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New archivist finding treasures at the Colchester Historeum

Ashley Sutherland, the new archivist at the Colchester Historeum, enjoys looking through some of the volumes in the rare and fragile books case.
Ashley Sutherland, the new archivist at the Colchester Historeum, enjoys looking through some of the volumes in the rare and fragile books case. - Lynn Curwin

TRURO, N.S. – Old family dump sites fascinate Ashley Sutherland, because they’re often filled with items that tell stories of the past.

Sutherland is the new archivist at the Colchester Historeum and she’s excited about being there.

“I’m passionate about photos and history, so working in the archives is great because it involves both,” she said. “There’s a treasure trove of photos here; there are thousands.”

Sutherland began working in the archives on Feb. 8, spending her first week with Nan Harvey, who served as archivist for many years before deciding to retire.

“It was great having a few days to learn from her,” she said. “I’m still discovering things here, and reorganizing some things because of personal taste. I respond to research inquiries and help people who come in most days.

“I want people to be able to come into the archives and look around, out of curiosity if they don’t have specific questions. I’d like to have displays that I can change up now and then, and I’d like to get more youth to come into the archives. There are a lot of interesting things here.”

She’s setting up a station in the historeum for March break, where she will help children draw family trees.

Sutherland grew up in Central North River and attended Memorial University, where she studied visual arts, and then went on to get a Masters in Art History (with a concentration in curatorial museum studies), from Carleton University.

She spent one semester studying at Memorial’s Harlow Campus, in England.

“It was a pretty intense few months, studying British art, architecture and history,” she recalled. “We visited a lot of museums, galleries and historic sites, and it was very eye opening.”

She was an intern at the Nova Scotia Museum, working on a Halifax Explosion exhibit and a Mi’kmaq cultural landscape project, and completed an eight-month practicum at the National Gallery, in Ottawa.

“I really wanted to come back to Nova Scotia,” she said. “My research interests were Nova Scotia based, my family was here and I missed the water.

“I wanted to be in a small community museum because of the community engagement. I think museums are integral to the community and cultural identity.”

She worked at the Margaret Fawcett Norrie Heritage Centre, but was anxious to find full-time employment, so she was excited when she was offered the position at the historeum.

Sutherland lives in Debert and spends much of her spare time on activities connected with history.

“I do a lot of exploring, looking for the sites of old settlements,” she said. “I’ve found old foundations and sections of stone fences. Sometimes there are things like glass bottles, and one time there was a stove. I like to find old cemeteries, and I also explore natural sites like waterfalls and shorelines, and collect interesting rocks.”

She does a lot of photography and hiking, and she does abstract painting (sometimes on old vinyl records) and paints pet portraits.

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