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June 20, 2013

Canada buys rare War of 1812 collection for $690K

Canada buys rare War of 1812 collection for $690K
The government of Canada was the winning bidder for a rare collection of War of 1812 artifacts that once belonged to Sir John Sherbrooke the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia. Sherbrooke conquered Maine for the British during the War of 1812 and kept copious documents and maps during his time in office.

The winning bidder was Library and Archives Canada, and the future Canadian Museum of History. Including commission, the sale cost the federal government and taxpayers about $690,000.

The collection, including hand-drawn maps from the early 1800s that  cities such as Toronto and in its early years, sold for almost twice what had been expected.

When he left Canada, Sherbrooke took his maps and papers back to Britain, where they had been sitting in three wooden boxes in family attics for nearly 200 years. Curators say that the maps have been stored in the wooden chests, which were part of the collection, and are in pristine condition.

Fierce bidding drove the estimated price up. So while it is wonderful that our country has its own documents back, I question the wisdom of a cash-strapped agency putting out almost $700,000.00 for documents that they had already copied almost twenty years ago. That's right - Library and Archives Canada had copies of all these documents.  I'm wondering if this outlay of money (which we taxpayers will no doubt feel) could have been better spent on digitizing the documents that are currently owned by LAC. This would have brought documents online for the public.

After all we are still waiting for the 1921 Census release which was promised and has now been put on hold by the Federal Government. With no transparency and a great deal of secrecy from the Government, we Canadians have no idea why the census is on hold nor exactly what stage of digitization or indexing it is at. Shouldn't the Canadian public know what the Government is doing with our heritage? Government agencies don't seem to realize they actually work for the Canadian people. Should we not be consulted or at the very least, kept advised of what is going on?

Heritage Minister James Moore is quoted as saying "this is one example of how we are investing in making history more accessible to Canadians so they can learn more about the people and events that have shaped this country.”

I wish they'd ask my opinion on whether or not they should have spent $700,000.00 for the originals of documents when they already had copies. Don't get me wrong, the collection is part of our heritage and while it is important that countries own their own historical documents, I think that in these difficult economic times and with Library and Canada Archives experiencing severe budget cuts, the money could have been better spent.

I could cite dozens of examples of documents owned by LAC that have not been digitized or indexed. Perhaps the money would have been better spent on those projects. How about investing in indexing, digitizing and making our 1921 census available? What about the wonderful War of 1812 petitions and claims for land losses - it would be extremely helpful to have them indexed.

And don't get me started on the fact that we don't have enough doctors for every citizen, that waiting times for specialist appointments or procedures can be up to one year, that hospitals are shutting down physiotherapy departments and so on..... 

Last, but not least, anyone can consult the copies of the Sherbrooke Collection that LAC owns. Is LAC going to invite the public to handle these originals? I doubt it! We, the public, will still be looking at the copies. The originals will be archived and stored, where perhaps once every dozen years, a historian or two will request access to the originals. It doesn't sit well with me.

What is your opinion on this?

You can read more about the Sherbrooke Collection and this story at Rare early maps of Toronto, Montreal, part of 1812 cache that fetches almost $700,000 in U.K. bidding war

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