December 15, 2008

Old News Pages Offer New Insights

There are no more trips to the library, squinting at pages of microfiche, for those who are interested in BC’s history. Thanks to a partnership between the University of Victoria and the Victoria Times Colonist, the world can now search through historic editions of the newspaper online.

The website,, is officially launched this month. It contains issues of the British Colonist, which is one of the oldest daily newspapers in Western Canada, and one of the best records of colonial BC. Every page of every issue between the first one, on December 11, 1858, and the end of June 1910 is now online—a total of 100,544 pages.

“December 11 is the exact date of the 150th anniversary of the Times Colonist,” says Times Colonist Editor-in-Chief Lucinda Chodan. “We’re delighted to mark that occasion by giving something back to the community that has helped us thrive for the last century and a half—a legacy in perpetuity to the citizens of Victoria, Vancouver Island and British Columbia.”

Until now, the British Colonist newspaper, under many differing titles, has been available only on microfilm in a few libraries. The newspaper is the sole source of some types of information. For instance, during the first 30 years of its existence the newspaper covered the proceedings of the British Columbia legislative assemblies, which makes it the only documentation of its kind of this body. The British Colonist also reported on most court cases and is the only surviving record of judicial proceedings in the early days of the colony.

“The new site is important for historical researchers and genealogists,” says Chris Petter, the head of Special Collections at UVic’s McPherson Library, who helped to manage the project. “Some of its content even predates the establishment of the province and Canada. As such, the site will provide historical researchers—including students and genealogists—with a rich full look at our history.”

Petter and his team built an interface that provides the ability to search either chronologically or by using keywords. The interface also displays the digital image of each page of the newspaper with the search words highlighted.

The project is also supported by the Times Colonist. UBC’s Ike Barber Learning Centre, the Electronic Library Network of British Columbia, the BC Public Library Services Branch and the Greater Victoria Public Library provided additional support.

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