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Shelley Sweeney in the UM Archives. // Photo by Kitty Wong, Winnipeg Free Press

Head of UM Archives leaves a rich legacy

But it's Shelley Sweeney’s passion, infectious energy and enthusiasm that will be missed most

December 3, 2019 — 

Shelley Sweeney, current head of UM Archives & Special Collections, is retiring on December 20.

Shelley has been a tireless and sustained promoter of archives and archival education in this province and at the University of Manitoba. She created a welcoming environment for all people, especially Manitobans, to donate their records, research the archives, or explore the rare book collection. In supporting myriad research projects and researchers, she has contributed to the enhancement of the lives of members of the public, scholars, and students through the promotion of the value and use of archives.

Shelley has enriched the cultural vitality of Manitoba through preservation of this province’s and this country’s cultural heritage. Her commitment to promoting the value of heritage as integral to the life of the community, and encouraged others to preserve the history of this province. By dramatically increasing and broadening the collection of the archives of private citizens and organizations in Manitoba, she has ensured that future generations of Manitobans will have a more authentic record of Manitoban history, and created a welcoming environment for women to donate their papers.

Over her tenure, Shelley has developed a strong relationship between the archival studies program and the university archives, and has been a mentor for students considering going into archival studies since 1998. She has been a strong supporter of woman in the profession and sat on the master’s thesis defense committee for 11 women in the archival studies program and the School of Art.

One of her objectives was to make Winnipeg a centre of excellence for Indigenous studies and research. Starting in 2009, she contributed substantially to the University of Manitoba’s winning bid and later led the establishment of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Shelley also has supported the Urban Aboriginal Archiving project, which led to the creation of a new type of stewarding to preserve Indigenous records, resulting in new transfers of Indigenous records to the University. She also explored different arrangements to preserve Indigenous records that appear as part of anthropologists’ private papers, and promoted Indigenous records through classes, conferences, pamphlets, posters, etc., and by purchasing early Indigenous records at auctions, through book dealers, antique sellers, etc.

A number of significant collections were acquired by her during her time at the University, including the records of the Manitoba Gay and Lesbian Society and the Walter Rudnicki fonds on the rights of Indigenous peoples. She also vigorously promoted the T.G. Hamilton Family fonds of séance records, and worked with Walter Meyer zu Erpen to increase the number of fonds and collections related to the paranormal. There are now over 50 Spiritualism and psychical research collections at the University of Manitoba, making it a world leader in the preservation of parapsychology research. Among her other significant accomplishments were the renovation of the Archives reading room and the creation of a new rare book vault.

Shelley’s enthusiasm and passion for what she loves to do is matched by very few others in archives or any other profession, and she is inspiring for many people who come in contact with her. In fact, she has infectious enthusiasm and unbelievable energy for her profession and life in general. Her friendly but determined personality has woven a network of supporters of the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections and other archival institutions. She has contributed to the enhancement of the lives of scholars, faculty, students, members of the public through a vigorous promotion of the value and use of archives. The beneficiary of all this activity is Manitoba past, present and future.

After 21 years of building the archives and facing challenges at the University of Manitoba, Dr. Sweeney’s retirement at the end of the year is well earned.


Shelley Sweeney received a BA (Latin) in 1981 from UBC. Shelley was among the first class of students in the brand new two-year dedicated Master of Archival Studies program at the University of British Columbia, the first of its kind in North America and received her degree in 1985. In 2002, she completed her PhD in Archival Enterprise at the University of Texas at Austin.

Before coming to Manitoba, she was University Archivist at the University of Regina Archives for 15 years. In 1998, Shelley became University Archivist at the University of Manitoba, and later also the first FIPPA (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act) Coordinator for the University.

Throughout her career, Shelley has advocated for archives at both the provincial and national levels, including through leadership roles in the Association of Canadian Archivists and other archival organizations, and was active in the founding of three archival societies.

She was truly a pioneer as the first two year president of the Association of Canadian Archivists In 1989. She was the principle author of the Code of Ethics for the Canadian archival profession. Shelley has presented papers at various regional, national and international conferences including in Malaysia, Australia, Scotland, South Korea, the Czech Republic, and the USA, and has published papers in referred and non-referred journals. Shelley was among the first group of archivists to have gained archival certification in the United States, and was recognized as a charter member of the Academy of Certified Archivists in 2001. She became a fellow of the Association of Canadian Archivists and received the University of British Columbia School of Library, Archival and Information Studies Distinguished Alumni Service and Leadership Award, 50th Anniversary, both in 2011.


Shelley will give a farewell talk on Friday, Dec. 6 at Archives and Special Collections. Read more.

“The Grand Reveal: A Behind-the-Scenes Peek at the University of Manitoba Archives”

A talk by Shelley Sweeney, Head, Archives & Special Collections

Friday, December 6, 2019

3:00 to 3:30 PM 

Reception with coffee and cake 3:30 to 5:00 PM

Room 330, Elizabeth Dafoe Library

More information: archives [at] umanitoba [dot] ca (204)474-9986



6 comments on “Head of UM Archives leaves a rich legacy

  1. Merlie Padre Magdamit

    Dear Madam Shelley,


    Very much proud of your achievements!

    Am also an Archivist retired from the National Archives of the Philippines.

    I just hope I had the chance to have met you.

  2. Shelley Sweeney

    Thanks Kathy! Hard to believe I’ve been in the profession since 1981. I’m ready to retire, but not ready to quit archives just yet.

Comments have been closed.

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