Last winter I organized an archival fonds consisting of forty years of documentation produced by Quetico Centre, a conference and education centre in Northwestern Ontario. This was a joint project for Athabasca University and the Atikokan Centennial Museum. This post describes my experiences organizing the project- my first attempt to create a fonds. Archival work requires both practical and theoretical knowledge to ensure that the documents are well cared for and properly organized. I ensured that all materials were handled in a way that complied with conservation and collection standards; however, this post will focus on the theoretical framework I used to complete the project.
Creating the Fonds
The Quetico Centre Fonds project was completed in compliance with RAD, a standardized process of arranging and describing documentary heritage used in archival science. This method uses the principles of provenance, original order, and respect des fonds to dictate how documents are arranged. Provenance refers to the individual, family or corporate/administrative body that produced the materials being archived. In this case, Quetico Centre was a corporation that produced the documentation. Original order and respect des fonds are important archival considerations which state that documents must be kept in the order in which their creator originally kept them. This method of arrangement provides a context used for better understanding the documents' meaning, both individually and in relation to the others in the collection. Throughout the project the original order of the documents, if it could be established, was kept. For instance, the board of director materials were kept in the order in which Quetico Centre administrators originally filed them. However, it is not always possible/most beneficial to keep the original order. For example, there was a box of various newsletters where it was apparent that an order was never established; they were just thrown together. In this instance, to better assist researchers, I decided to create an order, putting each newsletter in chronological order. This way the evolution of the Centre could be traced through the examination of developments over time.
Prior to arranging materials, I examined how the archival field had evolved over time to determine how archivists ascribed meaning to documents. This decision was particularly important because, in some cases, I had to make decisions about which materials to keep and which ones to discard. The Atikokan Centennial Museum has limited storage space, thus not all materials could be kept (a decision which was reached by the Curator, myself and our donors.)
Hans Boom, in his article, "Society and the Formation of a Documentary Heritage: Issues in the Appraisal of Archival Studies," shed light on this complex matter. His article outlined archival historiography and displayed how the field has evolved by showing the attempted creation of guidelines for accepting and rejecting archival documentation. The earliest assumptions were that a decision about what was to be kept or thrown away could be made on a case-by-case basis. As the need for archives increased, this was no longer a viable solution. Scholars attempted to create formal guidelines for creating a documentary heritage. Wilhelm Rohr, for example, introduced a hierarchical gradation, meaning that the producers of documentation were placed on a hierarchical scale in order to determine the value of the documents. Meinert took this idea a step further by stating that only the creator of the document could give it meaning. Meanwhile, Fritz Zimmerman proposed that the value of archival documentation is derived from human interest and need; therefore, human demand gives documents their value. Boom argued that this could not be possible because it would be too difficult to predict what historians would want to use in the future. According to Boom, there has not been a suitable answer to the problem of how to properly form a documentary heritage. He provided his own solution, stating that the value of a document can only be determined by a comprehensive view of society. In other words, archivists cannot use contemporary value systems to judge documentation. Rather, they need to adopt the value systems of the time period in question to properly determine what documents to accept or reject.
I decided to use Hans Boom’s theory as the foundation of my project. To accomplish this, I read several books about education during the time period in which Quetico Centre operated, as well as books about Northern Ontario education. This research helped to place Quetico Centre’s history within the larger adult education narrative, as well as geographic place. I also read local history books which provided me with nuanced details about the Centre’s operations. This information gave me a better understanding of the Centre’s values and philosophies.
The information acquired from these readings provided me a context in which to judge the collection's documentation. I felt more confident in making decisions about which documents to keep. For example, several pamphlets discussing adult education in Mexico were disposed of. The information in these pamphlets may have influenced Quetico Centre’s philosophy; however, they were never alluded to in any of its Director's speeches or writings. There were several other pamphlets that included information on broader adult education topics that seemed to be more pertinent to the collection. It should be noted that all documentation, before its removal was checked with one of the collection's donors (the Director's widow). She provided her opinion about the materials and verified if their removal seemed appropriate. This practice was done out of respect for our donor, who lived the history we were organizing and was an invaluable resource throughout the project.
After organizing the fonds I created a finding aid. The aid's purpose was to assist both researchers and museum staff by providing easy access to the collection. RAD-compliant descriptions were used to ensure an easy to use, standardized document was produced. These descriptions help users gain a better idea of what the collection encompasses so that they can make decisions about what documents will be useful for their research. The fonds's description gives documents context by providing historical details about Quetico Centre's establishment, its key players and educational vision. Good descriptions mean that researchers can search for documents in a more independent manner. Thus, museum staff can spend less time helping the researcher, and more time on other museum duties, like cataloguing.
