Touring the Archive with Elders from Membertou

On Tuesday afternoon, we had the pleasure of touring Cape Breton University's archive with a group of Elders from Membertou First Nation. Following a research project on land management in their community, the Elders — who form an advisory committee for the Membertou Heritage Park — were curious to see the Mi'kmaw materials available at the Beaton Institute and Mi'kmaq Resource Centre, as well as the facility that houses them.

Around 2:30pm, the Elders arrived on campus. They enjoyed their VIP status — parking spaces had been reserved for them by Denise Campbell (marked by pylons and caution tape, and guarded by Gary Pardy and I). Once in the archive, they were welcomed by Catherine Arseneau and Jane Arnold, before proceeding into the climate-controlled vault. There, I think we were all in awe of the sheer volume of print documents stored for safekeeping and future use — from personal scrapbooks to company blueprints (and everything imaginable in-between).

Moving into the processing room, we were all very interested to look at some of the documents chosen by the Beaton staff for display on the tour. A general store ledger from 1874 was a favourite, since familiar names were found listed along with their purchases. Who knew that a scythe would cost $1.35 back then!

Elders reviewing a ledger in the Beaton Institute

Our tour then continued on to a room where photographs are kept, and on again to the computer stations where research can be conducted. To end the tour, Diane Chisholm spoke one-on-one with Elders in the Mi'kmaq Resource Centre, pointing them to resources that might be of interest while we all enjoyed tea, coffee, and oatcakes. Stephen Augustine, Dean of Unama'ki College and Aboriginal Learning, also visited with the Elders before they left.

It was clear that two hours wasn't nearly enough time to look at everything of interest; however, I'm happy to report that several of the Elders made plans to return later in the week to consult additional items of interest. We'll be happy to have them back and hope they will encourage their families and friends to visit the Beaton Institute and Mi'kmaq Resource Centre at Cape Breton University.

-Janice with photo by Gary Pardy