Thursday, December 11, 2008

Free TC archives are 150th anniversary gift to readers

Times Colonist: 2008 December 11

It was exactly 150 years ago today — on Dec. 11, 1858 — that the British Colonist, the precursor of the newspaper you are now reading, made its debut.

The four-page edition, all 200 copies of it, was produced in a shack on Wharf Street under the guidance of founder Amor De Cosmos, who went on to become B.C.’s second premier.

Fast forward to 10 a.m. today, when the newspaper marks its anniversary with the launch of a website that will give the public free access to a searchable database that contains the first 50 years of Colonist newspapers.

The British Colonist Digitization Project is a joint effort by the Times Colonist, the University of Victoria, and a consortium of British Columbia libraries. The website — — covers the period from Dec. 11, 1858, to June 30, 1910, and offers 100,544 pages.

Because the newspaper provides one of the best available records of B.C. during that time, “it’s going to be great for historians, genealogists or anyone who wants to know about the history of the province,” said Times Colonist editor in chief Lucinda Chodan.

She said the site is “a gift to the community that has helped us thrive,” and offers free access to material that has previously been available only on microfilm at libraries.

The two-year effort brought together the Times Colonist, the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia’s Ike Barber Learning Centre, the Electronic Library Network of B.C., the B.C. Public Library Services Branch and the Greater Victoria Public Library.

UVic’s Chris Petter, who helped manage the website project, said some of the site’s content predates Canada’s nationhood (1867) and B.C.’s entry into Confederation (1871). The Colonist also covered the first decades of proceedings in the B.C. legislature — the only such documentation in existence.

“It was a recognition by the library community that this was not just a newspaper that was important, but the newspaper that was the most important for the province,” said Petter, the head of special collections at UVic’s McPherson Library.

He said the website is equipped for users to search chronologically or by key word, and that it will provide “a rich, full look at our history.”