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Opening up 'The Casket': N.S. museum shares decades of newspaper archives with public

The Antigonish Heritage Museum in Nova Scotia is pictured. (Source: Antigonish Heritage Museum) The Antigonish Heritage Museum in Nova Scotia is pictured. (Source: Antigonish Heritage Museum)

It’s not a quick process to put more than a century of newspaper stories into an online archive; in fact it takes roughly 10-to-15 minutes per issue, according to Barry MacKenzie.

MacKenzie knows firsthand how deliberate the process can be. As the curator of the Antigonish Heritage Museum in Nova Scotia, he’s overseen the transfer of the lengthy back catalogue of the community paper The Casket onto an online database as part of a larger effort to share the region’s rich history with the public.

“It’s slow,” said MacKenzie. “Right now, we have 50 years digitized. Every week there’ll be more and more content. The bulk of our collection starts in 1890.

“We’re slowly building up a database that will include 115 years of the weekly newspaper.”

The Casket, which was originally founded in 1852, documented the people and events of the Antigonish region, covering everything from the pre-Confederations days to the new era of the 21st century. MacKenzie said many of the paper’s issues have only been available on microfilm at the Nova Scotia Archives and the library at St. Francis Xavier University.

“We wanted to make this freely available,” he said. “(Microfilm) is time-consuming. Anyone who’s spent time in front of a microfilm reader knows it gets old quickly.

“There are questions of accessibility and this database will allow anyone in the world to access the entire material. They can discover little nuggets of information.”

MacKenzie said they will index the issues so people will be able to search keywords on the database. He’s hopeful the wealth of information will fuel personal and professional history research in the region.

“The Casket is the newspaper of record for a good chunk of eastern Nova Scotia,” he said. “This database is going to allow people to take their local history research to another level.

“I’ve gained an appreciation for the newspaper by having spent an intimate amount of time with it. I’m not originally from here and it’s given me a real appreciation for the community and the things that went on here and the things that made the community tick. It’s allowing me inside the heads of early 20th century people.”

The database, which officially launches on Monday, is available on the Antigonish Heritage Museum website. MacKenzie said they hope to grow their collection and add digitize more issues from the 1800s.

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