Archivist uses love of research to help people

Posted on July 8, 2019

by Martha Holmen

After four years in the Finance department, Claire Wilton is back in the diocesan Archives, this time as the new Archivist and Privacy Officer. Having previously worked closely with Mary-Anne Nicholls, who retired as Archivist last spring, Ms. Wilton knows she has big shoes to fill. “It feels good. Mary-Anne has a long legacy. She did some really incredible things,” she says.

Working for the Anglican Church was never part of Ms. Wilton’s plans. After getting her Chartered Accountant designation in 2002, she went back to school to do a master’s degree in library and information science. “I wanted to go into knowledge management in an accounting firm, but they all wanted five to seven years’ experience,” she said. Instead, she was hired for a contract position in the diocesan Archives, which turned into a permanent position.

Claire Wilton smiles for a photo in the diocesan Archives. Photo by Michael Hudson.

While she says there’s no typical day in the Archives, they almost always include some kind of research request. “Helping people find answers to questions is my favourite thing to do. I love to do research,” she says.

Her work with parishes and individuals gives her plenty of that. “Often it’s people calling for a copy of their marriage record or baptismal record,” she says. “And then we get requests from parishes about their history, or what to do about certain records that they have, and whether we want them or not.” She and Sue Halwa, the Assistant Archivist, also field requests from diocesan staff for old meeting minutes or information on the history of the diocese.

As she reacclimatizes to the Archives, Ms. Wilton says she’d like to spend some time considering how to manage the diocese’s electronic files. “Right now, they’re kind of just sitting in limbo,” she says. “Programs change, and sometimes you can’t open old documents, so it’s important to figure out how to store them permanently so they can still be accessed.”

This is something other church archivists are exploring as well. “There’s quite a nice little group of church archivists, and we touch base with each other. We’re all kind of exploring similar things, like electronic records management,” she says. “How do we do this, how do we budget for it, how do we implement it?”

In terms of the Archives’ physical holdings, one of the biggest challenges is space. “Documents keep coming, and space is limited. Our Archives was built in the ‘80s with the ability to collect 30 years of records, so obviously we’re past that now,” she says. “We’d love to extend the vault, but that requires space and time and money. One day!”

Along with parish and diocesan records, the Archives also holds a few more unique items. “We have very old clerical garb that the Archbishop once wore to a historical society dinner. It’s interesting that we have these items and we don’t really get to display them,” she says. “We do hope to do a display at Synod on the Archives this year.”

In the longer term, Ms. Wilton says she’d like to keep developing resources to help parishes and researchers explore the Archives. “Mary-Anne coordinated the project to create the Guide to the Holdings of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario. It’s a great resource. So hopefully we can create some other resources more specific to the Diocese of Toronto,” she says.

For now, she’ll keep doing what she loves best – helping individuals, parishes, staff and researchers learn more about their own past and the history of the diocese.