He wasn’t certain he wanted to do it — after all, 41 years is a lot to let go of, a lot to hand over to strangers.
Would they value it? Would they understand it was more than a collection of old photographs and blueprints, that the yellowed documents and that heavy antique sign, those dog-eared logbooks, told a story?
“This is sort of the story of your working life, isn’t it, Dad,” said Vicci Ryan as she watched her father sift through the contents of a large plastic bin.
Vic Newman’s eyes swept over the items. “Oh yes,” he said quietly, nodding.
Minutes earlier, Newman and Ryan wheeled the bin into Kamloops Museum and Archives to donate what is believed to be the largest collection of memorabilia remaining of the old Royalite oil refinery in Kamloops.
The collection includes at least 100 aerial photographs taken before, during and after the 1952 construction of the refinery, which operated from 1954 to 1983 next to the Kamloops Airport. (The refinery later became a fuel storage facility).
Newman worked at the facility through four ownership changes. He started as a young labourer when Royalite opened the site and worked his way up the job ladder as the refinery was purchased by British American Oil then Gulf Oil then Petro-Canada, which ran it as a storage facility.
During the height of the refinery years, 12,000 barrels of crude oil moved through the facility.
When the refinery was closed in 1983 and the main facility was disassembled and shipped to its new owners in China, Newman helped set it up.
He returned to Kamloops and spent the next 14 years working on the property for Petro-Canada. It was during this time that he collected — or, more to the point, saved — the treasure of memorabilia.
“People were going to throw it out,” he said.
“I kind of like to save things.”
Little by little, Newman gathered pieces of history. He salvaged the metal sign that hung outside the Royalite office, he saved the boardroom furniture, saved the company scrapbook, which was full of old newspaper clippings, and saved two dozen or so rare aerial photos of the Tranquille and Brocklehurst areas.
One photo shows the former Tranquille sanatorium.
“I don’t think I’ve seen such a comprehensive photo of the sanatorium,” said museum curator Dennis Oomen. “It’s all there. That’s nice to have.”
Oomen and archivist Rob Gilbert will spend the next four weeks cataloguing and processing the items.
“I’d say this (collection) is very significant,” added Oomen.
“The neat thing about this is there are objects for the museum and plenty of material for the archives.”
Once catalogued, the artifacts, photos and documents will be available to researchers or anyone who wants to learn more about the city’s industrial history.
As for Newman, he’s a man of few words, but the pride he showed as museum officials pored over his donation was clear; he had found worthy caretakers for his Royalite treasure, ones who valued it as much as he did.
“I am thrilled that many people will be able to bear witness to my dad’s many years of hard work at the refinery,” said his daughter.
“He is so happy that the pieces will be taken care of for the future.”