The Nanaimo History Project in VIUSpace: Nanaimo Historical Society Audio Recordings at VIU Library

This article was originally published in the Winter 2021 newsletter of the Nanaimo Historical Society. Thank you to the NHS board for giving me permission to share it here. Photography by Liz Laidlaw, VIU Library.

Did you know that the Library at Vancouver Island University has a digital archive of audio recordings of past Nanaimo Historical Society presentations dating back to 1962? You can find it online at:

In 2001, Shirley Bateman and other members of the NHS reached out to the Library at what was then Malaspina University-College. The Society was inquiring about the possibility of copying a set of cassette tapes containing recordings of NHS presentations from 1962 to 1973. Some of these cassettes had likely been created by a Malaspina student in 1974 by copying William Barraclough’s original reel-to-reel recordings, which were thought to be among the first documented recordings of their kind made in the province. The cassette tapes were deteriorating and the Society was hoping the Library could assist with making compact disc versions. In addition to being deposited at the Nanaimo Community Archives, a set of the recordings was kept in the Special Collections vault at VIU, and when technology allowed the Library to do so, digital mp3 files were created. These audio files were put online in VIUSpace, VIU’s digital library, in 2010 and form the first part of the Nanaimo History Project, which can be found here:

IMG_1326In 2019, a Memorandum of Agreement was signed between the NHS and VIU Library allowing for a second set of NHS cassette tapes to be temporarily transferred to the Library with the intention that they would also be digitized and made available online. The NHS was again concerned about the lifespan and accessibility of an aging cassette tape collection, while VIU Library perceived value in facilitating preservation and access to local- and BC-focused content to support new lines of inquiry and study for students, researchers, and members of the community. Working within the context of its strategic plan, which includes decolonization and community engagement objectives, the Library took steps to make its services and supports known and available to the Nanaimo Historical Society.

This second set of recordings, consisting of four boxes of over 100 cassette tapes mostly created by Pamela Mar and including NHS presentations from 1976 to 2011, will form the second part of the Nanaimo History Project, which can be found here: Digitization work is currently ongoing for this second set of tapes – over 125 audio files are now available with more being added on a regular basis.

With a keen interest in both local history and digitization work, the project has been a great fit for Dalys Barney, who is not only an NHS member, but also part of the VIU Library team that is doing this work. During the early stages of the pandemic, Dalys and her colleague Sarah Ogden were both working from home and had an opportunity to complete some transcripts for this collection. Now that Sarah has returned to working on campus (Dalys is still working remotely), the focus has shifted back to getting more of the tapes digitized and uploaded to VIUSpace. Expanded summaries, subject headings, and more transcripts will eventually follow as time and resources allow.

IMG_1324Consisting of family histories, recollections about school days, book talks by local authors, and presentations about a variety of Nanaimo and Vancouver Island events, businesses, buildings, people, and organizations, the collection is truly a treasure trove of material for anyone interested in the area’s human, industrial, built, or natural history. Like everything in VIUSpace, the Nanaimo History Project is open access, meaning anyone can listen to the recordings – you don’t need to be a VIU student or staff member.

NHS members may also be interested in other VIUSpace collections, such as the Coal Tyee History Project, which contains a series of audio interviews with Vancouver Island coal miners and their families conducted by the Coal Tyee History Society in the 1970s and ’80s. Digital audio files and transcripts can be found at: If you’re interested in historical Vancouver Island newspapers, digitized versions of the Nanaimo Free Press (1874-1928) and the Cowichan Leader (1905-1928) can also be found in VIUSpace and are accessible here: