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Value of Lutheran archives in Edmonton is tangible

April 18, 2011 2 Comments

by Keven Drews

Pastor H. Schuetz, Pastor E. Heine, Pastor O.H. Schmidt and Pastor E. Eberhardt, the first missionary in the Alberta and British Columbia area. (LHI photo collection)

EDMONTON — Each artifact in Edmonton’s Lutheran Historical Institute (LHI) tells a story.

A silver-luster cup witnessed Philadelphia’s battle against the plague in the late 1700s. Carried by Pastor Fredrick Schmidt, the cup helped baptize the dying—sometimes hundreds a day.

A coyote-skin coat, handmade and owned in 1892 by a charter member of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Stony Plain, sheltered its owner from more than one frigid winter.

And a patchwork quilt, stitched in the early 1890s and owned by Dr. Albert Schwermann as a child, bears witness to the fabric of daily life.

Hundreds of other equally important and interesting Lutheran heritage artifacts and archive documents are housed in LHI’s offices, located on Concordia University College of Alberta’s (CUCA) campus.

For the first time, though, LHI knows its collection’s monetary value, an important step in the insurance process.

On April 7 and April 8, Stephen Lunsford, an appraiser from the National Archival and Appraisal Board (NAAB), a not-for-profit organization serving Canadian cultural institutions, visited the LHI.

He valued the collection at a minimum $850,000.

“This type of an appraisal enables an archive to have an official dollar value for insurance purposes so that replacement or restoration costs can be requested when disaster strikes,” explained Karen Baron, LHI’s director and archivist. “Although from time to time we have had substantial damage done by water and even records that survived…[a]…gym fire, this collection has never been insured.”

The appraisal also helps LHI determine its level of responsibility to donors. A primary concern for heritage organizations is guarding and preserving historical materials, a commitment Ms. Baron calls a “public trust.”

“Donors assume that the items will be cared for forever,” she added.

The LHI isn’t the most visible organization. Its offices are found on the second floor of Lutheran Church–Canada’s Alberta-British Columbia (ABC) District office.

Within the space of just four rooms, including climate-controlled stacks, the LHI houses some 200 shelf-metres of textual records; 4,000 books; publications dating back to the 1500s; a reading room; and at least 250,000 photographic images, including glass-plate negatives, colour prints and 35-mm slides. There’s even a 1971 TTY (text telephone) terminal, one of the first in Canada, used by the deaf to communicate over phone lines.

Offsite, LHI houses reredos, which are ornamental screens covering the back of altars, and baptismal fonts from closed congregations.

“LHI holdings contain the administrative records of the congregations of the ABC District, the ABC District, Concordia University College of Alberta, Concordia Lutheran Seminary and Lutheran Church–Canada and some of the auxiliary organizations of Lutheran Church–Canada,” Ms. Baron explained.

One of six volumes of a 1573 edition of Luther's Works in LHI’s collection.

“It also holds personal collections which contain papers, correspondence, diaries and photographs of individuals like pastors, professors and laymen…”

She said some of the artifacts and records come from members of LCC congregations who are downsizing their homes or cleaning out estates, congregations which have closed, and members of the general public who want to find a good home for the artifacts.

Some even wonder why the LHI is “keeping this junk,” she added.

“Personally I think the most value is in the fact that each item has a story attached about people of faith and relating these stories gives us hope and courage as we see how God has continued to bless us and our church through time.”

“No matter how bad things seem to be His church … His people seem to come through.”

LHI brought in the appraiser following a discussion with Jane Bowe McCarthy, an archivist with the United Church of Canada (UCC). The UCC’s Alberta and Northwest Conference asked McCarthy to hire an appraiser to look at its own records for insurance purposes. As LHI needed to have a similar appraisal, Ms. Baron asked if Mr. Lunsford could take a look at the LHI’s collection while he was in Edmonton.

Once the United Church became aware of LHI’s financial situation its Alberta and Northwest Conference decided to pay for the appraiser’s full transportation costs.

Two donors, who want to remain anonymous and who were concerned about the LHI’s wellbeing, covered the appraiser’s daily fees.

In his April 10 report, Mr. Lunsford said the archive’s materials appeared to be in good condition with “no notable groupings showing urgent need of conservation.” However, he noted many unprocessed records were stored in shipping boxes and remained unavailable to researchers.

He said his $850,000 appraisal was “a first approximation,” and a “more fine-grained appraisal” might reveal higher value.

Ms. Baron noted that in a society which judges most things monetarily, the evaluation gives the archives more worth in some people’s eyes.

LHI’s Board of Directors will discuss the appraisal when it meets in June where it will also discuss its overall financial position.

Ms. Baron explained how supporting LHI is like a family investment noting that if you or a member of your family has a connection with a Lutheran Church–Canada congregation “you will probably find some portion of your life or your family documented and preserved for the future.”

“These records are very personal. Giving a monetary donation [to LHI] can be seen as preserving a little bit of your family history for future generations to explore.”

Donations can be sent to Lutheran Historical Institute, 7100 Ada Blvd., Edmonton, AB, T5B 4E4. Individual memberships cost $20. Congregational memberships cost $100.

Here are some of the artifacts you will find in LHI’s collection