Frequently Asked Questions

This is the primary place to come for help and instruction on using the archives found in the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre and the Engracia de Jesus Matthias Archives & Special Collections at Algoma University. This FAQ is periodically updated, as determined by need.

What are Archives?

Archives or a fonds d'archives are those records, in any format, created, received and retained by individuals, families and organizations as evidence of their activities and transactions. As such they serve as their "memory" and thus provide important information about the functions, activities, and decisions of record creators over time. A document that might not seem important on its own could have great value in the context of the whole collection.

For more information about the type of archival collections held by the Algoma University Archives visit our University Archives Holdings Page.


Are there moderators who review comments and posts before they're published?

No. We have a very small staff and as a result we don't have any dedicated moderators. We do look over the site from time to time randomly and will certainly take action if we notice in appropriate comments including, but not limited to removing the comments and/or the user themselves.

If you notice a comment or post that you think is abusive or just simply spam, please report it to the us by selecting "Report Abuse" (it's the last option in the list) on the Contact form.

Please go over the Terms of Service for specifics, particularly under the Conduct section for what constitutes abusive use of the site. It should be noted that differences of opinion don't constitute abuse.

Do I need an account to look at the information on the site?

No. All the content on the site, including comments are free to be viewed. None of the published content is secret.

What is CAPTCHA?

When you try to create an account, the last field you must fill in is called CAPTCHA. This field consists of some squiggly words or numbers and you're asked to type in what you see. The purpose of this is to ensure that an actual human is trying to register.

A computer trying to automatically sign up in order to spam the site users, can't actually interpret the squiggly words and so can't create an account.

What kinds of things can I do on this site?

The site is still new, and we haven't completely sorted out how we plan to use social media. Currently, it's possible to make comments on records, series and fonds (see How is the site organized? for more on fonds).

We hope to add forums and blogging in the near future.

We're also open to requests and interesting suggestions. Please contact us via the contact link at the top of the page to make some.

Why do I need to create an account to make comments?

If we allowed the world at large to comment on things without registering, we'd be exposing ourselves -- and our users -- to spammers.

In addition, we would like to help create a sense of community online and you can't have a community if everyone is anonymous.

Project Chronicle

Some very exciting is work being done in the archival and public history fields. For example, Concordia University's oral history project, Stories Matter, has resulted in the development of some interesting audio recording software, designed from the bottom up for oral historians. In the area of transcription, the crowd sourcing transcription initiative,Transcribe Benthem from University College London, is an experiment in using social media to help along archival research and scholarship. In fact, the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University lists many interesting digital tools an archive might want to offer researchers. Unfortunately, a lot of the tools out there are one-off projects and integrating them can be very difficult. The idea driving Project Chronicle is to try to center archival and public history innovation on a free and open source framework; a common framework which allows archives and museums to easily integrate different initiatives and collections. Project Chronicle is more about building a community around a platform, and less about building a specific product. The Drupal CMS, with its modular system, thriving community, and huge repository of existing functionality seemed as likely a framework to start with as any. A key advantage of Drupal is that its community exists outside the archival world. Drawing on the work of outsiders is a tremendous shot in the arm for any small community, and the community of archival software developers is pretty small. Outsiders think "outside" the box, because -- by definition -- they are. They're a source of creativity, not to mention support. True, not many people are interested in archival development, but many are interested in developing on Drupal, and their interests can be borrowed and leveraged to meet our needs. For example, an audio recording module, intended for teaching languages can be re-purposed as an oral history module for less time and money then building one from scratch. At the very least, hooking public history and archival information access onto one of the most successful content management systems in the world, can't be all bad. To get things started Algoma University, in order to meet the needs of the Residential Schools Centre, the Shingwauk Project, the Digital Algoma Institutional Repository, and the University Archives has migrated its collections from the DB/Textworks platform to Drupal. The plan is to start developing the kind of functionality we feel archivists and public historians need; then make it available as FOSS for other museums, archives and historical institutions to use and add to. We intend to release the work we've done on this site via the Drupal feature system, which is essentially allows you to export a Drupal site that's been pre-configured for a specific task; in this case, to manage an archive or museum. Features allows us to export the site as a series of pieces or modules, for example an "accessions feature" or a "Record" feature. We hope to post our profile in September 2011. In time, we hope Chronicle will be more than "a collection of documents in Drupal," but rather a complete archival management system built on top of the Drupal framework and supported by a community of archivists, developers and historians.

Why a new website?

We are constantly trying to improve service to our patrons. Since the people we serve are varied and far-flung, it makes sense to consider the latest technologies in order to try and provide the best possible access to information we host. A current trend in the computer world is the use of "social media," which is loosely defined as technology allowing people to communicate, or socialize with each other, via the internet. This class of technology includes services such as Facebook, Twitter and blogging in general. One of the ideas behind social media is that people with similar interests can congregate online and share thoughts, ideas and content (such as photos). In the context of an archive, that idea begs the question:

"Can we build an online community around the content held within the archive?"

