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U of Calgary’s new EMI music archive is a treasure trove of Canadian music history

By RYLEY WHITE | JUN 17 2016

Records from artists like Nickelback, April Wine, and Tom Cochrane might not be the first items to come to mind when you think of university library collections, but a recent acquisition could change that for the University of Calgary. The university library has acquired the entire EMI Music Canada archive from Universal Music Canada, which includes thousands of boxes worth of documents, master recordings, demo tapes, album cover art, and publicity photos from a wide range of Canadian music acts.

Some of the items found in the EMI collection. Photo by Dave Brown.
Some of the items found in the EMI collection. Photo by Dave Brown.

Over 63 years in business, EMI signed or distributed more than 200 Canadian artists, including iconic musicians like Tom Cochrane, Anne Murray, Paul Anka, Sarah McLachlan, Burton Cummings and Robbie Robertson. UMC acquired EMI in 2012 and since then, there has been speculation on where the collection would end up.

Tom Hickerson, vice-provost of libraries and cultural resources at U of C.
Tom Hickerson, vice-provost of libraries and cultural
resources at U of C. Photo by Riley Brandt.

Tom Hickerson, vice-provost of libraries and cultural resources at U of C, says UMC originally considered donating the archive to Calgary’s new National Music Centre. However, the CEO of the NMC decided the archive would be better suited to an institution which could use the collection for research and teaching purposes.

“It has just a diversity of potential research approaches to it,” Mr. Hickerson says. “Just think of it as a cultural record over the last half of the 20th century.”

The collection spans 63 years and includes 18,000 video recordings, 21,000 audio recordings, and two million photographs and documents. Since the collection is so large, it will be transferred to the university in truckload shipments over the next three-and-a-half years.

A few notable examples of items currently at the university include demo tapes from April Wine and Triumph, a written creative proposal for a Glass Tiger music video (see below for the finished product), and a Beastie Boys double platinum record award. (EMI was the Canadian distributor for the hip hop trio as well as for international acts like David Bowie, The Beatles, and the Rolling Stones.)

Right now, the university only has about 10 percent of the collection but Mr. Hickerson expects to receive the rest in two to three shipments from a Toronto warehouse per year. The material is being catalogued and will be made available on the university’s website once staff sorts through it all.

“There has actually been a team working on it for the last 10 months,” Mr. Hickerson says. UMC is providing funding over time to help staff “keep up with the pace” of sorting and cataloguing the collection, as well as to hire more staff in the summer.

Mr. Hickerson says the collection will appeal to a wide range of researchers from business to gender studies scholars.

“[In courses] like gender studies, you can very easily see the representation of women over this period of time in popular music,” he explains. “You can also look at it from Canadian studies explicitly, and the growth of this industry and its impact on the country.”

Many of the archive’s pieces are expected to be displayed through exhibitions and performances at the NMC. The rest of the collection will be stored in a high density library storage facility on campus, where people can check out items for class or research use.

“We will provide that same kind of access on the campus, as well as virtual access,” Mr. Hickerson says. “We’ve already digitized some of the images and some of the documents in the collection and those are already available on the website.”

According to a university press release, the EMI archive is the “single largest collection in the University of Calgary’s archival holdings.”

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  1. Olie Kornelsen / June 20, 2016 at 11:33 am

    As someone raised in Calgary, I actually began my EMI career (1977-1990) in Calgary, as a promotion rep. I was eventually lured into moving to Toronto in in 1980. I worked my way up as Ontario Promotion Rep to Artist Relations Manager and eventually became Director of National Promotion, where I led the Promotion, Press & Publicity, and Artist Relations departments. I’m very proud to have played a key role with some great people at EMI in Canada and Internationally, in the career development with many of the great artists represented in these archives.

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