KLAM – Canadian Latvian Archive and Museum Small but Vital

February 16, 2023

At the outset, when the work of the Canadian Latvian Archive and Museum (KLAM) was recognised and formally named, it was possible to take advantage of the fact that the founder was also President of the Latvian National Federation in Canada (LNAK). Thus it was possible to use this opportunity to link the two and market the idea as a viable community project. This linking raised the profile of both entities, while the marketing aspect continued to be of great importance.

For many years following, located in the Latvian Canadian Cultural Centre, Toronto, LNAK was able to justify using a small uninhabitable space for storage and work by volunteers. These were historical moments since the key people, seniors dedicated to telling the Latvian Canadian story, threw themselves into building the collections and a cataloguing system, literally from point zero. Today, recognised as co-founders, we thank Ženija Vītols, Skaidrīte Tērauds, and Aija Kārkliņš. The latest arrival to the group is Anita Bredovskis.

While creating an in-house functional system, there have been opportunities to collaborate with other archives and museums, including the National Library of Latvia.

Though the COVID threat has caused delays and is always with us, we can now start tackling many existential questions. The KLAM project operates independently, but thanks to being under the beneficial wing of LNAK, some future funding should be anticipated. More recently, additional floor space has been made available as an office, which is already almost full.

Due to our own networking in the community, the importance of saving our Canadian history, with all its Latvian influence, has finally taken on increased popularity. Again, with that come existential questions, which must be faced.

The increased feedback from potential donors now creates questions about storage. Digitisation can work on a small scale, depending on human resources, but these resources must be expanded. One important archival principle that KLAM adheres to is that the original material must stay in the country of current origin. In other words, collections and artefacts, which are in the hands of Canadians, are part of Canada’s history, though they may have arrived from foreign locations with various refugees and immigrants. We are fortunate that this contradiction in terms can be solved by digitisation which, in itself, supports global access and research.

The hard reality is that new financial resources are desperately required for storage space and additional human expertise to assess, catalogue, and, of course, digitise.

As a museum, there are other perpetual questions. For example, do we keep books and paintings, and if we do, where and how to process them? Ideally, a dedicated repository should be negotiated with an existing national or provincial archive and museum.

A post-pandemic priority will be to re-establish closer cooperation with digitisation programs in Latvia, assuming they can access funding for digitisation to be done in Canada. Furthermore, it would be in their interest to easily expand their holdings. Though an apparent redundancy, this will also protect valuable cultural heritage in case of natural disasters or war, which unfortunately have become more prevalent in our modern world.

Andris Ķesteris