Canadian artifacts added to UN's Memory of the World Registry

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Two of Canada's oldest archival treasures will join the Gutenberg Bible, France's famed Bayeux Tapestry and more than 150 other globally significant cultural artifacts as part of a United Nations listing of the world's most precious documentary "monuments." A 340-year-old collection of records detailing the operation of the Hudson's Bay Company - spearhead of British claims in the future Canada - and the even older archive of New France's earliest Catholic seminary are the first Canadian additions to the Memory of the World Registry, the textual and audio-visual equivalent of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

An eclectic assemblage of artifacts of "exceptional universal value," the UN registry has also added the 1939 U.S. film classic The Wizard of Oz and the court transcripts of Nelson Mandela's 1963 trial to a collection billed as a kind of virtual time capsule for civilization.

Other items previously listed include Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and the archives of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Now in its 10th year, the Memory of the World project provides international recognition and UNESCO funding for the conservation and digitizing of globally significant specimens of documentary heritage.

Archival collections from several countries have been honoured, but less conventional artifacts - such as the 1906 Australian movie The Story of the Kelly Gang, the world's first feature-length film - have also been listed.

Canada's first successful nominees represent not only the centuries-old holdings of two key institutions from Canada's early history, but also the competing interests of Britain and France in colonizing North America.

The Hudson's Bay Company, established in 1670, built a network of trading posts that penetrated Canada's vast interior and set the stage for British control of much of North America.

The company's massive documentary collection - which includes business records, medical journals, ships' logs, maps, paintings, photographs, scientific data, census records and dictionaries of native languages - was donated to the Manitoba government in 1993 and is now held by its provincial archives.

"For two centuries, the HBC operated not just a business enterprise, but also a government," said the archives' UNESCO nomination. "These records illuminate important aspects of Canadian social and cultural history. Their continuity is unparalleled, allowing historians and researchers to check and compare positions and points of view from all ends of the corporate perspective of one company." Among the archives are the journals, letters, maps and drawings of key figures in the company's - and the country's - early history, including explorers Samuel Hearne and David Thompson.

One of the most significant artifacts in the collection is an 1801 map by the Blackfoot chief Ac-ko-mok-ki showing the territories of all tribes living in the Rocky Mountains region of Canada.

The Quebec Seminary Collection, held at the main provincial museum in Quebec City, documents nearly 200 years of religious education and associated activities in New France.

Letters between officials in Canada and France - including French kings - are part of the seminary's vast archive.

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