The SD&G Archive launches to “phenomenal feedback”, says Archivist Susan Peters

Natascha Wood

Nation Valley News

SD&G — Historians, historical enthusiasts, and researchers and alike can rejoice because learning more about the history of Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry just got a lot easier. After two years of painstaking work, the SD&G Archive launched online on Monday, May 3rd. Present at the virtual launch was MP Eric Duncan, who is credited as having worked to secure funding for the project. He was joined by Warden Frank Prevost and members of the SD&G Council, archivists from the Dundas County Archives and Glengarry Archives, members of the Lost Villages Historical Society, and municipal staff members.

The new Archive contains approximately 210,000 pages of newspaper from fifteen local publications, some of which have long since gone out of circulation. It’s a treasure trove of information from days gone by. In the collection, you’ll find issues of Glengarry News, the Morrisburgh Banner, the Matilda Advocate, the Mountain Herald, the Dundas County Advisor, the Morrisburg Courier, the Chesterville Record, the Morrisburg Leader, the Winchester Press, the Iroquois Chieftain, the Dundas County Herald, the St. Lawrence Reporter, the Iroquois Post, St. Lawrence News, and the Williamsburgh Times.

Below, the May 3 launch event for the SD&G Archive.

Nation Valley News spoke to the principal Archivist from the Dundas County Archives, Susan Peters, who has worked on the project alone, without the help of volunteers Howard and Leslie Kirkby, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was tasked with stabilizing the pages, some of which were quite fragile, then digitizing them before storing them in custom made boxes.

Peters faced numerous challenges with the pandemic, often finding herself shut out of the building where she works, making it impossible to continue with the project. She also struggled with the condition of the pages. In some cases, pages took a week to be repaired before they were stable enough to be digitized.

“As of about 1900, the construction of newspaper changed to having been made up of wood pulp. This is notoriously high in acid and when exposed to the elements, this makes the paper darken and become very brittle. Even the most gentle handling makes it crumble. In order to be able to stabilize these papers long enough to be able to scan them, they had to be mended by archival tissue tape, and where possible, de-acidified. This is a process that takes a very long time. The fragile nature of the paper itself means that you must take great care not to make the situation worse. Some of the papers were also damaged by insects and rodents. When chunks are missing, they can not be replaced,” said Archivist Susan Peters.

But it takes a village to raise an Archive. Eric Duncan and Susan Peters relied on community members and newspapers still in operation to donate back issues or just stray newspapers lying around, and the community answered. While Duncan procured back issues of the Chesterville Record, Winchester Press, and Morrisburg Leader, former Iroquois Chieftain editor Sandra Lee Johnston donated the cache of papers she took from a dumpster when that publication folded in the early 2000s, and Howard Kirkby donated his collection of the St Lawrence News and the Iroquois Post.

Additionally, the Lions Clubs and Legions of Dundas County stepped in to donate the necessary funds for archival repair tape and the acid-free boxes, provided by Alan Favreau. With their support, Susan Peters was able to accomplish this monumental task.

“These old newspapers contain local information that is not likely to be found anywhere else in the world. In many cases, these were the only copies that exist today. Especially the older copies are in very rough shape. Over the years, between acidity in the paper, improper storage and rough handling, most of the earlier issues are in very dire condition. They are brittle and fall apart practically by just looking at them. By being able to stabilize these papers, and scanning them, the contents can not be accessible to anyone. The fact that the United Counties are hosting this with free access is huge,” Peters said.

She hopes that the Archive will be able to secure more funding in the future in order to expand the collection, as there are already more newspapers “coming out of the woodwork”. So, If you have old newspapers lying around, don’t throw them away, because Susan Peters may soon be needing them.

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