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After decades of serving in an unofficial capacity, an order-in-council appoints Major James Skitt Matthews as Vancouver’s first archivist, at a pay rate of $25 per month.
“I know he went to work as a voluntary public officer and virtually without pay to establish the archives,” former park commissioner R. Rowe Holland will explain, at a 1953 celebration where Matthews will be granted the Key to the City, “He has contributed not only his inspired and indefatigable time and effort to the creation of the archives, but has literally sacrificed every material thing he had in the world to the achievement of this great objective.”
“Thank you very much for what you did,” Matthews will say, upon meeting Mayor L.D. Taylor outside his apartment at Granville and Robson, several days after the appointment.
“I’d have done more,” Taylor will reply. “But those aldermen—they are only a lot of ignoramuses. They never read.”
The appointment supersedes an earlier arrangement between the archivist and the Library Board, one which granted Matthews no privileges, no status, and, in his own words, “lasted two weeks very amicably.”
Prior to this, Matthews’ records were housed in a number of inadequate and decaying facilities, and, before 1931, in every nook and cranny of his Kitsilano home.
“Finally the caretaker’s room in the tower was selected, a dirty, empty room which had not been cleaned for many years, festooned with cobwebs and falling wallpaper, and with the ceiling plaster largely fallen to the floor through dampness caused by a leaking roof,” Matthews explains, of his accomodations at City Hall. “Here a start was made in May 1931. A year later, in July 1932, the room was cleaned and the wallpaper removed. In the meantime it was used secretly, in shame that the people of Vancouver should learn that their archives were kept in such a place.”
Despite his disagreements with the library board (he will secretly remove all materials in December of 1932 in protest), Matthews will ultimately (and reluctantly) transfer ownership of all archival materials to the City of Vancouver. He will remain the city’s archivist until his death in 1970, and less than two years later, his extensive collection of records, interviews, and photographs will be moved to their new home in the Major Matthews Building in Vanier Park.
IMAGE: The Archivist at work. Image courtesy of the Vancouver Archives.