Research, photos of Manitoba tundra open to public

An archive of photos and research of plants and animals in Manitoba's tundra are now available online, providing public access to decades of Churchill, Man., history.

Database contains papers, photos, videos dating back to the 1960s

This Kodachrome photo shows Dawn Bazely, middle-right in blue coat, and other researchers in Churchill in 1982. (Wapusk National Park of Canada collection/Churchill Community of Knowledge archives)

An archive of photos and research of plants and animals in Manitoba's tundra are now available online, providing public access to decades of Churchill, Man., history.

Professors from York University in Toronto are in the town 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg this week to share the Churchill Community of Knowledge — a digital archive that more than 50 York University students have been putting together since 2011.

Dawn Bazely, a biology professor at York who is in Churchill, told CBC News that, with the help of Queen's University and the University of Toronto, students and retired scientists have curated and digitized most of the published research theses and journal papers as well as old Kodachrome slides from the 1970s and '80s that scientists took during graduate field work at Wapusk National Park.

Some documents go as far back as the 1960s, but Bazely thinks the coolest piece is a 20-minute video of an Ontario birdwatchers group flying into Churchill that allows people to see how the town used to look. 

"For people to know that science and scientists have a long association with Churchill, I think is really important to the community," she said, citing climate change research conducted in the area.

"It helps [the community] know about their history, the importance of the science, and really have a sense of awareness and pride of what this place means."

After starting her career in Churchill as a field biologist, and having been an educator for the past 30 years, Bazely feels duty-bound to share this database. 

"To be able to come back here after 40 years and bring something back, that's the definition of what we do as educators," she said.

Organizers chose to visit Churchill now because it's a peak time for tourists and they wanted to reach as many people as possible, Bazely said. But it seems people are more excited than expected, as the group of academics has had to schedule additional events throughout the week.

"It kind of snowballed," she said. "Because teachers, people, even tourists coming off the train … said 'Wow, this is so cool. We can see how we can use it.'"

The group will visit local Grade 6-9 students to show them how to use the archive for their own projects. They'll also have the students figure out how they would describe images in Google, so the archives can be shared with a greater audience, Bazely said.

A couple of groups have reached out to learn about forming their own databases. A regional non-profit organization for polar bears approached the group to learn how to digitize its records, and a local women's church group has curated a history of the community and wants to share it.

To check out the archive, visit the Churchill Community of Knowledge site.

With files from Wendy Parker


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