The Golden Bridge: preserving the past

So with all of the buzz from the recent Connected Practice symposium about future social services it’s nice to remember that networked technologies can also help solve problems about preserving the past. The Golden Bridge was a digital preservation project that Ellen and I were involved in a couple of years ago.

The project was based on an exhibition hosted by Heatherbank Museum of Social Work on the migration of children (so called ‘orphans’ – though most had at least one surviving parent) from Scotland to Canada by William Quarrier and other Victorian era philanthropists. Heatherbank Museum hosted the exhibition in 2001 but the museum – based in Glasgow Caledonian University – was being archived due to pressure on public space. Our involvement was to demonstrate how new digital media could be used to re-present the physical exhibition by digitising the exhibits, some video, and even the curator. In the process we also discovered and preserved some very precious images and slides of “Quarriers Orphan Homes” showing children at different stages in the migration journey in Scotland, on ship, and in Canada.

Home Children en route to Canada

Over 100,000 children were migrated from the UK to Canada and most became indentured labourers: farmhands for Canadian farmers; or domestic servants to families. In Canada the children were known as “Home Children” and many experienced great hardship and stigma. Their memory is kept alive by organisations like Quarriers Canadian Family who – just last week – organised a Homecoming for over 60 descendants of former Canadian Home Children in Quarriers Village. We were invited to give a talk about the project and to show a movie sized projection of the website. I have to say it was one of the most moving events in which I have ever participated. Members of the audience exclaimed as they recognised images of relatives and listened with rapt attention to video clips of Canadian elders who had been migrated in the 1920s. There were smiles and tears, and when it was over Fred Wardle of the Quarriers Canadian Family presented Ellen and me with certificates deeming us to be honorary Home Children: an honour of which we are both very proud.

Of course whilst Ellen and I get the honours for doing the research let’s not forget the back office staff who made it all possible including: Ian Phillip for a gorgeous design; Paul Hart for flash programming & video editing; Lesley Duff for server side magic; and Ian Watson for working through layers and layers of complex IPR issues. Thank you. You are all honorary Home Children!

visit the exhibition | read about the project