To further assist future researchers I created several documents to accompany the finding aid, including: a time line of important dates, biographies of people involved with the Centre’s activities, and a booklet entitled, Quetico Centre: Learning Through Discovery. This booklet places the Centre within the context of adult education in Canada. It will be sold to visitors in the museum's gift shop and handed out at the Quetico Centre exhibit opening in June.
The Final Product: Images and Finding Aid
I feel that the project was a success. I can say with absolute certainty that I have a new appreciation for the amount of work archivists undertake to organize collections. It consists of many hours of unseen and rigorous labour. As a researcher I feel I have a better appreciation of the work involved.
If you are a researcher interested in Canadian adult education, education in northern Ontario, or Atikokan history, check out the finding aid below.
 Jean Dryden and Kent M. Haworth. Developing Descriptive Standards: A Call to Action. Occasional Paper No. 1. Ottawa: Bureau of Canadian Archivists, 1987, 1-15., 1.
 Wendy M. Duff and Marlene Van Ballegooie. “The Foundations of RAD.” In RAD Revealed: A Basic Primer on the Rules for Archival Description. Canadian Council of Archives, 2001., 2.
 Ibid., 3.
 Hans Boom. “Society and the Formation of a Documentary Heritage: Issues in the Appraisal of Archival Science.” Archivaria 24, 1987., 90.
 Ibid., 95-96.
 Ibid., 91.
 Wendy M. Duff and Marlene Van Ballegooie. “The Foundations of RAD,” 2.
In 1968 the Atikokan Centennial Museum received a donation of military artifacts from Florence Ransom. One of these artifacts was a Next of Kin War Memorial Plaque featuring the name of her husband, Reginald Ransom. During World War I over 1,000,000 of these plaques were issued to family members in commemoration of those who died in service.
In 2014 our Curator, Lois Fenton, researched Reginald Ransom and the 52nd Battalion he fought with. She noticed that his attestation papers named his next of kin as his mother, Susan. This information showed that Florence and Reginald were married while he was fighting overseas.
Sadly, Reginald Ransom never came home. He died serving our country on February 24th, 1917.
This information made us wonder, how did his new English bride end up living in Atikokan, Ontario?
Reginald became good friends with army mate John Alexander ("Sandy") Johnston. Before his death, he made Sandy promise to take care of Florence if anything should happen to him. Sandy stayed true to his word. The rest of this story will unfold throughout this exhibit as the lives of these two veterans are recounted.
This exhibit was originally put together as a special presentation for the Atikokan cadets, who were getting ready for a trip to Vimy Ridge. The displays were temporary, kept up for only two days. Aside from the cadets, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 145 members were also invited to explore the exhibit space. Due to the exhibit's short duration, we thought that a virtual exhibit was a great way to share these veterans' stories with the local community and other Canadians.
This virtual exhibit is an Atikokan Centennial Museum project. As it is hosted on my private blog, I feel that it is important to acknowledge the people who helped put it together. The local history was researched by Lois Fenton and Sandy Johnston's daughter, Nancy Fotheringham. Nancy kindly loaned many of the objects seen in this blog and this is acknowledged in the photographs' captions. I was responsible for giving the artifacts context through discussions of a broader military history. I also scanned and photographed all of the artifacts. The information presented has been fact-checked by military and medical historian Dr. Adam Montgomery.
Sandy Johnston (1889-1965)
Sandy was born in 1889 in Dresden, Ontario. Like many men of his period, he had different vocations throughout his life. He was mechanically and mathematically inclined, spending time in Detroit learning the mechanics of the new car industry. As a young man he also moved to Port Arthur (present day Thunder Bay) to work as an accountant in the lumber camps. In 1915, shortly after the war erupted, he volunteered for service as a Private in the 52nd battalion. That December, the battalion left for England, and by 1916 he was stationed in France.
The 52nd Battalion was part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). The CEF was "the collective name given to the military structure created in 1914 in which some 620,000 Canadians served overseas during World War I." This Force did not include the Canadians who served in the navy, merchant marine, or the Royal Air Force. In other words, the CEF was "Canada's wartime army overseas." In total, 260 numbered CEF battalions were formed during the war.
Sandy worked within the Canadian Signal Corp, laying and maintaining communication lines. In 1916 he was promoted to Signalling Sergeant. 
Easter weekend of 1917 saw one of Canada's most iconic battles, Vimy Ridge. "Weeks of planning, map-studying and platoon tactics rehearsal climaxed when 15,000 soldiers charged into heavy German machine gun fire, behind a wall of precisely placed Canadian artillery shells." The troops stormed up the ridge, a task which had previously caused 150,000 French and British casualties, and were successful in dislodging the Germans from their strongholds. But this victory did not come without a loss. After three days of fighting 3,598 Canadian troops were dead and 7,000 were wounded. This event was the first time that all divisions of the CEF fought together, and this included Sandy Johnston.
