Portage history will be enjoyed for generations to come thanks to people like Madison Poitras, who's worked with local historian James Kostuchuk, digitizing thousands of old photos. 

Poitras moved to Portage last year and attends university in Winnipeg where she's studying genetics.  She says she and her mother have a great fondness for local history. She's worked with local historian James Kostuchuk in the recent past.

"I started, I think, summer of 2022," says Poitras. "I had applied to the Fort la Reine Museum to be a summer student there. But they were full for the summer, so they recommended me to Robert (De Smet - who works for the South Central Regional Archives in St. Claude). They work with James (Kostuchuk) a lot because he has all the archiving stuff at PCI. I'm about to start working part-time a little bit again, but it's kind of on and off because they're all grant-funded."

She explains she's always been interested in local history more than world history. 

"The main project I've done with James is digitizing all of the photo negatives and newspaper clippings from Vopni Press, starting around 1970-ish to 1985," notes Poitras. "It's a long process because there are tons of photos; every newspaper there ever was. I scanned those in a digital scanner and then labeled them. I think James has been uploading my work from this past summer onto a Manitoba Historical Society website."

Poitras says there are thousands more that have yet to be digitally copied.

"I've only made a little dent, really. But I'm just amazed at how much they have," continues Poitras. "I've never been to PCI until he brought me to their archives collection there and they just have tons and tons of stuff. I also worked with some of their yearbooks at PCI. I digitized those, as well, and I think the oldest one was from 1936. And it's interesting to see how they change as the years go on. They didn't have photos in the first year-books. It's just descriptions of people and everything. It's really cool, actually." 

She says she was always interested in this field and adds she enjoys museums, and loves surveying the old pictures of the Fort la Reine Museum in some of the newspaper clippings. 

"There are old pictures of the Portage Mall, which I actually never got to see in person," notes Poitras. "It's neat to see that kind of stuff and learn about the area because I had no idea what was out here before. We don't learn about much like Manitoban history in school. So, you kind of have to seek it out."

She says she's glad she fell into the opportunity to work with archiving photos, stressing she didn't know there was such a thing here. Her mother is Allison Klassen with whom she moved to Portage last year. Klassen notes she was fascinated with her daughter's work with the old photos and was able to enjoy part of it as Poitras worked from home for much of the project.

"We set up everything in the dining room, so I've gotten to watch her work a lot and it's an absolute privilege to be involved in this history," says Klassen. "I love history. And when I heard that they're involved with Gordon (Goldsborough, the Manitoba Historical website), I said to James. 'Ohh, I would love to meet him.' And he goes, 'We can make that happen.' It's just wonderful seeing these pictures and all the work she's accomplished. James called Madison a phenomenon,"

Klassen says Poitras scanned over 35,000 photos so far over two summers and a little bit of part-time during her university studies. 

"It's the best job ever," adds Klassen. "Some people would get bored of it, but when you have that interest and that passion, it's effortless. I've taken her to PCI and we've loaded up the car with yearbooks, negatives, and you name it. It's really interesting talking to James (Kostuchuk). That man is a wealth of knowledge."

She notes her father passed away in January, and she always wanted to know where he lived in Portage, noting he worked for the Bank of Montreal.

"He boarded in some house; a room-and-board," adds Klassen. "I wasn't able to dig further and say, 'Where did you live?' Just last week, Madison's uncle brought some memorabilia from her grandparents, who have passed away. There's a certificate from King George and Queen Elizabeth when they were here in 1939. There's a certificate with her grandma's name on it, commemorating the visit to Portage. And that just blew my mind."

Klassen says Poitras was excited to show her mother, knowing Klassen was extremely fascinated with the Royal family. 

Poitras adds she's always been fascinated with genealogy and family history, noting she has family tree charts and it's become somewhat of a hobby for her.


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