The Maritime Museum of British Columbia Nautical Archives and Library (Victoria BC)

by John MacFarlane 2018

Judy Thompson

The MMBC Librarian Judy Thompson (Photo by MMBC volunteer Maureen Bull.)

The Librarian at the Maritime Museum of British Columbia (MMBC) is Judy Thompson. She says, "I started working in libraries in the early 1960s but didn’t get my MLS degree (Master of Library Science) until 1981 (at UBC). My undergraduate degree (BA) was from the University of Saskatchewan. Prior to my retirement, I spent about 15 years as an international election administrator in over 20 countries coming out of war or dictatorships. After retiring, I started volunteering as a librarian for various groups so I could use my skills again. I joined the team at the Maritime Museum in 2012."

In 2015 the Maritime Museum of British Columbia moved from its longtime premises in the old courthouse on Bastion Square to a newer smaller location on Humboldt Street in Victoria (opposite the Empress Hotel). While this was quite traumatic for the Museum there were unanticipated wonderful consequences in that the collection – including the library – found a new secure and environmentally controlled storage space. This is where almost all of the library is held now and where Judy works organizing the collection catalogue.

For the first half of its history the library was not catalogued, until the arrival about 1990 of the late Jack Hopper, a retired librarian. He suggested re–organizing the library based on the traditional Dewey Decimal cataloguing scheme and made some significant progress before ill health forced him to step down. He gave the Museum thousands of hours of volunteer professional services. Some other volunteers followed him but until the arrival of Judy Thompson the elusive goal of professional standards remained out of reach. The Museum still uses this approach but Judy is streamlining its application.

Jack Hopper

Jack Hopper was the first professional librarian to work on the collection. (Photo from the Nauticapedia collection.)

Judy explains, "I have been at MMBC for six years and I am involved in an ongoing cataloguing project to bring consistency to the catalogue of books. This has been a big task. My research activities for the past year have focused on the passengers and crew of the S.S. Princess Sophia. Currently, attention has turned to the Park–class and Fort–class ships build during the war. Parks Canada is planning an exhibition and we are looking at the ones built in Victoria. Three volunteers are cataloguing the photographs and another volunteer is entering them in the data base. So far, 12,000 photos are catalogued with about 4,000 more to finish it. There are about 8,500 books in the data base. As well there are hundreds of vertical files on ships, biographies and topics of nautical interest."

She says, "One of the strengths of the collection is the vast holdings of RN and RCN Navy Lists which have been used by many researchers. As well, the history of the Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy are covered along with naval engagements from both World Wars. There is a large collection on all topics related to recreational sailing. At the moment the largest part of the collection is in storage but is quite accessible. There are good runs of about 60 different serial publications,"

"Visitors who require access to certain titles, request them in advance so they can be brought to our Nootka Court reading room location for perusal. This is true of the archives collection also. The most interesting part of what I do are the many research requests we receive, mostly by e–mail and from all parts of Canada and other countries. We bring the information together for anyone who wants to look at it in person. Otherwise, scans are sent by e–mail." "The library catalogue went online almost a year ago. It is available at the MMBC Library Catalog. It will be updated as needed. The Archives Catalog is being readied to go online also. I am not personally involved in the archive project as the library takes up the time I have at MMBC."

Judy is a volunteer and gives two days a week of her time to the Museum. Over the years she has given more than 4,000 hours of volunteer time, an impressive total.

Persons considering donating material must submit a proposed list of materials in advance as the Museum cannot accept duplicates of materials already in the collection.

The Maritime Museum of British Columbia reading room is located at Nootka Court, 634 Humboldt St., Victoria, B.C. V8W 1A4 (across the street from the Empress Hotel). Email them ( or phone in advance for an appointment if you want to talk to the research volunteers or use the reading room resources. (They may have to retrieve some materials from the collections storage to assist you.) Judy says that you may be required to wear protective gloves to handle some sensitive materials (they will be provided).

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2018) The Maritime Museum of British Columbia Nautical Archives and Library 2018.


Site News: March2nd, 2019

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