There was a time when our conservation and preservation systems were not as sophisticated as today...
When Arthur George Doughty was the Dominion Archivist of Canada, he used cats (and a lot of milk!) to protect the collection from a serious threat. As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures!
In 1908, Mr. Doughty, having found several documents damaged by rodents, decided that enough was enough. He therefore brought in three cats to solve the mouse problem. Of course, he had to feed the felines so they would stay. That's what he writes in a letter to the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, George F. O'Halloran.
Geo. F. O'Halloran, Deputy Minister, Dept. of Agriculture
Dear Mr. O'Halloran,
Since the houses were removed in front of the Archives this building became overrun with mice, and often in the morning we found that the books and edges of papers had been destroyed. As this appeared to be a very serious matter and I had asked for some cats, but did not get them, I got the boy to bring three to the Archives. We seemed to be getting rid of the mice in this way, but it was necessary to feed the cats, and I have been obliged to take a pint of milk each morning for some time past. The man brought me the enclosed account today which I have paid, and I suppose we must continue to take milk for some time to come until we are sure that there are no more mice. I have no doubt that an account like this would cause a great deal of comment, and I do not care whether I am repaid or not. Anyhow I think I have simply done my duty in getting rid of the mice.
Some fun facts
- Most people probably don’t know that the archives actually started as a program “for the collecting of Public Archives” in the Department of Agriculture. Like many government institutions, LAC and its predecessors reported to Parliament through many different ministers over its history. But that’s another story! For more information on our origins and transformation, consult the National Archives of Canada fonds (RG 37) administrative history.
- Doughty recognizes in this letter that “an account like this would cause a great deal of comment,” so he did not care whether he was repaid or not. If you want to learn more about the Dominion Archivist who was willing to pay out of his own pocket to protect the collection, consult the Arthur George Doughty fonds.
- We’re fortunate today that we have much more sophisticated preservation systems. For more information on our state-of-the-art facilities, check out our articles on the Preservation Centre in Gatineau (Flickr album, podcast, Discover blog) or our plans for Gatineau 2. (You can see that our new building area is surrounded by fields, but we’ve come so far that we don’t need cats any more! But don’t get us wrong, cats are simply awesome.)
- As Doughty explains in the letter, the removal of houses in front of the archives building led to an influx of mice, which threatened the collections: “the books and edges of papers had been destroyed.” If you look at images of the building on Sussex Drive (here or here), you can see that the landscape probably provided an excellent opportunity for the mice.