It's an important question. Chief Shingwauk envisioned the Shingwauk School as a: "crucible for cross-cultural understanding and for synthesis of traditional Anishnabek and modern European knowledge and learning systems." It's interesting to compare that idea with the vision Tim Berners-Lee had of the World Wide Web when he created it: "In general, I hope that we as humanity can learn to use this information space to understand each other..." Mating Chief Shingwauk's idea of the perfect school with social media technology seemed like a natural step. In order to make community building tools available to the archive, we needed to change our archival software to one that was designed from the bottom up with social networking in mind. In the end we chose to use the Drupal open source content management framework. There were several reasons for this:

  1. It is open source software, meaning that we are free and able to change the software to meet the needs of the community in a quick and timely way. Once a need is identified, we can answer it as fast as our priorities and resources allow. We don't need to wait for a vendor to call us back or release a patch.
  2. Most of the social networking features we were thinking of were already included in the software right out of the box. These are, but not limited to:
    • the ability to make comments about the content
    • availability of discussion forums
    • blogging abilities
    • event management features
  3. Drupal has a huge user community supporting it, including libraries.
  4. There are no licensing fees for using Drupal. As a result, we are no longer limited to a small number of people working in the archive. Before, we had to pay for each person entering records. We no longer need to do this.
  5. Drupal is web based. The software we were using before required a client application to be installed on each machine using it. Now, we can access and work on the archive from anywhere. This means we can add photos and records at any meeting or conference we can get connected to the internet.

Site Navigation

How do I get help navigating the stie?

You should start by reading this FAQ in full. Then take a shot at trying to find what you're looking for.

If none of that works, please contact us using the contact form found here:

And select the first option: "Help finding something".

We will try to get back to you within 7 days, workload permitting.

How is the site organized?

Naturally, it's possible to search the site via the search box in the top right hand corner of the site. However, to make the most of your time on the site, it's a good idea to understand how the records are arranged in the system.

The archive uses the Rules for Archival Description the Canadian national standard for archival description, codified by the Canadian Council of Archives.

The overriding concern of the RAD system is to -- as much as possible -- maintain the actual arrangement of the files as they were used in real life. The term for such an aggregation of documents is fonds. The concept is originally French, although now it is used in archives in Canada, Austrailia and the UK.

A "fonds" differs from a "collection" in that the latter is an artificial grouping of documents while the documents in a fonds were grouped as they were while the documents were in use. For example, if you were organizing the documents from two separate parishes, you could -- if you wanted to -- pull all the birth registers from both and create a collection of birth registers. Although this has certain advantages if you're trying to find a birth record, it does introduce some difficulty if you're trying to do historical research on a specific parish. Using collections, the records of a parish would be broken down and scattered amongst the records of other parishes, making it very difficult to understand the historical context of a particular one. Therefore, In order to maintain the historical context of the documents, to "...preserve existing relationships between records and the evidential value inherent in this order."(RAD P3.0) you keep all the records of the parish together as a set, a fonds.

All of our fonds are listed under Holdings in the left hand navigation bar. The fonds are generally organized by parish, residential school name, and under each you will find sub-groupings, generally called "series" which represent a block of records, for example "birth records", or "financial statements". Inside of these sub-groupings are the actual items themselves. Not every fonds has series.

There are special fonds as well, for example a person of great historical note (a bishop for example) will have their own fonds. This is appropriate as such a person might have copious records and even if they might technically be part of a parish fonds (because in actual life they worked there) it would make a long and unwieldy hierarchy of records to drill through. RAD does make provision for exceptions in order to aid access:

"To ensure effective access to archival material, decisions related to description and the choice of access points should reflect the archivist’s obligation to all users. The rules in this standard should be applied in a way that results in descriptions and access points suited to both institutional and research needs."(RAD P1.0)

Generally the access points at the Algoma University Archive are:

  • parish names
  • residential school names
  • proper name of important people.

How do I stay up to date with news, new and updated holdings?

The easiest way is to check off the "Recieve email updates" box in your profile. You can only do this if you have an account.

If you do have an account, you can:

  1. Log in
  2. Click "My account" (first link at the top of the left hand nav column)
  3. Click "Edit" to edit your profile
  4. Click "contact" at the top (right after "account"
  5. Click off the checkbox.

Clearing this check box means we will never contact you via email.

This means you will receive email updates whenever there is a major event, addition to the collection or other news worthy event. The newsletter will update you on news as it becomes available, such as major events.

In order to view the most recent additions to the collection, simply use the "Recently Added" link on the left hand nav bar, as well as the "Recently Updated" link for changes to the collection.

Soon these two links will be provided with a subscription service so that you can view updates via RSS.

Who can access the archives?

The Archives and Special Collections at Algoma University, including the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, can be used by all students, staff, faculty, researchers, and the general public. 

Students may consult the Archives for course-related projects, assignments and papers. History students, for example, regularly research local history, institutional history, and news articles relating to the University. Social Work or CESD students may seek information on the Aboriginal Healing Foundation or community healing initiatives. Students from Fine Arts might research historical photography methods or use archival material as inspiration.

The Archives is also used by Algoma University staff, faculty and administrators in the course of carrying out the University’s academic and administrative business. The Archives might be consulted for the creation of presentations and displays, to consult past institutional reports, for anniversary planning or communications campaigns, and many other internal projects.

The Archives offers a wide range of opportunities for advanced scholarly research. For more information on how to access the Archives or how to get started with your research contact our staff.