Peterson Papers now have permanent home

By Scott Hayes

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Hinton Historical Society and the Northern Rockies Museum of Culture and Heritage recently celebrated the completion of its extensive cataloguing effort of the full collection of Tom Peterson’s research papers.

Peterson, popularly known as Jasper’s historian, had a vast knowledge of the people, the events, the geography and the geology of the Jasper-Hinton area going back a century.

“He was really active in organizing different tours with the historical society and just making different trips out into the area just to learn more about the history of it,” said Devon Fraser, the museum’s temporary archivist.

“The collection covers everything from the early Aboriginal history of the area to David Thompson’s explorations through various fur trade explorers, and all the way up to the railway era and the creation of the modern Hinton and Jasper as we know it.”

Fraser’s entire job from last October until now was to catalogue and archive this collection.

Peterson was born in Jasper in 1930 and passed away in Hinton just after his 91st birthday.

He seemed to spend all of those years immersed in the history of the region, likely due to the large influence of his mother, Constance Peterson, who was a respected historian. In 1963, mother and son helped found the Jasper Historical Society.

For his own part, Tom Peterson was an avid and intrepid explorer of the backcountry. This helped him to come to know most if not all of the trails in Jasper National Park and surrounding area. It also served him to visit and document many historic sites and events.

“Over the years, Tom made it his life’s mission to learn all about the history of this area,” said Joan Melvin, vice-president of the Hinton Historical Society.

He studied the history of local Indigenous peoples as well as David Thompson and the Fur Brigade, the Overlanders, the railway and many other subjects of historical significance to the region.

Because of his voracious appetite for this knowledge, he was occasionally given special access to documents and offered privileged information by people he met in his journeys, which he wrote down in his notes and journals.

This vast collection of research is known as The Peterson Papers, all of which was originally contained in 13 bankers’ boxes, Fraser said. One of his friends added two more large bins of material to add to it.

“It’s a good thousands of notes and documents and photocopies and photographs. It’s a lot,” she said.

Appropriately, the late April celebration took place in the Tom Peterson Room at the Hinton Municipal Library. The event included a slideshow presentation of Peterson’s last guided tour called Gateway to the Rockies.

Peterson’s dedication to documentation was invaluable to helping him co-write and contribute to several books, including “The History of Jasper,” “A Hard Road to Travel,” the “TransCanada Ecotours Northern Rockies Highway Guide,” “Tracks Across My Trail,” “Highland Soldiers” and “Jasper Robson: A Taste of Heaven.”

It was part of his life’s wish that everyone could benefit from the material, so he donated it all to the Hinton Historical Society.

“We promised that we would make the papers available to researchers,” Melvin said.

The papers are now a part of the permanent collection of the Coal Branch Archives at the museum.

Scott Hayes is a  Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/JASPER FITZHUGH/ LJI is federally funded program.

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