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The Provincial Archive make history 

Cross-country provincial archives tour brings files and fun together

click to enlarge The Provincial Archive are collecting antique images across Canada. - NATHAN BURGE
  • The Provincial Archive are collecting antique images across Canada.
  • Nathan Burge

For a band like The Provincial Archive, archives aren't a place to keep quiet, but a place to turn up the amps. Actual archives made the perfect pairing for the Edmonton indie folk band, currently touring the country playing a mix of shows at more standard indie rock venues, and in the provincial archives of the nation. Which came first---the band name, or the archival interest? "I've always had a fascination with things of old, and I've always been interested in my family history," says frontman Craig Schram.

Though the band usually works with other people to book tours, Schram says he took on booking the archive shows himself.

"These folks aren't used to having shows in their spaces, so I wanted to take a pretty active role in making it happen," he says. "For the most part, folks are pretty interested in their outreach efforts, so there was a lot of support for the idea, which was amazing for us, and we're pretty pumped about it." Over the tour, the band will play the archives in all but three provinces.

But their first archive show was an invitation. During Alberta Arts Days, government institutions across the province receive funding to put on arts events, and someone at the Alberta archives contacted the band about performing there. The band was relatively new at the time, having just released a debut record.

"They had heard of us, I guess because of our band name," Schram says. The 2009 show paved the way for other bands to perform there. "I make the joke that they have bands in there all the time," Schram says.

The Provincial Archive launched the 2011 archive tour at home in Edmonton. "It was killer," he says, adding that the 75-person exhibit space they played was at capacity, though the sound quality wasn't optimal.

The Manitoba archives were another story. "The building used to be the Winnipeg Auditorium. They built it in 1932 as a make-work project, and it was a huge hall that would hold 1,000 people, and all of the big acts would come through and play the auditorium. It was cool to be playing in that building."

The auditorium was converted to an administrative building in the 1970s, and the band played in a reference room there. "There were card catalogues all around us, and microfiche. They gave us a tour of the building as well. They built this vault in one of the original auditoriums---you could see where the stage used to be," he explains.

The band received some grant money from the province to pay for the tour, and was able to make all of the archives shows free admission. "We wanted it to be good for all of the archives, we didn't want to be charging people to come in there---it's great for us to be able to do this tour and play shows in non-traditional venues, but we also wanted it to be an opportunity for the archives to do some outreach," Schram says.

Not to be outdone by the venues, the band will also be archiving the tour by way of stereoscopic photographs, a 19th-century technique of creating 3D photos by photographing a scene twice from the left and the right perspective.

Schram and bandmate Nathan Burge devised a system of attaching two cameras together to take the photos, and updated the viewing experience by using the images to make animated GIFs, viewable on the band's tour blog, along with more standard gig photos.

Schram is also collecting antique stereoscopic images as he tours across the country. "I think the idea of archiving is something I romanticize more than the rest of the band," he admits.

Lauren Oostveen of the Nova Scotia Archives says, "We're really excited about having them play here---a definite first and an innovative way to introduce the archives to a group of folks who may not know what we're all about."

She's assembling a slideshow of Nova Scotia photos and film stills to show during the performance and giving out "I [heart] archives" pins to archive and music fans alike.

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