The Archives of Niagara

by Archdeacon John Rathbone (Diocesan Archivist)

The term “Archives” is broadly defined as “the non-current records of an organization or institution preserved because of their continuing value”. Until well into the twentieth century the term was used almost exclusively regarding governmental records kept by governments for their own use.

It is of particular interest to us in the Diocese of Niagara that the movement for the preservation of the records of our Church in Canada began at the Ninth Session the General Synod held here in Hamilton in October 1921, when the following motion was carried unanimously: “That the matter of conserving all records and other historical material relative to the Church of England in Canada be referred to the Executive Council with the request that action be taken without delay.”

The Church “made haste slowly”. An Archives Committee was appointed in 1927, the Canadian Church Historical Society was inaugurated in 1949, and following the meeting of General Synod in 1955 in Edmonton the first Archivist was appointed, the Archives Library having been established in Church House, Toronto.  

Beginning with a memorandum of agreement between McMaster University and the Executive Committee of the Diocese of Niagara in 1975, our Diocesan Archives has been established in Mills Memorial Library.  At present, in addition to non-current diocesan records dating back to 1875, parish registers, service books, minute books and other material from more than 100 congregations have been deposited there.

On January 1, 1987, the first Archivist was appointed by the Archbishop of Niagara, the duties of that office having previously been performed by the Registrar of the Diocese. At the Diocesan Synod of 1990, “Archives and Archivist” was enacted as Canon 2.6.

In accordance with this Canon, all congregations are expected to have their non-current registers, minute books, etc. deposited in the Diocesan Archives by arrangement with the Diocesan Archivist at Cathedral Place. The registers (Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage and Burial) are micro-filmed and photocopies since 2015 in digital form are returned to the parish.