It was also discovered that Sandy fought in the Battle of Passchendaele. In October of 1917 the 52nd Battalion led the 3rd division attack. An October 22, 1917 Battalion War Diary entry stated that he "went forward in busses (sic) to look at the new front line." This information was verified by John Easson, a retired major, after he corresponded with Nancy.
Sandy was awarded the Military Medal for the maintenance of communications while under enemy fire at Vimy Ridge. His award was listed in the London Gazette, 9 July 1917.
Sandy was awarded two other medals for his service, the first being the Allied Victory Medal. Approximately 5.7 million of these medals were issued during the Great War. To be a recipient "an individual had to have entered a theatre of war (an area of active fighting), not just served overseas." The rainbow ribbon represents the combined colours of the Allied nations. The front of the medal depicts a winged classic figure, an image that represents freedom. The back of the medal reads, "The Great War for Civilisation 1914-1919." Each allied nation issued a medal of a similar design, similar wording, and identical ribbon.
The second medal was the British War Medal. Approximately 6.4 million of these medals were issued by the British government to those who had represented the British and Imperial Forces at any point of the war.
Before the end of the war, Sandy was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Flying Corp (which later became the Royal Air Force.) Nancy stated that her father "was given the chance to get a commission and learn to fly because of his bravery in the field at Vimy for which he received a Military Medal." Obtaining a position in the Air Force was seen as prestigious, as the task required more skill and innate physical characteristics such as good eyesight. Becoming an air pilot also meant an escape from the trenches. Nancy expressed that, "it was a chance [for her father] to escape with honour." His first flight was in August of 1918; his last was in January 1919.
Reginald Ransom (1887-1916)
Reginald Ransom was born on July 22, 1887 in London, England. His attestation papers stated that he was from O'Connor, Ontario and that he identified as a labourer. He joined the 52nd Battalion in Port Arthur on February 18, 1916.
As mentioned above, Reginald was a casualty of the Great War. Lois states that when, "reading the battalion's war record one feels the impending doom, the great carnage of war, the timeline to his death." He was buried at Petit-Vimy British Cemetery in France.
Florence Ransom (1888-1967)
Reginald's wife, Florence, moved to Canada under Sandy Johnston's care after the war. He provided her employment; she managed his general store in Atikokan for nine years. At this time, the store bought and sold furs in the fur trade. In an Atikokan Progress newspaper article, she fondly recalled her delight in the Indigenous population bringing in furs, stating that it "was a colourful occasion to see them trading their furs far into the night." At this time Atikokan was a very small, remote community with a population of 300. It was so small, in fact, that she recalled there being only two stores. Even after she stopped managing Sandy's store, Florence remained close to the Johnston family for many years.
Florence remained a widow for the rest of her life. She was very active in Legion activities, and it can be assumed that this was a way to honour her late husband. Below, among other notable artifacts, note her Certificate of Merit, awarded to her by the Ladies Auxiliary of the 145 Legion branch.
Sandy Johnston Post WWI
After the war, Sandy spent a year working as a demobilization officer in Port Arthur. He then became owner of the McKenzie Inn, east of Thunder Bay. As alluded to above, in 1925 he moved to Atikokan, where he purchased a general store from the town's founder, Tom Rawn. In addition to buying and selling furs, he acted as the postmaster for the community until 1947. He continued his military service later in life. During the Second World War he served as a recruiting officer for the Port Arthur area. After that endeavour he owned and operated the Imperial Oil Agency in Atikokan until his retirement in 1953. On top of his other great achievements, Sandy also served as reeve of Atikokan for five years, 1956-1960.
Throughout his life, Sandy maintained a strong interest in the Canadian Legion, Atikokan Branch No. 145. In fact, he served as its president from 1941 to 1948. The Legion offered a place for returning veterans to come together to discuss their shared experiences.
Sandy married Myrtle Rawn and they had three daughters: Judy and twins Nancy and Patricia. Although he had a rich post-war life, injuries to his feet were a silent reminder of what he had endured.
A museum label of Atikokan's World War I Veterans. This information was taken from an Atikokan War Veterans database created by Adam Montgomery & Stephanie Bellissimo on behalf of the Atikokan Centennial Museum. All Atikokan war veterans' gravestones with visible military markings were photographed and compiled into a list. This list is not conclusive. If a veteran chose not to have any military insignia on their stones, or if they were buried outside of Atikokan, their information was not included. If you have someone to add, please let us know! Leave a comment below. Include the person's name, corp, rank, birth and death dates (if known) and we will update our records.
