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'Once they're destroyed, they're gone forever': Auditor general sounds alarm over Manitoba Archives

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Manitoba’s auditor general has found there are significant risks facing the archives holding the history of the province – and unless action is taken, he warns some could be lost forever.

Tyson Shtykalo released his latest report, delving into the Archives of Manitoba and its handling of historical records.

“The Archives of Manitoba is the agency or the institution that is responsible for preserving our province's history,” Shtykalo told CTV News. “This is a crucial function. It helps us understand our path and conversely, help us plan our future.”

The Archives of Manitoba, located on Vaughn Street in downtown Winnipeg, holds 11 million items such as photos, along with 134,000 maps and 27,000 hours of audio or television recordings and film.

The records date back to the 1600s, including government records, Hudson's Bay Company archives, along with records from significant Manitobans, families and organizations.

"Once they're destroyed, they're gone forever," Shtykalo said.

To keep that from happening, he has highlighted several concerns that need to be addressed.

"With respect to the preservation and protection of records, we found some significant risks related to aging and deficient infrastructure," he said.

He found the archives has limited space to store the physical records – a space that lacks a fire suppression system throughout the building, and has water leaks in storage areas.

When it comes accessing those records, Shtykalo also found some red flags.

In his report, he found the archives has no process to ensure records were transferred to its care, and a formal record keeping policy had not been established or communicated.

The report also noted uptake for record keeping training was low, even as the demand from governments and departments was growing.

“The risk of records not being properly captured or retained is reduced when all staff have a clear understanding of what should be archived,” Shtykalo wrote.

Electronic record keeping lacking

When it comes to digital records, he said the Manitoba Archives has fallen behind.

He found the archives was lacking the ability to acquire, preserve, protect and provide access to digital records, which surprised Shtykalo.

“We’re currently moving into a world where a lot of things are done strictly electronically,” he said. “A lot of correspondence and sign-offs and approvals are done electronically. In the past, you would have had a physical record of these.”

Shtykalo said the archives need to improve both the digitization of records, and ensuring they remain accessible to the public.

He has made 10 recommendations to address these risks and concerns in the Archives of Manitoba. Shtykalo wrote in his report that the provincial department in charge of the archives agrees with each recommendation.

"Based on the response that we got, I'm confident that the department realizes the importance of our findings and agrees with the risks that we've identified," Shtykalo said.

"If our recommendations aren't addressed, these risks remain. And ultimately, what that means is there is a higher risk that records could be lost to the future."

In a statement, Sport, Culture, Heritage and Tourism Minister Glen Simard called the Archives an important way for the province to maintain transparency.

“I had the pleasure of meeting the archives staff and touring their facility as one of my first activities as minister. What really impressed me was the passion and professionalism that our staff have for telling the story and preserving the rich history of our province,” Simard said.

He said the issues raised in the report were a result of “years of neglect by the former government.”

“I look forward to working with our valuable staff and our department to improve upon our processes and ensuring that Manitobans history is preserved,” he said.

The full report along with the 10 recommendations can be viewed below.

Shtykalo said the auditor general's office will be doing a follow-up in two years to see how much progress the province has made on this. 

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