a perfect fit.

What do you do in a typical day as the invertebrates collection manager?

The great thing about this job is that every day is different. In any day I may be: doing research, in the field collecting specimens, giving tours, working with visiting researchers, cataloguing and databasing new records, shelving and organizing specimens, identifying animals, or contributing to content for exhibits and learning programs. It is my job to care for the invertebrate collection and to share its stories of British Columbia's natural history. To accomplish this I get to work with a great team of staff and volunteers, visiting researchers, and inquisitive members of the public. In short, it's a busy but wonderful job!

Stories by or about this person

Invertebrates Collection Manager Heidi Gartner and Curator of Invertebrates Dr Melissa Frey write about hearing and sound in marine invertebrates.

Invertebrates Collection Manager Heidi Gartner talks about Northern Abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana) an at risk species in British Columbia. Learn what to do if you find a rare Northern Abalone shell on the beach.

Marji JohnsPaleontology Collections Manager

Why did you want to become a paleontologist and how did you become the paleontology collections manager?
I was inspired by a great high school science teacher, superior science mentors at the University of BC and the University of Victoria, a family of artists, and a very supportive husband whose computer expertise has been a lifesaver. During my career, I worked for over 17 years at the Geological Survey of Canada followed by 14 years as a geoscience consultant. When I joined the Royal BC Museum at the beginning of 2011, I set my goals to further develop an on-site paleontology facility and collections representing the diversity of fossils in BC and to combine arts and sciences to explore different approaches to learning.

What does a collections manager do?
I work at the most amazing job that has activities almost as diverse as the fossils themselves. I call it my dream-come-true-job where I have the opportunity to work with many talented staff, volunteers, and researchers, where we aim to put together a collection representing examples of the province’s best fossils. Each day has surprises and many a day I now come in expecting to do one thing and something totally different happens that day. Flexibility, enthusiasm and an open mind are good survival tactics!

Stories by or about this person

Paleontology Collections Manager, Marji Johns explains type specimens.

Paleontology Collections Manager, Marji Johns talks about the fossil collection at the Royal BC Museum.

Paleontology Collections Manager, Marji Johns writes about early life on Earth.

Raymond FrognerFormer Archivist

Why did you want to become an archivist? 

I have always been interested in learning about the past we share, in the idea of recording and preserving our memory, and how we are what we choose to remember and forget. 

How did you become an archivist? 

 After spending years researching in archives, I decided to learn about the opposite side of the process. I attended the University of British Columbia's master of archival studies program, then found work in various archives in western Canada. 

What do you do as an archivist? 

Appraising, selecting and acquiring records, researching and writing about the identity of records, their creators, and the context of creation. I also preserve records, provide access and understanding of records through finding aids, liaise with researchers, and create digital and analogue projects to depict the functions, interactions, and relationships between people and the records they create. 

Stories by or about this person

Watch archivist Raymond Frogner talk about his background and work at BC Archives.

Tom MortonGuest Contributor, BC Heritage Fairs Society.

Tom Morton is the former coordinator of the BC Heritage Fairs and still serves as a director. He taught at the high school and university levels for more than 30 years in Kabala (Sierra Leone), Montréal and Vancouver. He is the author of numerous articles and books on education. Tom has received the British Columbia Social Studies Teacher of the Year Award, the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Kron Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education.

Q1: What got you interested in using historical photographs?
I had good teachers. Charlie Hou first sparked my interest in using paintings such as The Death of Wolfe to understand history. Above all he taught me the appeal of political cartoons for students and the cartoonists' varied devices. Walt Werner and Jane Card taught me about the power of visual sources and the many ways we can read photographs.

Q2: What is the most important thing to find out when using a photograph to tell a story about the past?
This will depend on the questions we ask. The first question is usually "What is it?" A documentary photo, for example, is very different from a family photo or a daguerreotype. Other questions would be about the photographer: "How has the photographer organized the photo? What impression was he or she trying to create? Who did he or she leave out of the photo?" A third set of questions would be "How was this photograph used? How did the audience interpret it?" To answer these we need to understand the historical context and study the photo closely.

Q3: What have you learned from working with photographs?
They are everywhere so it is worth paying attention to them. The fleeting, fast moving photos on the web are entertaining but good historical photos can have both interesting content and an emotional oomph that can create curiosity about the past. Some are the only sources of the lives of people who did not leave written records.
Many people, however, tend to read historical photographs at face value as true pictures of the past. They are not. They were created by individuals in a particular context and often carefully constructed. They take patience, puzzlement, and knowledge of the context to understand them fully. When we do so, we can often find hidden stories that enrich our understanding.

Stories by or about this person

Photographer Fredrick Dally’s story is highlighted to give you more insight into his images.

Try this worksheet to help you think through what you see when you first look at a historical photograph.