Mennonite centre a godsend for Rupert’s Land archival project

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“I can’t imagine what we would have done without the hospitality you showed us here,” Gloria Romaniuk, archivist at the Anglican Diocese of Rupert’s Land, said to Jon Isaak, director of Winnipeg’s Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies (CMBS) at a thank-you tea Feb. 26. Romaniuk was already negotiating an agreement for long-term storage in CMBS’s vault when renovation to the diocesan building created an urgent need for temporary off-site storage of archival materials over spring and summer 2013. CMBS “stepped into the breach.”

Romaniuk and several volunteers returned to CMBS to thank Isaak and the Centre with the presentation of a quilted wall hanging, story-sharing and snacks.

Shortly after several metres of boxes of archival materials moved to the CMBS, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission asked for a review of exactly those holdings. CMBS opened not only its vault doors but also the Centre’s workspace so volunteers could uncover information relating to the Indian Residential School experience.

Shortly after several metres of boxes moved to CMBS in 2013, the federal government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) asked the Diocese of Rupert’s Land for a review of exactly those holdings. CMBS opened not only its vault doors but also the Centre’s workspace for a team of volunteers who came from the diocese every Wednesday in summer 2013 to uncover information relating to the Indian Residential School experience.

In the Centre’s spacious and well-lit reading room, the volunteers perused sacramental records, annual reports, synod journal reports, newspaper articles, photographs and personal records. Then they scanned and processed the information following the TRC guidelines.

“It’s been a godsend,” said John Deacon, synod registrar

“It’s been a godsend,” said John Deacon, synod registrar, who joked the Centre’s space was so hospitable to the work that “we’ve had a hard time getting everybody back.”

With the diocese office renovations complete, CMBS’s temperature-controlled vault continues to house some diocesan materials, including handwritten church record books dating back to the 1820s.

“We have been given this gift,” said Isaak, referring to the Centre’s custom-designed vault built in 2005, one of the newest in the province. “This building is a resource; why not find ways to share it?”

“We felt genuine warmth and kindness from each and every staff member on all occasions,” said Romaniuk. “They always took time to encourage us in our records in a spirit of true Christian fellowship.”

By Karla Braun
Karla Braun is associate editor of the MB Herald