In 2001, the Canadian Broadcasting Center and its French-language counterpart, Radio-Canada, received approval and funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage to create the CBC Digital Archives. The archives’ website only vaguely details its selection process, explaining that “technical, editorial and archival teams in Toronto and Montreal,” supported by CBC regional archives nationwide, “auditioned thousands of hours of programming” to select the pieces in the collection. The pieces include radio broadcasts dating from 1927-present from CN Radio (CBC’s predecessor), CBC radio, and television broadcasts from 1952-present from CBC television. It appears that they focused on key controversies and public events throughout Canada’s history; they sorted these into the categories Arts & Entertainment, Economy & Business, Environment, Health, Lifestyle, Politics, Science & Technology, Society, Sports, and War & Conflict. And the site also implies that the collection is growing; the editors invite “teachers and the general public” to send in requests for people, events, or topics missing from the site, and they promise to “see what we can do.”
For each clip, users can click on three tabs for metadata, and there is a fourth tab where those who have signed in may post comments. The first tab offers “The Story,” that is, the title of clip, the broadcast date, and a short description of the clip. For example, one radio broadcast from May 3, 1968, covers a woman identified only as “Mrs. Sam Lavallee” testifying about the status of Aboriginal women before the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. The second tab asks “Did you know?” and includes one or more pieces of historical information related to the topic of the clip. The “Credits” tab includes more traditional metadata: the medium, the program on which the clip appeared (for example: Matinee), the broadcast date, the names of the guests on the program, the name of the reporter, the length of the clip, and the date on which the entry was updated. The program, guests, and reporter are all links that can be used to connect to other pieces that share that information or person.
The collection has a complex arrangement that uses the metadata to group clips into topic groups. For example, under the “Politics” category there are eleven subcategories, including “Rights & Freedoms”; this subcategory opens into another group of categories, this one a list of key issues and movements, one of which is “Equality First: The Royal Commission on the Status of Women.” At this level users can view the clips available under this heading. Users may also access the clips through the “Discover” link that attempts to interest users by grouping clips of events from this day in previous years, gathering “Great Interviews,” etc. There are also pedagogical materials for teachers and tools for users to allow them to search, bookmark, and create their own “archives” of the material most interesting to them. The layers of usability are interesting but can be a bit visually overwhelming.
I found no information about the format of the clips, and the only information available about format is whether the clip is radio or television. Most of the radio clips also include a photograph of a related scene, but there is no credit information for these photographs.
The CBC intends the collection to serve an educational function, and it asserts that it’s “primary audience is educational.” The tools for teachers indicate that they hope the materials will be used in classrooms. Beyond this focus, the CBC makes the unlikely claim that “the site was designed and built with every Canadian in mind.” Certainly there are key omissions if only by virtue of the mostly-white, mostly-male reporters who appear on the screen and radio broadcasts. This collection is certainly a production that seeks to support Canada’s language of multiculturalism, a language that, as evidenced by the very stories offered here, does not often translate into lived experience. It seems like the users may, in fact, be limited to those in classrooms. Those seeking archival footage might rather look at a more exhaustive catalog of the CBC’s history.