Royal Saskatchewan Museum
2340 Albert Street
REGINA SK S4P 2V7
As a high school student, Lee-Ann Irvine flew to Italy with her family. The highlight of her trip, she said, was when she wandered through the remains of Pompeii, a Roman community that was buried under ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.
Perhaps it was this moment that sparked her interest in archaeology.
Or perhaps it was several moments.
Historic spots much closer to home also fascinated Irvine, who fondly remembers travelling to Batoche, Sask., the last battlefield of the 1885 Northwest Rebellion.
In high school, she knew she was interested in history, but she didn’t know much about archaeology until she began studying at the University of Saskatchewan in 1988. She loved the tangible nature of archaeology, the idea of “touching history,” of picking up historical objects and studying them.
She completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology and Archaeology in 1992 and began working for the Government of Saskatchewan in September that year, mapping palaeontological sites for the Royal Saskatchewan Museum.
From there, she worked on the First Nations Gallery that opened in 1993 and later on the interactive learning centres for the Life Sciences Gallery that opened in 2000. These interactive computer stations try to answer questions like, “How do plants and animals reproduce? How do predators find prey? And how do plants and animals survive the winter?”
In 2004, Irvine moved into her current position at the museum as the collections registrar, a brand-new position at the time, created so one person could oversee all the museum’s past and current collections records. This is no small job as the RSM houses millions of life sciences, archaeology and palaeontology collections for the province.
Part of Irvine’s job is to digitize the museum’s old, paper record-keeping system. She logs all the information into an electronic database. “We’ve moved into a digital world,” she said. “Creating the registrar position was a step forward for the museum.” One task had Irvine and summer students transcribing information from huge, old, handwritten ledger books into the database.
When sifting through paper documents, Irvine often discovers missing or incorrect information that she works to put right. “My job doesn’t sound too sexy,” Irvine said. “But there are many mysteries to be solved. Sometimes I have to find missing information. Or dig into old records to determine how things were done in the past.”
Irvine must also keep track of accession numbers—unique, identifying numbers that link to the information about every object in the collections, such as how the object entered the collection, who donated it, what the object is and what time period it comes from. In the past, these numbers were occasionally duplicated by mistake, or incorrect numbers were given. It is Irvine’s job to correct any inaccurate information and to provide all current and future numbers.
Accession numbers help tell an object’s story, Irvine said, and they are also important if legal issues regarding ownership ever arise, since the numbers link to the information about how the object became a part of the museum’s collection.
She is also responsible for tracking museum collection loans to researchers and other organizations. Each program used to oversee its own loans, but it became part of the registrar’s position to do this, in an attempt to further centralize information and standardize the use of the provincial collections.
Irvine is well-organized and devoted to creating an accurate, accessible, digital database full of the museum’s records. “I think the museum is one of the most unique places in Saskatchewan,” Irvine said. “The museum’s collections are such amazing resources on so many levels. They are a part of our history and I’m happy to be part of that.”
She also has academic interests, however, that stretch beyond her job title at the RSM.
In 2000, Irvine entered graduate school at the University of Regina to study physical geography. She wrote her Master of Science thesis on small mounds in southern Saskatchewan that occur frequently in areas used for pastureland rather than cropland. These mounds are known as “prairie pimples,” named so because when intact mounds are flattened for agricultural purposes they look like pimples or freckles on aerial maps. In 2005, Irvine wrote the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan article entitled “Prairie Pimples.”
Although several hypotheses have been proposed for similar mounds found elsewhere in North America, no single hypothesis has been proven conclusively. Although she finished her thesis in 2005, she’s still intrigued by mounds. She hopes to one day travel to see and other mound sites in North America.
Irvine’s educational and career backgrounds are diverse, which might be why she is so suited to the collections registrar position at the RSM. “I have worked and studied in many different areas, all of which are applicable to the work and research that goes on at the RSM. I think that’s why I enjoy my job so much. I get to wear many different hats and be a part of every department.”