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'Every one of these boxes is full of people': Saskatoon city archive moving to permanent home

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It’s a new beginning for some of Saskatoon’s oldest and most significant pieces of history.

The City of Saskatoon Archives is nearly set for its move from a building near the airport to a new permanent home downtown at the old Post Office Building across from City Hall.

"Forty years in the making, which does predate me," city archivist Jeff O'Brien said Tuesday.

"It'll see us through the future. This is our forever home. It's our resting place and where we are gonna stay."

For the past several weeks, O'Brien and assistant archivist Ken Dahl have been sorting, organizing and carefully packing Saskatoon's history into thousands of boxes before the current location closes next week and the new facility starts to take shape.

Roughly 4,000 feet of shelves are making the trip, and 3,600 boxes of various sizes stowed on pallets — in addition to hundreds of thousands of photographs, thousands of maps, financial ledgers, blueprints and city planning documents dating back to the early 20th century.

Getting here was no easy task either. O'Brien said the city archives began in the 1980s when it contracted the provincial archives to manage the city's records until 1992. After that, the archives was at the Arthur Cooke Building before moving to its current space on Cardinal Crescent in 2010.

Saskatoon's historic post office building will be the new permanent home of the city archive. (Rory MacLean / CTV News)

"I started in the archives in 1997 and 'find a permanent home for the archives' was on my to-do list in 1997, so it's nice to strike that one off," O'Brien said of the move that has taken 40 years to materialize.

O'Brien has been Saskatoon's memory keeper since then, and he's been reminded of that role and responsibility during the preparation for the move.

He says he's had to resist the temptation of stopping and reading documents he hasn't seen in years or has never had his hands on.

"That is always an occupational hazard in my occupation, because people like me get into archives because they're excited about history," he said.

"And when you're working in archives, you're surrounded by all the things that happened and all the people that made them happen. Every one of these boxes is full of people."

The move has also helped unearth some hidden gems in the building.

O'Brien showed off a 60-pound brass sign that used to be displayed on the outside of a building at the famous Five Corners intersection back in the 1960s.

The corner of Broadway Avenue, 12th Street and University Drive was unique for decades as the intersection where five corners existed before the aforementioned building was demolished and the street was reconstructed to its current three-corner design.

O'Brien said the sign, which reads 'Five Corners' in a retro-style font, hung on the outside of the building. Despite many hours of work, he says he hasn't been able to research it fully even though it was displayed on one of the busiest intersections in the city.

"It's a mystery. I've talked to everybody in the heritage community. Nobody's ever seen this before in their lives," O'Brien said.

Next week, the archives will move and work getting the new location up and running begins.

O'Brien joked the one thing he'll miss most about the current space is the free parking, but the new archives have plenty of features that O'Brien has been patiently waiting for.

It will have a separate climate controlled area for the stacks of physical archives, plenty of space to grow into for decades to come, and it's centrally located in the heart of the city — right across the street from City Hall, where O'Brien says they should be.

With more than 100 years of history being carefully packed for its journey downtown, the city is ready to usher in another 100 years of history at its new location.

"I live my life immersed in the history of this city and the people who live here, all the good things, all the bad things," O'Brien said.

"They're all here." 

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