Archives series: the story of the Pierre Berton family records

We’re doing a mini series that offers a glimpse into the how the City of Vaughan preserves its history.

The main role of the City Archives is to manage government records with long-term business value. The City Archives also collects, preserves and makes available for research permanently valuable non-government records from the Vaughan community that document the rich and diverse heritage of the City of Vaughan. For more information, visit the City of Vaughan Archives webpage.

To view more from the City’s archival collections, visit the City of Vaughan’s Facebook page.

Here is the second post in the series:

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Processing a large body of records requires a lot of space as archivists create series and then subseries. At times, it was hard to see our desks!

Processing a large body of records requires a lot of space as archivists create series and then subseries. At times, it was hard to see our desks!

How the Berton family records came to live at Vaughan Archives
Archival donations come in all shapes and sizes with varying degrees of physical condition and many types of media. This was definitely the case when the City of Vaughan Archives agreed to accept the Pierre Berton family records

Iconic Canadian author and journalist Pierre Berton and his wife Janet had lived in Kleinburg since 1950 until Berton’s death in 2004. When the Berton house was sold, their children had the daunting task of sorting through 60+ years of Berton records and memorabilia.

Some of the items were given to the archives at McMaster University (which, decades ago, had received the rights to Berton’s papers). Other items were either given to charity, sold or thrown away. Other items the family kept.

The rest of those items — including records pertaining to the history and evolution of the Vaughan community as well as Pierre and Janet’s considerable contributions to local charities and events — came into the hands of the City of Vaughan Archives.

Over the course of four separate trips to the Berton house using a large van each time, archival services staff gradually brought the Berton family records to Vaughan Archives.

Loading the Berton records into a City van.

Loading the Berton records into a City van.

Then the real job began.
Donations to Vaughan Archives don’t often come in tidy, neatly organized boxes with labeled folders. More often than not, a donation of records is a mishmash of items piled on top of one another and all stuffed into various containers. This was the case with the Berton family records.

To top it off, most of the boxes containing the Berton family records had been stored in the Berton’s basement, garage and cellar where decades of moisture, dirt and rodents had taken their toll on the items inside.

Archival services staff had to use extreme caution when opening the boxes to sort through the records. Mold, especially black mold, is always a major concern for archivists when dealing with records. So lab coats, latex gloves and masks were worn at all times.

Due to the extreme deterioration of these records and because they posed a risk to the rest of the Archives’ collection, these books could not be saved and were destroyed.

Due to the extreme deterioration of these records and because they posed a risk to the rest of the Archives’ collection, these books could not be saved and were destroyed.

The challenge: organizing the Berton family records
Appraisal, arrangement and description are the core components of the archival process used to make records accessible.

(Learn more about acquisition, donations, copyright, arrangement, description, conservation, security and more at Vaughan Archives.)

After appraising the Berton records (i.e. determining what types of records were present, their physical condition, whether they had sufficient historical and informational value to keep), arrangement began.

Series (groupings of similar records) were developed and sub-series followed. For instance, within the series “Vaughan Community,” nine sub-series were created, including Binder Twine records, Vaughan history, Kleinburg and Area Ratepayers’ Association (KARA) and development.

The Binder Twine records sub-series alone amounted to nine cubic feet of boxes! And this was only the first donation — there were three more to process!

Processing a large collection of records can at times be challenging, but it is always rewarding. A processed collection complete with finding aid means that the records are accessible and available for use by City staff and the public.

(Learn more about finding aids).

Please feel free to contact the City of Vaughan ArchivesCity Clerk’s Office if you have any questions or would like further information about our conservation procedures.

Until next time,

Archival Records Analyst
City of Vaughan Archives
City Clerk’s Office
archives@vaughan.ca

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