How I Started – Raegan Swanson

I was in a museum somewhere in Spain, on holiday from university, when my friend keenly observed that if I liked old books and documents that I should try to find a job that would allow me to work with them. Until that moment I was almost certain that I would be graduating without any idea of a future path.


Raegan, Frankfurt, 2015

At the suggestion of my mother, I started to volunteer at both an archive and a library to see which job I preferred. It took just one week to realise that I loved archives and my time volunteering at La Société historique de Saint-Boniface (Winnipeg, Manitoba) would set the stage for my future interests. I loved working with community documents and taking a bit of time every day that I was there to indulge in a little bit of research into the francophone and Métis (a person of mixed American Indian and Euro-American ancestry) communities in Manitoba.

In the fall of 2009 I left Winnipeg for the University of Toronto iSchool to begin my Masters. I loved my archival classes, enjoyed dabbling in museum classes and kept away from library classes as a general rule. In my second year, I started an internship at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (Toronto, Ontario) where I continued to volunteer until I graduated. I accepted a co-op/internship position at Library and Archives Canada after I finished my classes in 2011. The job took me to Ottawa, where I worked in the Political and Social Division/ Society and Governance Branch with collections ranging from the Aboriginal Friendship Society and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, to the personal fonds of a former Prime Minister.


Truth and Reconciliation Commission

My first official job came as I finished up at Library and Archives Canada. As a Co-op Student, I was transitioned into the role of Archivist for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). The goal of the TRC of Canada was to acknowledge the Residential School Experience of First Nation, Inuit and Métis children, and the impacts and consequences on the students and families, which have played a pivotal role in Canada’s history. First Nations (Aboriginal), Inuit and Métis children were taken from their homes and communities and placed in Residential schools across the country which were run by the Canadian Government and churches. As archivist I was responsible for the preservation and processing of all the audio, video, written and artistic statements given to the Commission. Statements were collected across the country in communities small and large. All statements were born digital, which creating interesting learning opportunities in the field.


Map showing residential schools across Canada between the 1870s and 1990.

I travelled occasionally with the TRC, visiting several provinces where I worked in the field processing the statements given to the TRC as they were acquired. As media storage chips were in high demand and internal hard drive space limited in many of the machines, I would often stay up late into the night doing the initial transfer of data and backing up all statements before the next day. The job was difficult, often mentally and emotionally, as stories of abuse (mental, physical and sexual), neglect and broken families were acquired on a daily basis. The statement gathering process from TRC events was often streamed live, and now the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (at the University of Manitoba) holds the material collected by the TRC. You can search the amazing collection here.


The Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute, northern Quebec

I left the TRC before the end of its mandate to work for Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute (ACCI). Found in Eeyou Istchee (Eastern shores of the James Bay in Northern Quebec), ACCI is a museum, library and archive of the Eeyou (people) who have lived in the area for at least 5000 years. ACCI represents the 9 communities found in Eeyou Istchee, a territory larger than France. This community-driven project was realised after over 13 years of fundraising and research and more than 13 million dollars of funds raised. As archivist I was responsible for the ACCI collection as well as the creation of a Community Archive: searching for, collecting and processing material related to the region Eeyou Ischee and its peoples. ACCI was not a political archive or band archive (each First Nation is typically represented by a band council chaired by an elected or hereditary chief); rather, the collections dealt with cultural history and the research done by community members and academics who studied anthropological and archaeological topics since in the early 1960s.


Welcome to Ouje-Bougoumou

The archive also collected family material and photographs from community members. ACCI is located in the town of Oujé-Bougoumou, which has a population of 700 (if everyone is at home) and the museum was built at the heart of the community. While the community of Oujé-Bougoumou is northern, it has the benefit of being accessible by road, so if you wanted to go to a movie, you could drive 4 hours south (or 8 hours if you wanted to see it in English). Due to of the location of the museum and the immense distance between the 9 communities (the most northern community was fly-in only), fostering a sense of “community” was something that was difficult. I set up the archive from the period between 2011-2013 working at building policies, procedures and standards for the archive. I picked up collections (sometimes 1029 km away), worked with academics from various universities and had the opportunity to meet and work with many amazing people in many of the communities.


Raegan, James Bay, northern Quebec


My current position is Archival Advisor for the Council of Archives New Brunswick (Fredericton). I work with member and potential member institutions that hold archival collections. I conduct onsite training to staff and volunteers of archives across the province as well as develop, organise, and administer educational workshops and seminars. I’m currently the Chair of the Membership Development Committee for the Association of Canadian Archivists and I’ve just become a student at the University of Dundee to work on my PhD. I can’t imagine being anything but an archivist now.

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