Summer at the ‘Y’

By Mark

During the course of the summer, I have been worked through the records of the YM-YWHA at the Jewish Public Library Archives. The project began in 2010 when the YM-YWHA transferred archival material that had been sitting in the basement of the ‘Y’, unattended for several years. This initial transfer of material was organized, but what about the possibility of historically relevant records and documents that could be in various offices left unnoticed for years, decades, or even the better part of a century?  With this in mind, I developed a survey to take to the various ‘Y’ departments in order to assess the state of their current records.  The survey focused on such issues as whether their records were handled recently, how they were organized and whether the records were duplicated electronically.  The data acquired from the survey is intended to guide us not only in acquiring records from the departments eventually, but will allow us to develop a retention schedule to give a clearer idea of how long each type of record should be kept and when they can be discarded. In addition, the information gathered will be used to create a guide that will aid the departments in identifying materials that should be marked as permanent for future archival transfer.

Much of the material we have thus far acquired has been in the form of meeting minutes.  In the process of sorting, describing and filing these minutes, I have had the opportunity to become familiar with their content somewhat, giving me some insight into not only the history of the ‘Y’ itself, but of the Montreal Jewish Community at large.  Additionally, while waiting for new materials or an interview with a department head, I am indexing the minutes, taking note of the important events and discussions for future researchers.  During the indexing, I had the privilege of becoming rather well acquainted with some of the more notable issues and controversies in the ‘Y’s’ history. For example, in 1972 a debate raged over the Saidye Bronfman Centre’s scheduled performance of a theatrical adaptation of Robert Shaw’s “The Man in the Glass Booth.” Given that the play deals with the Holocaust, or more particularly survivors of the Holocaust, many on the Board of Directors, acting on behest of members of the community who believed the play would cause unnecessary anxiety to Holocaust survivors, moved to have the play cancelled. Though the motion to cancel the play was initially overturned, the debate intensified. The beneficial and potentially harmful aspects of allowing the production to run were rigorously considered and debated. Eventually it was decided to cancel the play.  The decision remained controversial long after it was passed.

Upon filing the newly transferred materials, I am adding them into our database for the purposes of ease of access.  Thus, if, for example, a ‘Y’ employee wishes to find a particular document, rather than searching through stacks of randomly sorted documents piled in filing cabinets, he or she can simply do a search in our database, and call over to the JPL Archives in order to access the file directly.  Certainly, there has been some apprehension from staff about not having documents at arms reach but when is fully implemented; I believe the vast majority, if not all, will find accessing old materials easier than ever. This couple with the added bonus of discovering rare or precious items left long buried.

While adding materials to the database, I am selecting photos for digitization and adding them to our server.  Preview images will also be added into the database in the near future.  Viewing photos has been one of my favourite aspects of the job, and I particularly enjoy photos from the 1930’s and 40’s.  We recently acquired a box from the Marketing Department which contained a veritable gold mine of old photos, Beacon newsletters and promotional materials; some of the photos going back as far as 1910.  Such materials provide a window into the past and the history of the community and are, thus, of incalculable value. 

Below is a gallery of some of the photographic history uncovered at the ‘Y’.  Enjoy!





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