MOA is temporarily closed until late 2023 for seismic upgrades Learn more →

UBC Home

The Collections


Curatorial + Design

Library + Archives

Collections + Research Stories See all

Collections + Research Stories

Digitizing Oral History Recordings of Dr. Charles E. Borden

Dr. Charles (Carl) E. Borden, late Professor Emeritus of Archaeology at the University of British Columbia and widely recognized as the Father of Archaeology in British Columbia, was interviewed by Anne Melita Williams, a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology in the late 1970’s. During the interviews Dr. Borden discussed the emergence of archaeology in British Columbia and his fond memories of conducting archaeology in the province from 1945-1978. These interviews are an important contribution to the social history of archaeology and formed the basis of Anne Williams’ thesis, Carl Borden and archaeology in British Columbia: an interactive history, which can be found online through UBC’s cIRcle. Over 14 hours of Dr. Borden’s oral histories were recorded on audio cassettes by Anne Williams and have since been digitized by the Audrey and Harry Hawthorn Library and Archives.

An excerpt from Dr. Borden’s interview

In this excerpt from Anne’s first audio cassette, Dr. Borden reflects on the early periods of his archaeological work in 1945 around Point Grey and c̓əsnaʔəm, an ancient village and burial site of the Musqueam people commonly referred to as the Marpole Site or Marpole Midden in archaeology.

Learn more about c̓əsnaʔəm: the city before the city by visiting MOA (January 25, 2015 through December 2015), the Musqueam Cultural Centre (January 23, 2015 through January 28, 2016), and the Museum of Vancouver (January 21, 2015 through December 20, 2020).

Note: in listening to Dr. Borden (or by reading the transcript below), he refers to c̓əsnaʔəm as the commonly used archaeology name, Marpole Site; First Nation people as Indian; and the Museum of Vancouver as the Old Vancouver City Museum.

Audio File Caption: A five minute excerpt from cc_0013_a_ac.mp3 (MAN 46a of the Anne M. Williams fonds). Copyright: Museum of Anthropology. All rights reserved, contact the archivist for details.


Dr. Borden: …And so it was that we made our first excavations. A little later we also excavated another small site which was a short distance further east and covered by a succession of mud slides. All along, it was my idea to salvage and to prevent sites from being destroyed without any record, and many of the things we observed and excavated at that time might have been completely lost. We also recorded some interesting features that nobody had recognized; for instance, [First Nation] canoe runways. The beach along the south shore was not only sandy but it was also lined with rocks. And [First Nation people], in some places, had removed the rocks so that they could beach their canoes without damaging them. There are negatives of two of these canoe runways in the archives at UBC. Thus, my interest in archaeology having been reawakened, I made some rather intensive surveys of the peninsula. I discovered several sites that were quite large. Most of them were partly or almost totally destroyed. One is right within a stone’s throw of the University. I don’t know whether you know Northwest Marine Drive just where the houses begin on the left side when you drive to the University down from town?

Anne Williams: Is that the area called Point Grey?

Dr. Borden: Yes, and to the right, opposite the first houses, is the Point Grey site. That was one of the sites I discovered. Another was the Locarno Beach site. With some considerable difficulty I also relocated the Marpole site [c̓əsnaʔəm] where Harlan I. Smith had excavated in the late 1900s. Smith was the Archaeologist who had been appointed to the Jesup North Pacific Expedition and he had conducted excavations there. Of course, at that time it was almost untouched. Now, the site is largely built over and destroyed. But the Old Vancouver City Museum [now the Museum of Vancouver] had engaged a man by the name of Herman Leisk, in the early 1930s, and he conducted excavations at the Marpole site [c̓əsnaʔəm]. Some of the recovered artifacts were on exhibit in the City Museum which was located on the top floor of the old Carnegie Library. After the new Vancouver main library was built, the old library building stood vacant and the museum expanded into the entire building.

Accessing the records

The audio recordings are housed in MOA’s Audrey and Harry Hawthorn Library and Archives, under the Anne M. Williams fonds. MOA’s Archives is open to researchers by appointment on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Please contact us at / 604.822.1946 to set up an appointment.

Additional archival records can also be found at the University of British Columbia Archives, under the Dr. Charles E. Borden fonds. In particular, the two negatives of the canoe runways mentioned above by Dr. Borden can be located in his fonds at the UBC Archives.