Friday, February 17, 2012

Local History Gem! The Sarnia Observer Negative Collection

The Sarnia Observer Negative Collection is one of the most interesting and accessible collections at the Lambton Room. It is comprised of over 58,000 negatives of photographs that appeared in the Sarnia Observer in the 1950s and 1960s. In this blog post, I'm going to examine what makes this collection so interesting, and take a look into the future by acknowledging a recent donation from the Observer with new decades of material!

Sarnia Observer Negative: Sep. 29, 1950, SCITS Blue Bombers
The Sarnia Observer Negative Collection was almost lost before it could begin. According to the story handed down by past generations of Lambton County history enthusiasts, local historian and writer George Smith discovered that the Observer was discarding its collection of old negatives. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, Where Did Our Collection Come From?, the story goes that Mr. Smith fished the negative collection from a dumpster behind the Observer office. We are fortunate for George Smith's zeal for Lambton County's history!

The photographic negatives are valuable because they allow us to create prints of images that appeared in the newspaper in the 1950s and 1960s. We have the newspapers on microfilm, but the pictures often do not show up well on microfilm, and when they are printed the results are often disappointing. With the Sarnia Observer Negative Collection, we can locate the original negatives and make significantly better quality scans and prints of the images.

Sarnia Observer Negative: Remembrance Day Parade, 1952
Summer students have been working with the Sarnia Observer Negative Collection for over ten years to increase its accessibility. The entire collection of 58,000 negatives has been indexed by summer students, and this index is available online. The Lambton County Libraries, Museums and Gallery web page has a link to the "Museum Catalogue." In this catalogue, you can browse the Sarnia Observer Negative Collection by searching for "Sarnia Observer Negative" in the drop-down search bar (the direct link is here). All of the photographs are indexed by event, location, and names of the individuals. In recent summers, students have begun the long process of scanning the negatives and uploading the images to accompany these database descriptions

Currently, the Observer is in the midst of compiling space in its downtown office. I was fortunate enough to speak with some staff from the Observer at the end of 2011 regarding some material that was going to lose its current office space. That material included negatives from the mid-1980s to early 2000s, as well as some original bound volumes of the newspaper. I was more than happy to take this material off their hands! The generous donation is now safely stored in our vault where it will be preserved. It will take numerous summer students and a lot of perseverance, but we look forward to the day when these additional negatives are also indexed and uploaded to the museum catalogue. A huge thank you to the Observer for donating this material to our archives!

Sarnia Observer Negative: Apr. 20, 1950, Ken Maidman Kayaks in Sarnia Bay

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