Genealogy of Lord Fraser and descendants sharing William and Hugh Fraser names, Simon Fraser letter to John Fraser, 1846. SFU Archives. Simon Fraser collection, F-208-2-0-0-0-14.


Lost and Found: Simon Fraser Letters

December 04, 2015

By Michelle Curran

When Simon Fraser University officially opened its doors on September 9, 1965, there was no University Archives to speak when Donald Fraser, a descendant of famed explorer Simon Fraser, donated a collection of manuscripts and other records to the university during the opening ceremony, the records were locked away in a desk for safe-keeping and forgotten. 

Over two decades later, that desk was unlocked and the records were rediscovered. Don Baird, then director of the University Archives, was given a folder containing the Simon Fraser records. Although Baird had been the director of the new SFU Library when the university first opened in 1965, he had not been involved with the acquisition of the records. Now, in his position as University Archivist, he would have an opportunity to take the first steps in authenticating, appraising, and preserving these records.

Experts were consulted and rare handwriting expert Don Brown was hired in 1988 to authenticate the handwritten letters. Copies of other documents written by Simon Fraser from the National Archives of Canada were used during the authentication process. At the end of his analysis, he verified the authorship and authenticity of the manuscripts and records, most dating back to 1846.

Many of the records were letters written by Fraser to family and friends, discussing his family's history. In addition, there were pages from the account books of the first Fort Liard on the Peace River dating back to 1803 when Fraser was serving as a clerk for the North West Company. Between 1805 and 1807, Simon Fraser established the first four colonial trading posts west of the Rockies. In 1808, he set off to explore the river that would later bear his name. Although he played a pivotal role in the history of British Columbia, original documents pertaining to Fraser were scarce.

140-plus years later, the records had physically deteriorated. After their rediscovery in the late 1980s, the records were enclosed in acid-free file folders and placed in secure storage with the University Archives.

Fast forward to January 2007 when the Archives received a generous grant from the National Archival Development Program (NADP), a federal source of funding that was eliminated in 2012. With NADP funding, the Archives was able to hire Conservator Rosaleen Hill to clean and repair the records.

After conducting an assessment and testing the papers and inks, Hill proposed the following treatment:

  • Clean the surface.
  • Remove tape carrier with either a heated spatula or by lifting the carrier.
  • Wash in pH neutral water.
  • Repair tears with wheat starch paste and Japanese tissue.
  • Dry and flatten between Hollytex and blotters under weights.

Some of the archivists admittedly held their breath while the records were submerged in solution. However, the conservation treatment that Hill completed (combined with storage in the archives' climate controlled vault) ensures the long-term preservation of these valuable Simon Fraser records.

SFU Archives is proud to preserve these important historical records about an iconic figure in Canada's history. Providing public access to these and other historical collections is one way in which SFU engages the world.

Link to digitized records in SFU AtoM

Recommended fonds/collections
In SFU AtoM: Office of the President fonds (F-193), series 23-3.
In the British Columbia ArchivesFonds PR-1501 - Simon Fraser fonds.

Recommended reading
Simon Fraser: in search of modern British Columbia by Stephen Hume
Simon Fraser by Galadriel Watson