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Mariposa goes digital

By Sara Carson, Orillia Packet & Times

For years, the Mariposa Folk Festival's rich history was stored away in more than 350 boxes in the basement of a Toronto art collective on Queen Street.

"They were in a basement room with a sewer pipe running overhead, which was kind of scary," said festival president Chris Lusty. "We had no way of taking care of it properly."

With no funding to care for the archives, the Mariposa Folk Foundation sent out requests to find an institution that could take on the challenge, Lusty said Tuesday.

The Clara Thomas archives and special collections at York University acquired the materials in 2007.

"It was a tough decision," Lusty said. "On one side, you're giving up all this stuff that's ours, but you have to get past that and realize it's not ours, it's Canada's. Giving it to York was the best solution."

On Monday, York University launchedMariposa: celebrating Canadian folk music,an online digitalized archive, said Anna St. Onge archivist, digital projects and outreach.

The project was funded through a Ministry of Heritage grant.

"We agreed that in addition to providing traditional access to the materials, we'd make an effort to make the materials more widely available and assist in the long-term preservation of those materials," she said. "It's important to Orillia and it's important to communities in Toronto and the province and across Canada."

The website focuses on the first 20 years of the festival's history. The Mariposa Folk Festival is celebrating its 50th anniversary in Tudhope Park this weekend from July 9-11.

Included in the archives are personal records kept by festival founder Ruth Jones McVeigh of Orillia, which were originally donated to Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa.

McVeigh requested a transfer of the materials when she learned of the York project.

Digitalized online is a brown spiral-bound notebook in which McVeigh began writing of her idea of a folk festival in Orillia and developing the plans.

At the time, she was a 33-year-old mother of four, living on Bay Street.

McVeigh wrote in the notebook: "John Fisher addressed Chamber of Commerce dinner at Pav -- gave talk on improving tourist attractions in Orillia. Caught flu -- had time to think for a change -- top interests folk music -- Orillia setting -- together -- why not?"

The notebook is Lusty's favourite aspect of the archives.

"That was the very beginning of the festival," he said. "That, to me, is the most compelling thing."

Live music recordings from workshops and concerts have also been added to the online archive, St. Onge said.

"The sound recordings really are unique and that's the exciting part of the whole project," she said. "The workshops are really unique because you get artists that would never perform together otherwise performing in a casual, really dynamic way."

There are many recordings that have not been put online as York must contact each artist for permission, St. Onge said.

"It is a challenge because some of these workshops would have brought together folk musicians from all over the continent and some of those folk musicians aren't available, they've passed away or they just don't perform anymore," she said. "So it's difficult to contact them."

York is also attempting to get permission for a recording of American folk singer Pete Seeger playing with blues musicians from Mississippi, activists from the Great Lakes and Cree elders from the James Bay region.

"They're all talking about water rights in the 1970s, the issues of clean waterways and getting involved in your community to maintain clean water sources," St. Onge said. "It's amazing because the issues are still pertinent today."

As archivists are still processing material, only 8% of the festival's data is currently online, she said.

There are photos, promotional material including posters, flags, historical programs and buttons, organizational records and correspondence, St. Onge said.

"It's the meat and potatoes of running a volunteer organization and dealing with artists and dealing with labels and getting funding in and making sure everyone gets fed," she said.

Website viewers can add to the archives by posting comments on all of the digitalized material, St. Onge said.

"In a lot of ways, (the festival is) a community event. It's the organicness of getting the feedback from the audience. That is what we're trying to do with the exhibit," she said. "It's a space where people can talk about their memories of the festival and talk of the impact of the festival and the music on them."

To see the Mariposa Folk Festival archives, visit

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