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June 1997 Volume 17 Number 1
LUXTON ARCHIVES: A RARE TREASURE
by Don Bourdon
Over two thousand years ago Cicero asked: "What is more agreeable than one's home?" A house becomes a home by providing comfort, privacy, sanctuary, pleasure, and a secure place for one's treasures. It can also speak volumes about its owners, as a show place for collections and a repository for family archives.
For 90 years the Luxton family home, only half a block from Banff's swarming downtown, was all those things and more to its owners. The Luxton family included Norman Kenny Luxton (1876-1962), newspaperman and entrepreneur; Georgina McDougall Luxton (1872-1965), artist, Stoney princess, and granddaughter of missionary George McDougall; and their daughter Eleanor Georgina Luxton (1908- 1995), a woman of many careers and connections.
An understated dwelling on Beaver Street, its interior is at once charming and eclectic, a mixture of pioneer western Canadiana, taxidermy, First Nations artifacts, an extensive library, and furnishings reflecting early 20th century affluence. Importantly, probing beneath and beyond the surface revealed a huge archival trove. Diverse archival material was located under floor boards and within closets, cabinets, trunks, safes, crawl spaces, attics, and a log barn on the property.
The Luxton archives is now under the care and administration of the Archives, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. Under a contract between the Eleanor Luxton Historical Foundation (established in 1994 as a non-profit charitable organization by Miss Luxton) and the Whyte Museum, the Museum is responsible for the management of the archives, artifacts, and artworks and for interpretation of the historic home.
During 1996, archivist Margery Hadley worked part time at locating, stabilizing, analysing and basic listing of over 25 metres of archival materials in the Luxton Archives. An equal volume of published ephemeral material was separated from the papers. Don Bourdon assisted in the "hunting and gathering" work. The opportunity to work on such a project, start to finish, is rare in an archivist's career.
The second year of the Luxton project involves enhancing descriptions, developing an arrangement outline based on provenance and function, coding database records and using the database to facilitate final arrangement. Reconstruction of filing systems will take place where possible; however, generally the records are severely fractured. A typical banker's box of material contains records attributable to a host of creators and arising from often unrelated activities. Like many projects of this type, the issue is not one of disturbed records so much as an absence of filing schemes.
So what generated this mass of records and why has it been sequestered for so long? Eleanor Luxton controlled custody of the records for use in her writing projects. Ill health often slowed these projects to a frustrating pace. For instance, at the time of her death in 1995, Miss Luxton was working on a biography of Annie McDougall first undertaken in the early 1960s.
Many of the records were inherited. Included are McDougall and Ross family papers dating back to the 1850s and pertaining to missionary work at Morleyville, treaty issues, business records, and family photographs. Also, from Norman's father William F. Luxton, co-founder of the Winnipeg Free Press, are acrimonious letters exchanged with William C. Van Horne, 1893-1896.
The bulk of the records arise from Norman Luxton's many Banff businesses and activities, including the Sign of the Goat Curio Store and Indian Trading Post, King Edward Hotel, Lux Theatre, Banff Crag and Canyon newspaper, and Banff Indian Days. There are also substantial records from Luxton's 1901 trans-Pacific voyage in a dugout canoe.
Over the years, Norman Luxton records have arrived at the Whyte Museum by indirect routes, and Norman Luxton records have resided at the Glenbow Archives for many years. This project provides the first opportunity to examine the total record and prepare an integrated finding aid to a more comprehensive written and visual record.
Another large body of records arises from Eleanor Luxton's own activities as a student, school teacher, CPR locomotive designer, traveller, university lecturer, field-worker for the Glenbow Foundation, historian, and business woman. Miss Luxton was deeply conscious of her roots and protective of her family's archival legacy. Though she was modest about her own accomplishments and plagued by severe medical challenges for much of her life, she saved records generated by her own activities as well.
Miss Luxton's early involvement in Eric Harvie's archival programme and her continuous membership in a variety of heritage organizations, including the Association of Canadian Archivists, shaped her vision to preserve and make available her family archives. Miss Luxton planned for the Archives to be housed in Banff's oldest building, the log home Tanglewood, adjacent to the Luxton home. For conservation and security reasons this arrangement turned out to be impractical.
The Archives at the Whyte Museum has proved to be an ideal new home for the Luxton Archives. In 1993, Miss Luxton generously contributed to the renovation of the Whyte Museum and the Eleanor Luxton Reading room was named in her honor. It is fitting that her archives should find a new home in the Whyte Museum, be accessible in a research room bearing her name, while remaining tied to her family home of which she was so proud.
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