'Working with people you've known for so long makes it easy'
Nathalie Hodgson knows exactly what her favourite item in the Concordia archives is. The small, beautifully preserved late 19th-century envelope is part of the Hingston Family fonds — a collection of photographs, letters and documents from Montreal’s storied Hingston clan. On its front is the elegant handwriting of former Montreal mayor William Hales Hingston’s wife, Margaret.
“While I was processing the documents, I found a little envelope, and inside Lady Hingston had put all the letters from her daughter, who died in 1907,” explains Hodgson, the historical archives lead at Concordia’s Records Management and Archives department.
“She had put ‘The last letters of my darling Aileen’ on the front. And for me, that is so…” she breaks off, sounding emotional.
Hodgson is among the 326 staff and faculty who will be recognized on December 3 for their decades of employment at the Long Service and Retiree Luncheon. Since 1963, Concordia has presented Long Service Awards to faculty and staff who have been associated with the university for 20 years or more, to pay tribute to their contributions to the institution.
“She cries almost every time she tells this story,” says Vincent Ouellette, an archivist and records officer, with a laugh.
“Every time,” seconds technician Caroline Sigouin. Both Ouellette and Sigouin are also being celebrated at the luncheon.
Having spent the last 30 years working together, the three know each other well — right down to what will move one of them to tears. “Instead of saying we’re an old couple, we say we’re an old trio,” Hodgson adds.
They began working at Concordia as archivists in 1988; Sigouin started in March, followed by Ouellette in July and Hodgson in November.
A growing archives department
Hodgson, Ouellette and Sigouin started at Concordia at a time, they say, when universities across Quebec were just beginning to develop their archives. Over three decades they watched the university’s campuses and faculties expand.
“In comparison to when we started, there is a big difference,” Ouellette says. “There are many, many more buildings, and faculties are growing.”
“The question of what is a university campus was a challenge for Concordia,” Sigouin says. “The Sir George Williams Campus wasn’t well established when we started. It was mainly the Henry F. Hall Building and the Norris Building on Drummond Street.”
The archives department grew along with Concordia, from a four-person team that shared the same room as the archival material to a 12-person department split between records management and historical archives, with a dedicated storage vault.
The vault contains department and faculty administrative records, archives, and private collections or fonds from members of the Concordia community, including at one time a collection on the history of Montreal’s jazz scene.
Archives in the digital age
The job has changed too, Hodgson says. She remembers seeing a book about the “paperless office” being discussed in her university program — but it has only now started to come to fruition, with the increased archiving of digital documents.
“We have some records that are only digital,” Ouellette adds.
Most people don’t spend their whole career in the same place — and Sigouin admits that when she first started at the university, she couldn’t imagine the idea.
“There are people who’ve been at Concordia longer than us,” she says. “And when you’re starting you think, ‘How do people do it?’ And then here we are 30 years later. It’s incredible.”
Hodgson and Ouellette both say it has been a passion for history and the archives that has kept them around, and Sigouin agrees.
“When you’re enjoying your job, you’re enjoying the challenges and you’re growing within your job as well — and with people you’ve known so long — it makes it easy.”
Learn more about Concordia’s Long Service Awards.