British Columbia

Forgotten Nelson school storage yields treasure trove of history

Kootenay Lake School District 8 got a lesson in local history, after staff found some 60 boxes filled with a century of documents and photos.

Touchstones Museum thrilled after a century of documents and photos were discovered

Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History is now preserving, cataloguing and sharing a treasure trove of Kootenay School District documents found in a long neglected storage room. (Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History)

A long neglected, stuffed, storage room in Nelson, B.C.'s Central School has yielded more than a century's worth of documents and photos, thrilling local historians and educators.

"Lots of information here, about 60 boxes of material, dating back to 1891 and forward to earlier this century," said Jean-Phillipe Stienne, archivist and collections manager at Touchstones Museum in Nelson.

"It was photographs, attendance records, board minutes from schools, teacher records of employment and salaries.  And it was really all around our area, about 30 schools covered,"  he told CBC's Daybreak South host Chris Walker.

Stienne says the breadth of material paints a broad picture of educational efforts in the Kootenays.  

Kootenay Lake School District 8 staff found some 60 boxes filled with a century of documents and photos while moving offices. (Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History)

It includes a historically significant 1891 letter from the provincial superintendent of schools establishing the very first school in Nelson.

But cultural ephemera, like almost every class photo at the Central School stretching from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s, is also attracting interest.

Shared on the Touchstones Museum's Facebook page, the old snaps sparked social media nostalgia and a bit of embarrassment over fashion choices at the time.

"We were just amazed to see what was in there. And we've had fun ... making all sorts of discoveries," Stienne said.

Trove discovered during SD8 move

The boxes were discovered when School District No. 8 moved board offices into the old, brick Central School on Stanley Street two years ago.

The three-storey building, built in 1908, was filled with classrooms, district offices and generations worth of mixed storage. 

Nelson, B.C., Central School staff pose for a goofy photo in the 1984-85 school year. Archivists recovered almost every class photo from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. (Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History)

Staff discovered the packed bankers boxes while cleaning.  

"The importance of preserving the photographs and turn-of-the-century archival materials from the school district was evident the day the board office moved," said Christine Perkins, the school district's former superintendent.

"The room, however, is not conducive for preservation and we decided the local experts at Touchstones Nelson Museum would be the best care-keepers of these valuable historic documents."

Stienne says some of the materials were damaged by mould and insect infestation.  Museum staff froze the find to stop deterioration and are now in the process of itemizing each document.

Archivists are planning to display key documents of Nelson city history in Touchstone Museum displays. More photos will be digitized and placed online, while the bulk of material will be available for researchers in their library.

"Very important for family historians looking for information on their descendants, but also anyone interested in a specific school.  We've already been contacted by some of the schools themselves … wanting to take a look at the records," Stienne said.

"There's all sorts of potential for this collection."

A more than 100-year-old discovery was made inside a Nelson school 5:47

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