A huge collection documenting the entire history of Manitoba Pool Elevators is being put in order through a project at Brandon University’s (BU) S.J. McKee Archives.
Work began this fall to organize textual records in the large volume of documents known by archivists as fonds, but there’s much more work to process a huge volume of items including photos, minute books, organization records and other mixed media materials.
The project, which will cost $10,000, is being funded in part by a $4,500 Heritage Grant from the province, with additional funding coming from the Eileen McFadden Endowment and the Fred McGuinness Endowment for Rural Archives. The archives are in the John E. Robbins Library.
The funds have allowed them to hire a research assistant who will develop a preservation plan for these valuable records, said Christy Henry, BU’s archivist.
“The mixed media materials remained largely unprocessed and inaccessible until this project,” said Henry.
The collection is seen as an essential record of Manitoba’s agricultural history. When it was appraised a few years back the National Archival Appraisal Board said the MPE fonds have both national and provincial significance, declaring in its report that they are “clearly one of the most important fonds related to agriculture existing in Manitoba and one of the fundamental collections for the study of the settlement and farm economy of Manitoba in the 20th century.”
The collection includes a huge array of items, including MPE organizational records, minutes of meetings, correspondence, photographs, slides, audio tapes and reel-to-reel recordings. Also included in the fonds are books from the Pool’s library, the co-operative’s first newspaper, the Scoop Shovel and bound copies of the Manitoba Co-operator.
These items span and document the entire history of MPE from 1924 to 2001.
Manitoba historian Gordon Goldsborough, who has used the MPE fonds extensively, says they’re an invaluable resource for learning about agro-Manitoba.
“It’s such a deep, deep resource. There’s so many things there a person could literally spend years going through it all. I’ve spent cumulatively several weeks going through it and even then I felt I hadn’t scratched more than the surface of it.”
The documents were especially helpful while researching his latest book Abandoned Manitoba, he said. It includes a chapter on the Pool elevator at Helston (in the Municipality of Glenella-Lansdowne). He found a wealth of material, he said, adding one reference he recalled was a decision by the farmers’ association to buy a sewing machine at the request of a local women’s organization.
“If a person wants to know something about rural Manitoba, for pretty much any community that had a Pool elevator at one time, there’s a box of records there relating to it.”
The S.J. McKee Archives took possession of much of the fonds in 1975 when the farmer-owned co-operative marked its 50th anniversary.
In the early 1970s there was considerable effort put into creating a Rural Resource Centre at Brandon University after a partnership was struck between BU and the Pool, and it began shipping its records to the centre.
Henry said donations still are made to the archives. After the sale of Viterra more records were deposited, she said. The archives are the official repository for records from 1924 to 2000. Farmers often bring her documents, said Henry.
“They’ll often bring me minute books and things like that.”
John Morriss, now retired editor and publisher of the Manitoba Co-operator has sent a variety of documents to the MPE fonds over the years.
“I had Bill Parker’s desk (MPE president from 1943-69) and credenza which had a few things that I sent over, notably the president’s guest book from the 1930s and 1940s. It had some interesting signatures from some of the early co-op movers and shakers,” said Morriss.
One was William Richard Motherwell’s, he recalls. “The most interesting may have been (early 20th century Russian botanist and geneticist) N.I. Vavilov’s. Stalin threw him in jail for disagreeing that you could plant winter wheat in Siberia.”
Morriss has also sent old photos from Co-operator’s files to the Western Canada Pictorial Index.
Henry said this part of the BU project, which will wrap up this month, will enable them to develop a preservation plan for the fonds. It is work to help inventory this collection’s vast amount of materials and make recommendations on next stages, she said.