By far the most interesting thing about this session was the way it gave three different speakers from three different parts of the country–and three very different institutions–an opportunity to speak about the way records management is handled within their archives. Trudi Wright, who had been a lecturer during my time at McGill, spoke of her work in records management in Ontario ; Dana Turgeon of the City of Regina spoke of some of the trials and tribulations experienced in merging their archives and records management clerical functions; Kate Guay and Karen Pollock of the Northwest Territory Archives discussed their attempts to get a more structured and standardized handle on their records.
Throughout the conference, I was amazed to learn of the range of operational conditions under which archives function, and could not help but compare and contrast with the status of our own unit. I heard perspectives from small archives with a single archivist or “lone arranger”, larger archives with kilometers of backlog running on a skeleton crew of two or three, archives with a staff compliment numbering in the teens or more, and mid-sized archives with a healthy staff of around six. More than anything, listening to all of these perspectives underscored the various nature of the profession–truly, each archive and special collection is as one-of-a-kind as the material it holds. At the same time, however, hearing of institutions much larger or much smaller than our own facing similar challenges brought a sense of unity–a sense that while we may all be floating in different boats, we are at least together as a mismatched armada on the same tossing sea.
After this session, it began to rain, which of course made it an ideal time for both the traditional East vs. West ballgame, and walking tours!
The ballgame was, I think, called off as a tie due to showers. The walking tours (one of which, ironically, was about the cyclone which ploughed through Regina in 1912) were more successful. I was lucky enough to get in on the Regina Riot walking tour, which was guided by one of my undergraduate history profs, the deeply knowledgeable Bill Brennan.
In June of 1935, Regina became the endpoint of what has been called the “On-to-Ottawa Trek.” Hundreds of disgruntled labourers from the West had boarded boxcars, heading east in the hopes of getting the attention of the federal authorities. They were protesting the dismal conditions of the federal relief camps provided for unemployed single male workers during the Depression, and wanted to make a case for stronger worker’s rights. While the federal and provincial governments dithered over who was to take responsibility for these men, the trek made it across British Columbia, across Alberta, and into the heart of Saskatchewan.
Finally agreeing to speak with some of the trek’s leaders while the men were camped out in Regina, the trek ground to a halt, with the trekkers being kept under the watchful eye of Regina’s large RCMP detachment. The negotiations in Ottawa swiftly fell through, and it just as swiftly became apparent that the trekkers were not going to be allowed to leave the city in any direction but back West.
On July 1st, a public meeting was called to update the population of Regina (who had initially supported the trekkers, but who were by this time beginning to feel the strain of supporting the added population) on the state of the movement. Expecting the trek leaders to be out in full force at this meeting, RCMP and City police gathered in secret, eventually rushing the crowd (most of whom were not trekkers at all), and causing all chaos to break loose in the city. Citizens fought back against police batons (actually baseball bats) and tear gas with sticks, stones, and overturned streetcars. Regina’s biggest department store was looted, and other buildings set on fire. One policeman, Charles Millar, was killed in the crush, and one trekker Nick Shaack, would later die of his injuries.
After this, the movement was disbanded quietly, with the help of the provincial government, as men were sent back to camps and homes. However, damage was done both to the reputation of the local law enforcement who instigated the riot, and the Bennett administration itself.