MAINLAND — When Memorial University’s Digital Archives Initiative Collection was introduced to French communities on the Port au Port Peninsula this week, it was with great excitement.
Marcella Cormier, who grew up in Cape St. George and now lives in Three Rock Cove, blogged Tuesday evening that because of the collection, it was the first time she had heard her grandfather’s voice since 1994.
“It’s something you think you wouldn’t hear again and there he is, immortalized on the Internet,” she said of her grandfather Charlie Cormier.
The collection, entitled “Voices of the Past” was made possible by Association Regionale de la Cote Ouest, in collaboration with Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive and Memorial University Digital Archives Initiative of the Queen Elizabeth II Library and represents the rich Francophone heritage of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Cormier said the collection is something she thought she would never see.
“I’ve always loved genealogy, history, culture and even considered doing a masters in folklore, but ended doing something else,” she said. “But because looking into the past is still a pastime for me, this collection is really great and very important for Francophone Newfoundlanders.”
In her professional life, Cormier teaches French First Language to high school students at Ecole Saint-Anne and she sees so many openings with this collection that can tie in to course learning outcomes.
“Most importantly, it will help solidify the cultural identity of the communities where French Newfoundlanders live,” she said.
Cormier said visibility of this collection is important and as many Francophone people as possible should get their hands on these archives to delve into their past and experience the history and culture of the French communities. She said the best way to get to see the collection is go to the website collections.mun.ca and hit the link Centre d’études franco-terreneuviennes.
The Centre d’études franco-terreneuviennes was founded in 1975 by Gerald Thomas, under the auspices of the Department of French and Spanish at Memorial University, with an eventual crossover into the Department of Folklore.
The core of the collection was the fieldwork done by Thomas in the course of his research for his doctorate in folklore, as well as the research done by colleagues during that time period. During the 30-plus years of its functioning as an independent archive, it became the repository for the work of Thomas, his colleagues and his students in the form of papers, field recordings, photographs and other documents relating to the history, language, culture and society of “les Franco-terreneuviens” — the French Newfoundlanders.
His daughter, Jocelyne Thomas, is the project co-ordinator of “Voices of the Past” and is very passionate about her work.
While doing workshops on the collection with francophone students on the Port au Port Peninsula this week, she was surprised how interested the students were when they saw what was going on.
“When students put their family name in and for some there were more than 60 hits, they felt a real connection, especially when they see something familiar, like a photo of an uncle’s home,” she said.
Thomas said this is something that came from these communities and is now able to accessed in these communities.
“These are treasures that by just clicking on an icon they can hear their great grandmother’s voice,” she said.
Not only was these workshops an eye opener for the students, but for the teachers too because they love the idea that they can access this material.
Thomas said in addition to this Francophone collection, there are many other collections in the Queen Elizabeth II Library, a division at Memorial University, that scans materials and puts them on the web.
She said the materials in the Francophone collection were always available for people to see, however, those people would have to go to St. John’s. Now all of it is available online at the click of a computer mouse and that’s what makes it so convenient.