Priceless Collection of Roy Studio Images Restored by FirstOnSite and Returned to Peterborough Museum
When torrential rains hit South Central Ontario and parts of Quebec in July 2004, the city of Peterborough got the worst of it. Its drainage system was unable to cope with the demands of 150 mm of water falling overnight.
During the early morning, flood water entered the lower level of the Peterborough Public Library through damaged windows, affecting the conservation area and storage vault of the Peterborough Centennial Museum Association (PCMA). The vault was separated from the main area by a wall, providing some protection from debris. The conservation work-area outside the vault was destroyed.
A large portion of the collection, valued at over $8 million, lay beneath almost one metre of water. Three generations of the Roy family had documented almost every facet of life in the Peterborough area from 1896 to 1992, making their collective works one of the most important such collections in Peterborough’s history.
The flood water crested at 14 inches from the floor of the basement. Approximately 10% of the collection was under water for up to 24 hours. The electricity was cut off as a safety precaution, leaving no light or environmental controls.
Time was an issue, and FirstOnSite (known then as Rosco Group Document Restorations) was called in.
30,000 glass plate and other film negatives, related photographic material, and documents were loaded onto freezer trucks for transport to secured facilities where the complex and delicate restoration work began.
For two years, a dedicated team of approximately 100 specialists toiled tirelessly to bring this unique and prestigious collection back to life. Finally, the restored Balsillie Collection of Roy Studio Images was unveiled and returned to public viewing.
The rapid involvement of FirstOnSite restoration experts and their innovative technology made it possible to save this historically invaluable treasure. At the time of the flooding, Michael Harrington, Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) Manager of Preservation Services and Training, had underscored the exceptional collaboration of this Canadian firm which specializes in the restoration of documents damaged by water or by smoke.
“The salvage and freeze-drying of the Roy Studio collection was a huge challenge that broke new ground in conservation practice,” stated Mr. Harrington. “FirstOnSite worked closely with CCI, National Library and Archives Canada and the Peterborough Centennial Museum. Their sensitive treatment, professional experience and expertise led to a successful result unparalleled in the conservation literature for a collection of this kind.”
During the unveiling ceremony, Peterborough Mayor Sylvia Sutherland reiterated the importance of the restorative work performed . “It is clear that the works of photographer Robert Maitland Roy, of his son Frederick and of his grandson Robert John would have been lost, but for the expertise of FirstOnSite personnel,” claimed Mayor Sutherland. “It is with gratitude that we recognize the company’s contribution here today. The impressive condition in which these photographs have been returned to us will ensure their future quality and availability to the people of Peterborough for generations to come.”
Museum Director Susan Neale later alluded to the great value of the photographs. “Museums are the guardians of our collective heritage,” stated Ms. Neale. “The restoration of these photographs will make it possible for future generations to appreciate our cultural roots and treasures. Not only must we preserve, conserve and show our collections to all, it is our duty to protect them from the ravages of time and the elements.”
Lastly, Mr. Barry J. Ross, President, Rosco Group (now FirstOnSite Restoration), spoke on behalf of his staff of experts to say how proud his team was to have completed this task in a relatively short time span. A project of this size is unprecedented in Canadian history. “This type of challenge calls for quick action, as the smallest delay can have a devastating impact on the artifacts we try to save. We thank the people of Peterborough, who quickly put their trust in our expertise.”