Jean Eiers-Page is an archivist at the Prince Rupert City and Regional Archives where she uncovers and preserves the city’s past. She also belongs to many organizations to feed her interests in photography

STORY AND VIDEO: The North Coast archivist

The records of the past are carefully filed and preserved under her white gloved finger tips.




The records of the past are carefully filed and preserved under her white gloved finger tips.

While the public works departments are tasked with the city’s future in the upper chambers of City Hall, on the ground level Jean Eiers-Page preserves its past as an archivist for the Prince Rupert City and Regional Archives.

In a small community rife with stories, she digs up the evidence when she presents the city’s history to the public, either in a presentation or a book.

“You’re proving that something actually did happen. It’s not just hearsay or a story. You have to provide evidence that this happened through photographs and documents,” Eiers-Page said.

When she was 18-years-old she moved from Calgary to Prince Rupert. Her mother had become enamoured with the North Coast after a trip to Haida Gwaii, so she bought a house in 1977. A year later, her daughter joined her.

“I met some great people. Friends that I still have to this day,” she said.

Naturally, she was drawn to Haida Gwaii as well where she said she could beachcomb the shores near Tow Hill for hours.

The landscape of the area inspired Eiers-Page to get into photography and kayaking. She purchased a Nikon camera from Shuttershack and joined the Camera Club to learn more about the craft. They meet on the first Thursday of every month at the library at 7:30 p.m.

For 20 years, she volunteered to photograph the BC Annual Dance Competition organized by the Jazz Productions Association of B.C.

Before becoming an archivist, Eiers-Page was a bookkeeper and an accountant. The interest in her family history led her to join the Genealogy Club in the early ‘90s. Through the club she met Barbara Sheppard, who was looking to hire someone at the archives.

All she knew of her own history was that one side of her family came from England and Scotland,  and Germany and Poland on the other side. The Genealogy Club connected her to others who were searching in the same countries, and they were able to share resources.

“At that time things weren’t online like they are now. You had to order microfilm from the national archives in Ottawa. Ontario birth, marriage and death records were on microfilm and it was a really time consuming process back then,” Eiers-Page said.

Her research uncovered her grandfather’s pastoral side. In 1903, he came to Canada to homestead in Manitoba. Homesteading was a practice where immigrants were given land to settle under the Dominion Lands Act. Grandpa Eiers was given a 160 acre section that he cleared and built a house on. Later, he donated two acres for a Catholic church and a cemetery, where many of her relatives are buried.

Cemeteries and grave stones have also occupied much of the archivist’s time over the years. The Genealogy Club transcribed the headstones for the B.C. Genealogical Society. On weekends, the club would pair up. One would write while the other would be on their hands and knees cleaning stones, and even raising them.

The club had a map and knew where each stone would be. They went from stone to stone at Fairview Cemetery for several years. They even travelled across the harbour to Garden Island, Prince Rupert’s first cemetery with graves from 1906-1910 before Fairview opened.

“We’ve gone out there to take pictures of the headstones. It’s full of rose bushes and it’s just black. It’s so dark in there. The wild rose bushes are so dense,” she said. They even found a headstone in the water.

Not everything is about the past with Eiers-Page. The mother of three, two daughters and one son, loves the arts and dance. She’s currently fundraising for her son, Daniel, after his soccer team at Charles Hays Secondary School won the Northwest Zone. They’re soon heading to provincials in Vancouver.

Her oldest daughter, Kira, still lives in the city. She’s also expecting her first granddaughter in December. Lindsay is a registered nurse in Smithers and isn’t too far from the rest of the family.

Preserving the artist culture in the community is also important to Eiers-Page. She’s on the committee for Creative Jam, a weekend of workshops from March 10-12. There will be workshops for photography, fabric arts, creative writing and she is tasked with the visual arts portion.

If you’re curious about joining one of the many clubs Eiers-Page is involved in — add badminton to that list — or interested in the history of the North Coast, visit the archivist on third Avenue West.

 

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