“Like stepping into a person’s shoes”

Many thanks to guest blogger Marion Arnott for contributing the below post! Marion is a graduate student at the UBC School of Information and just completed a Work Learn position as a student archivist with RBSC.

What do a politician, a nurse, a road construction engineer, an exotic dancer, and a poet have in common? The records and materials of these interesting and diverse individuals can all be found at Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC). As my Work Learn position at RBSC comes to a close, I reflect on the variety of projects, materials and subjects I had the privilege of working on during my time here. The practical experience and exposure to archival work that I gained while working at RBSC has been invaluable to my own learning as an emerging archival professional and student at UBC’s iSchool.

[Scrapbook]. RBSC-ARC-1831-125-01

A common thread that I noticed while processing materials, and in conversations with colleagues, is the inclusion and elevation of women’s voices in the historical record preserved by RBSC. In January 2022, I completed a Co-op position at RBSC where I integrated the records of the British Columbia History of Nursing Society (BCHNS) Archives into RBSC’s holdings. Since that time, BCHNS had donated additional materials which I got to process as a Work Learn student. It was fun to see familiar names and faces of the nurses in the records and photographs. The origins of nursing in BC represents women emerging into professional careers and taking on leadership roles within healthcare and the community. As I arranged and described the Society’s records, which contain numerous biographical files of notable individuals who made outstanding contributions to the profession, I was amazed at the strength and persistence of these women despite countless barriers. The records bear witness to not only the history of the profession but also the community that developed among individuals through nursing schools, committee work, community advocacy, and professional associations. I especially enjoyed finding the scrapbook of photographs and materials compiled by the Richmond-Delta Professional Practice Group a sub-committee of the Registered Nurses Association of British Columbia (RNABC) in honor of the RNABC’s 75th Anniversary. The album is protected by a beautifully quilted fabric cover, which I feel demonstrates the care and commitment of these women to preserve and present the history of nursing in the province. Contained inside are photographs, notecards, invitations and other related materials of events, ceremonies, fashion shows, workshops, and other occasions that reveal a small slice of the extensive work of these women.

Westcoast Artists Engagement Contracts. RBSC-ARC-1846-01-12

Another women I encountered in my work here, was Rose Amann also known by the stage name Misty Rose. Amann donated a small collection of materials to RBSC which document her career as an exotic dancer in Vancouver’s burlesque and night club scene. While the records are predominately hotel and agency contracts, it was Amann’s biography that captured my attention. Her journey to becoming a dancer was so engrossing and filled with persistent determination for a career built on a personal interest and love of dance. Misty Rose’s life provides a glimpse into the history of Vancouver’s entertainment industry while also highlighting a very unique perspective not well documented in the archival record. Her biographical sketch provides extensive context to the physical materials.

It is these records and individuals that provide insights into the past in rather unusual ways that attracts me to archival work. Processing archival materials is a bit like stepping into a person’s shoes temporarily and experiencing their life through the records they create and receive. Overall, my time at RBSC has been filled with discovery and learning, and the projects I worked on only represent a small portion of the amazing materials and stories that can be explored in RBSC’s holdings.