$200,000 preservation plan pitched to Counties

Dundas County Archives committee member, citizen Eric Duncan, presented to Counties Council January 21st a plan by three local groups to digitize the newspaper archives. (The Leader/Blancher photo)

SDG – A $200,000 plan to preserve and digitize old newspapers in SDG was presented to Counties council at its January 21st meeting.

Former North Dundas mayor Eric Duncan represented a coalition of archive and historical groups, which pitched the ambitious plan to the county. That coalition included the Dundas County Archives, the Glengarry County Archives, and the Lost Villages Historical Society.

Duncan spoke of the need to preserve the historic record of SDG printed in the newspapers.

“Some of the newspapers no longer exist and the archives have some of those newspapers in their collection now,” Duncan said.

In addition to shuttered newspapers, the plan includes digitizing the newspaper archives of the Morrisburg Leader, Winchester Press, Chesterville Record, and the Glengarry News. The family of the late Robin Morris donated the archives of The Record to the DCA in 2018.

North and South Stormont does not have an archive. The Lost Villages acts as a de-facto keeper of the historical record for South Stormont. The LVHS’s extensive photo collection is part of the project.

Duncan told council that he had agreements with the newspapers for the collections to be donated or loaned to the archives.

Newspapers from the Glengarry News have already been scanned up to 1950 by the Glengarry County Archives but the documents are not searchable.

“What we want to do is have all these newspapers searchable online from one central site,” Duncan said.

Cost is a factor. Duncan told the council that it can cost about $1 per page for digitizing a newspaper page. That also includes converting the text on the scanned page into something that is searchable, like Google, on a computer.

“In the case of papers like The Leader, there are about 55,000 pages to do,” he said.

Duncan hoped that by doing a bulk collection scan, they could get a better price than each archive working on its own.

The cost of purchasing a professional document scanning system large enough to scan broadsheet-sized pages like The Leader, is about $60,000.

In addition to newspapers from Dundas and Glengarry Counties, the Lost Villages’ extensive photo collection would be digitized and made available to the public.

“We’ve catalogued the collection already and we’d very much like to get it digitized and made available,” said Jim Brownell, past president of the LVHS, who also spoke at the presentation.

He told council that volunteers have done all the work so far with the collection but they need professional help with the digitization.

“Its time we get some professional help with archiving,” Brownell said.

“We just can’t afford it.”

The LVHS also has a near complete collection of a newsletter published by Fran Laflamme in South Stormont in the 1970’s.

Duncan told the council that the project would take over a year to complete.

“The expense of this could be spread over two budgets,” he said. “That was the timeline we investigated.”

Duncan said that the online hosting or file space for the project would be a recurring challenge. He has approached counties staff about helping with that challenge but is looking at a $10,000 cost yearly after the project is complete.

The group is looking for support for the project from counties council, and hopes to issue a request-for-proposal through the Counties in March. Ideally Duncan would see work begin in May.

The $150-200K price tag for the project does not include conservation work for the newspapers, many of which are in various states of condition. Conservation and stabilization of the pages would be done by volunteers of the various member groups. The archives would have the collections ready to be scanned by whichever provider was awarded the RFP.

Councillors around the table were supportive of the idea of preserving the newspapers, but were concerned about the cost involved. “It’s an ambitious project,” said councillor Steven Byvelds. “I support the archives, but $200,000 is a big ask.”

Byvelds serves on the Dundas County Archives committee as mayor of South Dundas.

The DCA previously sought funding to digitize newspapers in its collection at the 100 Men of South Dundas fundraising event in November and was not successful in receiving any funds.

The counties will consider the proposal for funding during the budget deliberations coming up in February and March.

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