Conservation at the Archives

The purpose of our conservation activities is to prevent damage from happening to any of our records, and sometimes to repair items that have been torn or water damaged, for example. We try to make sure that the records in our collection will last for a very long time

Conservator Responsibilities

A conservator uses his or her specialized training to apply treatments to damaged items, and to provide advice on how to avoid damage in the future

How the Archives Keeps its Collections safe

The Archives facility has very good environmental controls so that there is always an ideal level of temperature and humidity in our building. We use archival-quality envelopes and boxes, which are often custom-made, and keep our facility very clean

Visitor Guidelines

The best thing you can do is to handle items very carefully when you are looking at them in the Research Hall. Many of our items are fragile and brittle, and can be damaged very easily. Please follow the advice of our staff when it comes to wearing cotton gloves, or using pencils instead of pens, for example

Can an Archives Conservator Provide Treatment for Private Items?

Unfortunately, no. The conservator may be able to provide advice, but cannot provide treatments for anything outside of our collection.

Learn More About Conservation

Information about our conservation activities is often provided when tours and public events, such as Doors Open Toronto, are hosted at the Archives

Conservation Case Studies

Torn page of Toronto Illustrated, 1888 showing engravings of men, tall buildings, and sailboats and steamships on Toronto Bay.
City of Toronto Illustrated, 1888
City of Toronto Archives
Series 1242, File 80

The assessment

  • This newspaper is full of interesting information and pictures about Toronto, and therefore worthy of the time and effort required to repair it.
  • The paper was of good quality, but the edges and fold lines had become extremely fragile and had suffered paper losses and many tears.

Torn page from Toronto Illustrated, 1888 shows engraving of Gurney Co.'s large brick factory on King Street West.

The treatment

  • Each page was dry-cleaned by hand with an eraser to remove any surface dirt.
  • The paper was not yellowed and lay flat, so it was not necessary to wash the paper in water.
  • Special Japanese paper was used to fill in the paper losses and to repair tears. The Japanese paper was attached to the newspaper page with a natural reversible adhesive called wheat starch paste.

Close-up of page shows tear mended with a patch of Japanese paper.

  • Once all the damage was repaired and the newspaper was reassembled in proper order, it was encapsulated.
  • Encapsulation is the process of sandwiching the archival document between two pieces of clear inert polyester plastic.

Torn front and back cover of Toronto Illustrated, 1888, have been patched with Japanese paper, and show engravings of men, tall buildings, and sailboats and steamships on Toronto Bay.

  • The plastic protects the newspaper, but still allows for flexibility. Each page was encapsulated and stored flat in an acid-free folder. The newspaper was restored and ready to be viewed in the Archives Research Hall.

The photograph album was created by Toronto photographer John Boyd and features pictures he took from 1914 to 1917 of soldiers training for war before shipping out to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Four mock up album pages demonstrating different hinge options.

To preserve the fragile original, the Archives conservator created a duplicate copy for display in our Research Hall.

A few test pages were made to try and get the reproduction as close as possible to the original. Part of the problem was the fact that the album pages were double-sided. We didn’t want too dense a page, but it had to be sturdy enough for constant handling. The hinging was also an issue. It needed to be flexible, with the correct spacing to allow the album to open properly.

Once a solution was devised, it was an assembly-line process to cut out the pages, match them up, glue them to each other, and add tape as the flexible hinge. Seventy-six pages had to be cut out to create 39 album pages, plus the album covers.

The assembly line process laid out on the table ready for cutting.

An album page is a sandwich layer composed of the image paper, dry mounting film, folder stock paper, dry mounting film, and image paper.

The composition of an album page: image paper, dry mounting film and folder stock paper.

Here the completed pages have been hole-punched, and are ready to be assembled to the album covers.

The completed album pages ready to be attached to the album covers.