Visiting Alberta’s Past
South Peace Regional Archives
by John Althouse
Scattered around Alberta, there are a number of local and regional archives that have wonderful resources for family historians researching related in that area. Often these archives remain largely unknown to researchers living outside of the area in which it is located. One such treasure trove of historic resources is the South Peace Regional Archives (SPRA) in Grande Prairie, Alberta.
The SPRA is located in the same building as the Grande Prairie Museum. The archives contain not only materials related to the city, but items dealing with the historic evolution of the entire South Peace Region that includes the County of Grande Prairie, the Municipal District of Greenview, the Municipal District of Spirit River, Birch Hills County and Saddle Hills County.
The archives have a rich array of resources including items collected over the years by noted area historian Isabel Campbell. A search of the South Peace Regional Archives will begin in its reference room. Here, the researcher will find community history books created for most locales in the area. In addition, the reference room houses several other interesting resources including a collection of obituaries gleaned from local newspapers for more recent years, a file of news stories relating to some area residents, cemetery indexes (created by the members of AGS Grande Prairie Branch), assorted information from a number of the area school districts and area directories. The archivists have created a number of wonderful finding aids that provide the information that the researchers need to maximize research efforts there. Mary Nutting, Leslie Gordon, and Patricia Greber work in the archives and help visitors access their research needs. Each of these women is well versed in the workings of genealogy and family history as well as the history of the area, and can provide valuable assistance.
Family historians can begin research of the SPRA holdings by accessing the archive’s website at http://southpeacearchives.org/ The SPRA has recently redeveloped its website, and it is one of the finest that I have observed for archives of this size. The revised site offers not only an excellent window to the archival collection but also contains a variety of databases and finding aids to assist in your research and preparation for a visit to the archives. The site features databases containing the Grande Prairie city tax rolls for 1920 and 1921. It allows you to search the archival photo collection online and provides information on how to order the photos that best suit your purposes. There are also two wonderful downloadable books in pdf form that offer self-guided tours of the Grande Prairie cemeteries as well as some of the rural cemeteries west and north of the city. The archive society issues an excellent newsletter with interesting details on the area, the archival collection, and aspects of the local history.
The SPRA is also engaged in publishing books related to the history of the region. Its most recent publication is A Country Education: 100 Schools in the County of Grande Prairie, 1910 -1960. It provides histories, photos, maps, and even GPS coordinates to direct you to the sites where these schools once stood. The book can be purchased through the website. There are also three histories of the City of Grande Prairie for different periods of time, and a book on war brides in the area.
The archive website has a blog which presents unique contributions and discussions related to the history of the region. The site also has a number of ‘virtual exhibits’ relating to unique chapters of the area’s history. The website is informative, useful, and extremely user friendly.
If you have family roots in the South Peace Region, I not only suggest that you visit the website of the SPRA but that you also visit the archives itself. This should yield resources to enhance your family history. Trips to the Grande Prairie Museum, the Isabel Campbell Room of the Grande Prairie Public Library, and the Grande Prairie Branch of AGS will help to provide better understanding and tell the story of family members who have lived there. The South Peace Regional Archives is a ‘must see’ stop for anyone having family who live or have lived in this area.
Originally appeared in Relatively Speaking, v.42 #1 (Feb 2014)