Massive IWA archive prompts need for space at Lake Cowichan museum

Are you a former member of the International Woodworkers of America?

Lake Cowichan’s Kaatza Historical Society has a fundraising challenge for you, according to its president, Pat Foster.

"We are asking all former IWA members, families, other union members and members of the community to join our cause and chip in for some local history," she said.

"You can be a part of this exciting time by simply making a donation of $10 or more to our campaign."

So, what’s it all about? Foster said that the group really needs to raise funds to build more archive space for the B.C. and national collection of the IWA archives the museum recently received "in recognition of the historic role our community has played."

And, because the museum is currently bursting at the seams already, that means construction.

"We’re doing an addition on the main museum, between that building and Cowichan Lake Community Services. We’ve already got permits in place from the Town of Lake Cowichan. Originally, it was going to go behind the [nearby] Bell Tower School but we were too close to the wetlands there. So, the fellow that’s donating the drawings is re-doing them for us," she said.

The society has already raised some money for the project.

"We’ve got about $15,000 in stages from the United Steelworkers in B.C. – the head office, they’re the ones that gave us the collection. And we’ve got $2,000 from the local Steelworkers. But what we’re trying to do now is get the local former IWA people to buy in and donate," she said.

The collection is massive and multimedia.

"It’s lot of the history of the IWA from the beginning, the 1930s to the 1950s. The union actually started in Lake Cowichan. There are lots of papers and maps, and there are also films we haven’t had a chance to look at yet. We haven’t had a chance to go through it all. There are 240 boxes in all plus banners and maps and all sorts of stuff over and above the boxes. We’ve got a lot of stuff," she said.

Cataloguing it will be a big job.

"We have to get a grant to hire somebody to go through the boxes for us, too. But the main problem is we don’t have room for it all. It’s stored in the Bell Tower School at the moment," she said.

The addition will provide 675 square feet of new space, she said, pointing out that archival material must be carefully preserved. "We want to buy the proper shelving, too, the kind that slides so that we can store two or three times the volume than you can on ordinary shelves. We want to do it right."

Everything for archiving is very expensive.

We have to raise $100,000. We’re just starting," she said.

The Society will apply for more grants and is also preparing packages to send to the corporate forest industry people like TimberWest and Hancock but they are starting with Valley people who have fond memories of the IWA.

"This is a start," she said. In October, the Society will celebrate its 40th birthday and as part of a gala event they plan to unveil a plaque that shows all the sponsors and bigger contributors to this project, she said.

So, if you wish to contribute to the construction of a home for these special archives go to the kaatzamuseum.com and follow the instructions.

Feedback so far on the idea has been good.

"The people I’ve talked to about it are really keen," Foster said. "It’s kind of an exciting project for us."

The IWA began in the Cowichan Lake area in the 1930s as organizers stumped through

the woods from camp to camp to spread the word.

"Through diligence and hard work they started the process of negotiating for fair wages and safe work practices for each and every member of the brotherhood. The results of the union commitment to their workers had a long reaching effect on everyone at the time and even today. We have the IWA to thank for raising the standard of living in our logging community," Foster said.

The boxes of new archives are not the only IWA mementoes in the Kaatza Museum’s collection. The facility also houses previous donations of documents and the famous Wilmer Gold collection of forest industry photographs, which is always a favourite with visitors who come out to both the Day of Mourning ceremony April 28 but also Cowichan Lake’s Heritage Days celebrations held over the Victoria Day long weekend each year.