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Former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan leads project to preserve early Vancouver council records

Volunteers transcribe early council meeting minutes from 1886 to 1890 for the digital age.

Sam Sullivan, MLA for Vancouver-False Creek, began Transcribimus three years ago after realizing the microfiche copy at the Vancouver Archives was barely readable.

Tereza Verenca/Metro

Sam Sullivan, MLA for Vancouver-False Creek, began Transcribimus three years ago after realizing the microfiche copy at the Vancouver Archives was barely readable.

Learning what city council was up to during the late 1800s is now easier than ever, thanks to Vancouver-False Creek MLA Sam Sullivan and a handful of volunteers who have transcribed more than 1,800 pages of minutes and have posted them to the web.

The project – called Transcribimus (meaning “we transcribe”) – was started in 2012 by the former Vancouver mayor, who wanted to know more about the city’s second mayor, David Oppenheimer.

“To me, he was the most important person in the history of Vancouver,” Sullivan said of his predecessor’s many accomplishments, including the opening of Stanley Park, the establishment of the streetcar system and setting up a water connection from the Capilano River.

Sullivan then began looking into the Vancouver Archives, only to find the microfiche copy was barely readable.

“They were fading in a very difficult-to-read handwriting and pages were falling out. I thought, well, we really need to have this online for researchers and the general public.”

Over the last three years, six volunteers have transcribed the city council minutes from 1886 to 1890. Chris Stephenson joined the team late this summer as part of a credit requirement for his UBC library studies degree. He used the word “magical” to describe the experience so far.

“You’re literally watching the city being built plank by plank, sidewalk by sidewalk and you’re hearing the drama of the city sorting itself out. There are characters that show up; it’s like a narrative,” the graduate student told Metro.

Stephenson admitted his first ever transcription took him five hours. Now, that time’s down to about 90 minutes. The process involves a lot of fact checking, especially making sure the names are spelled correctly, he noted.

Transcribimus is a project of the Global Civic Policy Society, which has Sullivan as its president. So far, 250 sets of minutes have been tackled, with plans to continue on and eventually merge all the information into the Vancouver Archives. The society is also looking for more volunteers to help out.

Visit www.transcribimus.ca for more information.

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