This exhibit commemorates the 100th anniversary of the battle at Vimy Ridge and the sacrifices that individuals, communities and the nation made for our freedom. Commemoration is important; however, events like these should not just be remembered on anniversaries. It is important to take a moment every now and then to acknowledge the ever-enduring strength of the human spirit to fight for what is believed to be right. Many of these men paid the ultimate sacrifice for their convictions. Reginald's inscription of "death before dishonor" inside his Bible (seen above) speaks to this. We are eternally grateful for these men's brave actions. They will always be remembered.
 The Next of Kin Memorial Plaque & Scroll. http://www.greatwar.co.uk/memorials/memorial-plaque.htm (accessed February 27, 2017)
 Information gathered from Sandy Johnston's military records, form R-122, Reg'l No 438593.
 J.L. Granatstein and Dean Oliver. The Oxford Companion to Canadian Military History (Oxford University Press, 2011), 85.
 Philip J. Haythornthwaite. The World War One Source Book (London : Arms and Armour, 1992) 159.
 Ibid., 159.
 Information gathered from Sandy Johnston's military records, form R-122, Reg'l No 438593.
 Canadian Geographic and the Walrus, The Story of Canada in 150 Objects: Collector's Edition, 2017., 14.
 War Diary, 52nd Battalion, Army Form C. 2118., October 22, 1917.
 Philip J. Haythornthwaite. The World War One Source Book, 161.
 Unknown author, Service Chevrons, http://www.canadiansoldiers.com/insignia/service.htm (accessed February 27, 2017)
 Imperial War Museums. British World War One Service Medals, http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/first-world-war-service-medals (accessed February 17, 2017)
 Information recorded in Sandy Johnston's Flight Training Manual.
 Commonwealth War Grave Commission, Reginald Joseph Ransom, http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/531249/RANSOM,%20REGINALD%20JOSEPH (accessed February 27, 017)
 Atikokan Progress. Roles as Early Shopkeeper Here Recalled by Mrs. Flo Ransome, date unknown. [throughout the records Ransom was either spelled "Ransome" or "Ransom." The Museum has chosen to use "Ransom" as this is how the name is spelled on official records.
 Atikokan Progress. J.A. Johnston Obituary, May 13, 1965.
Cemetery research can be an extremely useful tool used for understanding the lives of our ancestors. One of my museum projects is to update a database of war veterans who lived in Atikokan. Previously, a preliminary Excel spreadsheet was created through obituary and newspaper research, but it was inconclusive. Recently, during our spare time Adam and I walked through the two town cemeteries: Little Falls and Atikokan Cemetery, looking for veterans' final resting places. Some gravestones proudly boasted information, like the war they fought in, their rank and unit. Others were more non-descript. Unless you know about military and cemetery symbols it is easy to miss important information. Luckily for me, my fiancé Adam has his PhD in Canadian Military history, and offered helpful insights into this type of research. I thought that I would create a post of helpful tips for researchers wishing to research war veterans through this avenue.
The Cross of Sacrifice
Many Canadian veterans' grave markers have a mixed Latin/Celtic Cross, referred to as the Cross of Sacrifice. This cross is a commonwealth war symbol created by the Imperial War Graves Commission in 1918. Typically, when a cemetery has more than forty veteran graves, a large Cross of Sacrifice memorial is seen. This however, is not always the case.
Emblems of Belief
While walking in the cemetery you may come across an individual who fought for the United States. Their graves are marked with emblems of belief that have been approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. These symbols "represent the sincerely held belief of the decedent that constituted a religion or the functional equivalent of religion and was believed and/or accepted as true by that individual during his or her life."  This particular picture shows a cross surrounded by a circle, a symbol used until the 1980s. It has since been replaced by a different cross.
A comprehensive list of emblems of belief can be viewed here.
Some other useful tips:
Click here to view the database that Adam and I created on behalf of the Atikokan Museum that lists information about Atikokan's war veterans. Any blank spaces means that information was not available. This list is not conclusive, as it was only conducted by cemetery and obituary research; however, it is a good starting point for future researchers.
 J.L. Granatstein and Dean Oliver. The Oxford Companion to Canadian Military History (Oxford University Press, 2011), 120.
 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. National Cemetery Administration: Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers http://www.cem.va.gov/hmm/emblems.asp (accessed September 19, 2016)
 DC by Foot. Guide to Symbols and Emblems of Arlington National Cemetery Headstones http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/guide-symbols-emblems-arlington-national-cemetery-headstones/ (accessed September 19, 2016)