The BC Archives is the oldest archival institution in Canada west of the Great Lakes.
In 1894, when the new provincial Legislative Buildings were under construction in Victoria, a library was included in the plans. Fortunately for the history of BC, the first Legislative Librarian—R.E. Gosnell—was also an avid historian, who began immediately to collect and preserve the new province’s documentary records. Afraid that records of the early days of the province would be lost, he mounted an advertising campaign asking for “reminiscences of pioneer settlement . . . old letters, journals, files of newspapers, books, pamphlets, reports, charts, maps, photographs, sketches and so on.” An example of the advertisement appears in The Inland Sentinel, 1 June 1894, p. 3.
In 1908, the government recognized the importance of the archives and appointed Gosnell provincial archivist (as well as provincial librarian) and established the Provincial Archives as an institution separate from the Legislative Library. This early recognition of the importance of archival collection and preservation is unusual in western Canada. Saskatchewan was the next province after BC to establish an archives—but not until 1945. The Provincial Archives of Alberta weren’t set up until 1965. Even the eastern province of New Brunswick, which began as a Loyalist colony in 1784, didn’t have a provincial archives until Canada’s centennial year, 1967.
In 1915, the Provincial Archives moved to their own space in the newly completed Connaught Library in the Legislative Buildings, where they remained for the next 55 years. During the early years, although the province’s archivists—first Gosnell, then E.O.S. Scholefield—were filled with enthusiasm, the acquisition, organization and cataloguing of items was not systematic, and the archives was not open to the public.
In the 1920s, Provincial Archivist John Forsyth finally introduced a system for organizing the archives, and it was opened to the public. By 1970, when the archives moved to its present location, the Connaught Library had become terribly cramped and every available space was filled to overflowing with government records, manuscripts, photographs, framed paintings and prints.
The current archives building is part of the Royal BC Museum cultural precinct, sitting at the corner of Belleville and Government Streets. It was built with a sizable research room and secure storage for archival holdings. Thousands of researchers come here each year to view the records in our collection.