Amateur Saskatoon historian telling city's story using newspaper articles and photos dating back to 1902
Terry Hoknes creating online searchable database
It's a sweeping story more than a century in the making.
Terry Hoknes is telling it page by page, year by year.
Hoknes, a Saskatoon musician and author, is creating an online database that tells the city's story through Saskatoon StarPhoenix newspaper clippings and photos.
"I've gone through almost half of the 20th century now," he said.
"I've done, I figure, about 650,000 pages. I screengrab, label and index anything that I think is important."
Like all great journeys, it began with a single step. For Hoknes, that first step happened three years ago when he learned about Google news archive. The site features newspapers from around the world, uploaded page by page.
Hoknes began browsing through old copies of the Star-Phoenix, looking primarily for stories on arts and music.
"Then I went, 'Well, if I'm going to go through every page of every paper, that seems kind of silly to skip stuff,'" he said.
"I just decided I'm going to index everything and really, truly tell the history of Saskatoon and just show everybody everything that's happened that I think is of some historical interest."
Each night, Hoknes sits in front of an oversized computer monitor and scrolls through old copies of the paper on Google News and Newspapers.com.
"I basically go to these websites where the newspapers are already digitized, I screengrab sections and then I just re-label them in my computer," he said.
Hoknes manages Facebook pages devoted to the general history of the city and its rich arts scene. He's also published books looking at the city in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.
His database is searchable. Instead of scrolling through page after page of microfiched newspapers randomly looking for information on a subject — say, bicycle shops in Saskatoon — a user can type "bicycle shops" into the search field and then browse through whatever Hoknes has uploaded on that subject.
Saskatoon city archivist Jeff O'Brien applauds Hoknes for taking on such a daunting project.
"Anytime you can make history more accessible, that's a good thing. And anytime you can interest people in their own history, I think that's a great thing," he said.
"The archive that he's created, it's highly curated. It's very much like a museum exhibit. So he's not just plopping stuff down at random. He's making decisions about what's important, about how it all connects together. So this is really a guided tour of Saskatoon's history."
O'Brien also urged potential users to be wary of the source material.
"Newspapers are a great source of history. And they're confusing, right, because history is a lot messier when you're right in the middle of it. And also they make mistakes," he said.
"You have to be aware that newspaper articles can have factual errors in them. But if you want to immerse yourself in the world the way it was, old newspapers are the next best thing to hopping on a time machine."