Voices from the Past

Voices from the Past

Dennis Duffy
Dennis Duffy

Dennis 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

This excerpt is of a film taken by Nurse Harriet Gerry, who worked for the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. The amateur footage of First Nations communities includes scenes of children at play and a family arriving home with a new baby in around 1941.

This film has excerpts of scenes from around 1936-1940 at Fairbridge Farm School at Cowichan Station on Vancouver Island, BC. Many of the students were brought from England as orphans; others were voluntarily sent by their parents who believed they were sending them to a better life.

This documentary film was created by the BC Forest Service to showcase Vancouver Island home industries. The film illustrates how the famous Cowichan sweaters are made by women on the Koksilah Reserve in Duncan, BC. Knitter Mary Ann Modeste is featured.

This film from 1945 was created by the BC Government Travel Bureau Photographic Branch and was used to attract employees and their families to the mining industry. The film emphasizes the comfort of miners and their families at mining camps.

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.

On holiday at Premier Lake in about 1926, the DeWolf family swims, dances and barbecues. What does your family like to do on holiday?

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

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.

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. Has playing in the snow changed since this film was made?

This article by Dennis Duffy and David Mitchell appeared in Bright Sunshine and a Brand New Country, a 1979 publication in the BC Archives’ Sound Heritage series. It examines the British Columbia oral history work of CBC radio producer Imbert Orchard, drawing on a 1978 interview with Orchard.