UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Canadian archives and the corporate memory : a case of amnesia? Mitchell, Grant Alan


For some years North American archivists have argued that public archival repositories are unable to bear the burden of preserving the records of modern business corporations and have suggested that firms should shoulder this burden themselves by establishing corporate archives. This suggestion, however, fails to address the issue of preserving the records of small businesses, and the records of defunct firms, that are unable to support a corporate archives. Before one can predict the effect the advocates of corporate archives will have on the preservation of business records, one needs to know what degree of responsibility repositories have accepted for preserving business records. Unfortunately, little information has been published concerning the business records holdings of Canadian archival institutions. A questionnaire asking for information on acquisitions policies and strategies, and on the characteristics of business records collections, was therefore sent to federal, provincial, municipal, and university archives. The business records holdings of the Public Archives of Canada, the Provincial Archives of British Columbia, the City of Vancouver Archives, and the Special Collections Division of the University of British Columbia Library were examined in detail to augment the information obtained from questionnaire returns. The value of the business records collections held by Canadian repositories was further examined by means of a reference analysis of journal articles and monographs, published by economic and business historians, which measured the use made of business records collections by these historians. Although some substantial collections of business records have been preserved, it appears that over three quarters of the business records collections preserved by Canadian repositores are so small and fragmentary in nature that they are of dubious value to researchers. This impression is borne out by the sparse use of business records as sources by business and economic historians. The experiences of European and American archival institutions indicate that Canadian repositories will have to accumulate a significant body of business records collections before they will see increased use of their business records holdings. Repositories cannot reasonably be expected to devote their limited resources to collecting the records of large integrated corporations. Nonetheless, archival institutions have a responsibility to ensure the preservation of records documenting the Canadian economy. Archival institutions, and the archivists they employ, should continue their efforts to persuade companies to set up corporate archives. Many firms, however, are unwilling or unable to take such a step. Canadian repositories must therefore continue to acquire business records if they wish to fulfil their mandates of preserving comprehensive collections documenting the various aspects of the history of their respective regions. This must be done in an active and systematic manner, using such strategies as public relations programs and the provision to firms of assistance in scheduling records. By persuading larger corporations to set up corporate archives whilst systematically collecting the records of smaller firms, archival institutions can improve both the quantity and quality of business records preserved.

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