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In the fall of 1934, Lamb was approached by the Provincial Secretary and Minister of Education of British Columbia, Dr. George M. Weir about a possible appointment as the Provincial Librarian and Archivist in Victoria. He accepted the offer and took command of a staff of five housed in a wing of the Parliament buildings. In evaluating his archival experience at that time, Lamb conceded that his involvement with archival holdings to that point had been limited, almost exclusively, to research on non-governmental material in manuscript repositories in the United Kingdom. Help from the Canadian archival community could not be expected as the profession was still in the early stages of development. Turning to the Manual of Archives Administration by Hilary Jenkinson, he found little assistance as “in Jenkinson’s view, only official documents that had been continuously in official custody were entitled to be designated as archives”. He added that Jenkinson “would have looked upon the Provincial Archives of British Columbia, with its small collection of official records and its much larger accumulation of historical manuscripts, transcripts, etc, as being little better than an archival dog’s breakfast.”5

Lamb’s approach to archival administration was a simple one: “look for practical solutions to practical problems.”6 His first priority at the Provincial Archives was to improve the management of space to give better access to the existing archival holdings. Next on his list was to activate the acquisition of post-confederation provincial records. Despite his best efforts, Lamb did not succeed in obtaining legislation which would have regulated the disposal of government records and assured the transfer of historical records to his institution. He attributes his failure to two factors: the “lack of accommodation to which records in volume could be transferred” and an old nemesis of his, which Lamb calls the “1871 fixation - the widespread impression that the Archives should be concerned only with the early days of exploration and the Colonial period that ended in 1871, when British Columbia joined Canada.”7

Years later, as Dominion Archivist, Lamb would face similar challenges on the federal scene, trying to persuade the government of the need for physical expansion of the Public Archives and the implementation of a records management programme for official records. In a kinder context, as a result of an extraordinary increase in the production of government documents after the Second World War and with the resources to bring about change at hand, his initiatives were successful. They were considered some of his greatest contributions to archival practice.8

To promote historical research and writing on British Columbia, Lamb launched the British Columbia Historical Quarterly in 1936 and presided over successful efforts to expand the membership of the British Columbia Historical Association that same year. He details in his memoirs his efforts to bring the publishing project to fruition and sustain it during his ten years as editor. Lamb would later be recognized for his impressive work in historical editing, especially with works on exploration, such as the journals of Sir Alexander Mackenzie and George Vancouver.

In his dual position as Provincial Librarian and Archivist of British Columbia, he renewed his involvement with libraries which had started with part-time work at the UBC library during his graduate days. When appointed Superintendent and Secretary of the Public Library Commission in 1936, the largest extension service in Canada was added to his duties. New challenges awaited Lamb with his appointment as Librarian at the University of British Columbia in September of 1940. At UBC, he was returning to an institution which would see radical changes with post-war expansion. Lamb remembers the years 1945 to1948 as “a time of great stress and strain, as veterans arrived in droves and we found ourselves trying to meet the needs of 9300 students with facilities that had been designed to serve 1800 at the most.”9He succeeded in obtaining funding for additional quarters and worked closely with architects in planning the building, completed in 1948.

While at UBC, Lamb was asked to take on the cause of creating a National Library as President of the Canadian Library Association. In this capacity Lamb met with Prime Minister Mackenzie Lyon King in June 1948. The Prime Minister was so impressed with him, that after the meeting he told J.W. Pickersgill, on his staff at that time, “that man should become head of the Archives right away.”10Three months later, Lamb was appointed Dominion Archivist, and 5 years after, National Librarian.

C-006057 : Dr. William Kaye Lamb, Dominion Archivist, 1948-1969

Dr. William Kaye Lamb, Dominion Archivist, 1948-1969. William Kaye Lamb Collection.

Training for a noble profession

In his tribute to the career of Dr. Wilfred I. Smith in 1998, Ian E. Wilson, then Provincial Archivist of Ontario, wrote about one of the legacies left by the former Dominion Archivist at the National Archives, his leadership style: “Wilf introduced a more modern approach to administration, recruiting a capable management group, delegating, and broadening participation in the acquisition of private materials, and in (current management terms) empowering staff.”11 A look at Dr. Smith’s early life through his personal archives held at the National Archives of Canada, sheds some light on the experiences which helped to shape his character and develop the intellectual and managerial skills he brought to the institution during his years as its head. The years before the Archives are well documented in correspondence, personal diaries, military records, photographs and in the education files series. Of particular value is the collection of letters to his family. Rich in anecdote, they cover his years as a student at Acadia University, as a graduate student and member of the academic staff at the Universities of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and especially as a Canadian officer in the British Army during the Second World War.

Wilfred I. Smith was born on May 20, 1919 in Port La Tour, a small fishing village on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia. After obtaining a Teacher’s Certificate at the Provincial Normal College in Truro, Smith taught grades 1 to 10 at a one-room school in Villagedale in 1938-1939. The next fall, at the age of 20, he was promoted to the principalship of a two-room village school at Jordan Falls, where many of the students were around the same age as he was. Short descriptions of current events and his daily activities were noted in Smith’s personal diaries for those years. They provide glimpses of his early responsibilities as a teacher, school administrator, a coach of sport teams and of his interest in current events surrounding the ongoing war.

A scholarship for a year’s tuition received while at Teachers College and a desire to become part of the University’s track team, led him to enroll at Acadia University in 1940. Living on the University campus at Wolfville, Smith started a regular correspondence with his mother and other members of his family. In it he described academic activities as well as his athletic achievements and other extra-curricular activities, most notably his military training. The letters show his increasing interest in historical studies which would lead him to obtain an Honours BA in History in 1943 and, after his return from the war, a MA in History.

However, most of his personal letters during this period reveal that his foremost desire was to join the Canadian Army as an officer and serve at the front in Europe. During his undergraduate years at Acadia a good part of Smith’s spare time and his summer months were spent attending training camps as a member of the Canadian Officers’ Training Corps (COTC). Following his graduation in 1943, Smith attended the Officers Training Centre in Brockville, Ontario for three months where he successfully completed his training as an infantry officer. He was then posted to train infantrymen in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick before being sent to Europe in April 1944.


  1. Ibid, p. 67.
  1. Ibid.
  1. Ibid, pp. 70-71.
  1. See Ian Wilson’s article, “A Noble Dream”: The Origins of the Public Archives of Canada”, in Archivaria, No. 15, Winter 1982-83, p. 35; Danielle Lacasse et Antonio Lechasseur, Les Archives nationales du Canada 1872-1997, La Société historique du Canada, Brochure historique No. 58, p. 17.
  1. W. Kaye Lamb fonds, MG 31, D 8, vol. 18, file 7, p. 127.
  1. J.W. Pickersgill, “Kaye Lamb in Ottawa”, in Archivaria, no 15, Winter 1982-83, p. 5.
  1. Ian E. Wilson, “In Memoriam Dr. Wilfred I. Smith: An Archival Tribute”, in Archivaria, No. 46, Fall 1998, p. 176.

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