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History of the Simcoe County Archives

​​The ​Simcoe County Archives

​​The ​Simcoe County Archives were opened in 1966 as part of Simcoe County’s Canadian Centennial Project. Norbert Moran commenced his duties as Simcoe County’s first Archivist on May 02, 1966, and the first item he accessioned was a photograph of the 1915 Simcoe County Council.   The Archives was officially opened to the public on November 22, 1966, as the new 2,200 square foot addition to the Simcoe County Museum was unveiled for the first time.  As well as transfers of public records from the County and municipal offices, the Archives regularly received records from the many branches of the Women’s Institute. Donations from private sources included all types of archival records – photographs, diaries, newspapers, maps, school textbooks, land records, directories, histories, and business records from local clubs and societies. 

History of the Simcoe County Archives
Simcoe County Museum and Archives, ca. 1966

The position of Assistant to the Archivist was created, and filled by Peter Moran, Norbert’s son.  Two years later, upon Norbert’s retirement, Peter was named the second County Archivist. A winner of the J.J. Talman Award for pioneering efforts in the field of local archives, Peter oversaw the evolution of Simcoe County Archives into one of the finest regional archives in Canada. 

The archives continued to grow, and a specialized 4,000 square foot, controlled-environment detached structure was opened in December, 1979.  Located immediately to the east of the Museum, the Simcoe County Archives continues to be one of the few purpose-built archival facilities in the Province of Ontario.  To celebrate its 10th Anniversary, the Archives launched an exhibit showcasing the maps in its collection.  Many were part of a larger collection of maps, photographs, and documents the Archives had acquired from the family of Norman D. Clarke.   

People researching in the Archives Reading Room, located in the Simcoe County Museum around1975
The Archives Reading Room, located in the Simcoe County Museum, ca. 1975
Site and construction of the Simcoe County Archives building, ca. 1979
Site and construction of the Simcoe County Archives building, ca. 1979
Entrance to the Simcoe County Archives building under construction , ca. 1979

While the Archives was created in response to the recognized need for such a facility in Simcoe County, it was not until 1981 that it was “deemed expedient to authorize and establish the mandate and activities of the County of Simcoe Archives.”  Simcoe County By-Law No. 3535 included specific objectives of the Simcoe County Archives with respect to Collection, Preservation, and Utilization.  In response to the mandate, the Archives undertook several projects during the 1980s, including the creation of card indexes for the maps and photographs in its collections, as well as the Andrew F. Hunter papers and the Fred Grant Scrapbooks collection.  Conservation services were offered, along with photographic reproductions developed in the Archives’ own darkroom.  

The members of the County’s Women’s Institute branches had been long-time supporters of the Archives and, in 1984, assisted with the costs associated with the purchase of a microfilm camera.  Since then, more than 2,000 reels of microfilm have been created, helping to preserve the County and municipal by-laws, council minutes, and tax assessment rolls as well as the locally published newspapers in the Archives’ collection.    

An addition in 1992 effectively doubled the size of the Simcoe County Archives to 8,000 square feet. Bruce Beacock was named Acting County Archivist in April, 1994, and a year later was permanently appointed to that position.  He served as the third Simcoe County Archivist until his death in 2015.  During Bruce’s tenure, a formal records management program was developed for the regular transfer of permanent-retention records from the corporate and municipal offices, including the City of Barrie.  He also managed the Archives’ Expansion Project, which resulted in the construction of an additional 10,000 square feet of space which opened in 2012.  The Archives’ staff retired their typewriters in the late 1990s and began using electronic database-management software to describe the records in its collections.  New staff began to replace the retiring “old guard” and brought with them training gained through formal post-secondary education programs in archives.  The newly developed Rules for Archival Description was adopted, along with other professional archival standards.  Significant acquisitions included the Simcoe County Clerk’s Office fonds, and the James R. Gowan fonds.  

Exterior of the Archives building during 1991 renovation.
Exterior of the Archives building during 1991 renovation.

Interior of the Archives building during 1991 renovation.

The Archives Association of Ontario presented its 2000 Institutional Award to the Archives in recognition of its tradition of excellence in public programming, and mentoring, as well as being a model for archival programming and operations.  Four years later the Association presented the County of Simcoe with a long-overdue Corporate Award for “its foresight and ingenuity in the establishment of a county-level Archives and for its continuing vision and commitment to municipal archival programming.  Simcoe County has demonstrated imagination, creativity and support for Ontario’s heritage and has also made a significant contribution to the archival community.”  

On November 28, 2006 the Archives celebrated its 40th Anniversary with an in-house celebration and the opening of an exhibit, The Face of History, at the Simcoe County Museum.  In 2008 the Archives’ Descriptions Database “went live” and researchers were able to access on-line descriptions of all records that were processed after 1996.  The same year, Simcoe County Council approved an expansion of the Archives.  Acquisitions of private donations, along with regular transfers of public records, had resulted in the need for additional space.  Indeed, space was so limited that in 2010 the Archives found it necessary to issue a one-year moratorium on corporate and municipal transfers.  

Construction of the expansion took place during 2010 and 2011.  The County of Simcoe received Infrastructure Stimulus funding from the Governments of Canada and Ontario to cover 66% of the $4.1 million project.  At the same time, the existing records-receiving room was expanded into an existing vault, and part of the workroom was modified to create a closed-environment conservation lab.  

Even before the expansion was officially opened on February 24, 2012, the Archives staff had begun to make use of the storage vaults.  The temperature and relative humidity levels in each vault are set to professional-conservation standards for the long-term preservation of the media being stored therein.  Film, for instance, survives best at low temperatures, and the Archives’ collections of microfilm negatives and moving images are stored in near-freezing conditions.  Audio-cassette tapes and electronic records are also stored in a specifically dedicated storage room. 

In 2016 Matthew Fells was named Acting Archivist. He was appointed County Archivist in 2017. ​​Throughout the Simcoe County Archives’ history, its mandate to collect, preserve, and make available the public and private history of Simcoe County has been supported in a myriad of ways.  County Council has provided the financial resources necessary for a state-of-the art facility.  Professional and technical staff have developed systems and programs that provide excellent service to public and private stakeholders alike. 

 Corporate and municipal records managers have welcomed the opportunities the Archives presents for ensuring the long-term preservation of, and access to, public records.  Private citizens have donated archival materials of all types which document the history of Simcoe County’s peoples and their activities.  In-house and from-a-distance researchers have included architects, educators, genealogists, historians, politicians and students.  The cumulative effort of so many people has firmly established the Simcoe County Archives as an exceptional facility for the collection, preservation and utilization of the County’s archival heritage. ​

Interior vault with high-density mobile storage, ca. 2012