This week we got to go on a field trip to the Preservation Centre (National Archives and Library of Canada) in Gatineau, Quebec. It certainly was a good way to start off the week and not to mention, actually have a fun Monday! The building itself is in the middle-of-nowhere Gatineau, however the architecture of the building is pretty cool; the architect is from the Prairies so he integrated the Prairies lifestyle into the building. For example, the building inside contains things that look like oil rigs, kitchens that look like silos from the outside, and the office area on the top floor looks like a little Prairie town (barns, steel huts, silos, you name it!). The building and its architecture is already cool enough… and what they have inside is even better.
There are three levels of “vaults” which contain all the archives. I unfortunately did not take notes while on the tour, however I distinctly remember our tour guide mentioning that mostly everything they have (archives, photographs, paintings) was in the millions (if I recall correctly, there are 22 million books!). Here is their website with all the numbers and more information: https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/about-us/events/Pages/2017/pcg-welcomes-you.aspx.
The amount of detail and thought that went into creating this building and its functions in order to protect the archives is mind blowing. The fire system is extremely advanced and it will detect where the fire is and only spray water on that specific area; the floors are even slightly tilted so that the water will run down to a pipe in the wall that will drain the water. The rooms also have to be kept at a certain temperature and humidity in order to preserve the items in the vaults. For example, most rooms were kept at a 18°C with 25%-35% humidity. There was one room, however, that contained negatives and nitrogen photos so that the room had to be kept at a freezing temperature of -18°C.
During the tour we were shown into some of the vaults (thankfully not the -18°C one), and my personal favourite was the vault that contained the paintings. I could not believe the amount of paintings nor how amazing they were! The oldest painting in their possession is from the 1690s. Another great thing is that most of their collection is digitized; here is the link to the search bar: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/lac-bac/search/all. We were also shown the digitization lab – where all the magic happens! The machines and scanners they have are unbelievable; there is always an influx of projects being done to digitize their collections. They even have a machine (robot?) that turns the pages of the book while taking pictures of every page.
This was truly a great experience and I am so glad that our professor organized it for us, it was great! I encourage anyone who likes/loves this kind of thing to book a tour at the Preservation Centre or even the one on Wellington Street in Ottawa – it is definitely worth the time!
This website/blog now also has an Instagram: medieval_book. We’ll be posting some pictures of the tour on our Instagram story this week so take a look if you want to see some cool stuff!