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From the Archives: ATA history lives on in restored volume

May 15, 2018 Maggie Shane, ATA Archivist
Bookbinding and restoration expert Alex McGuckin spent nearly 10 months restoring the ATA’s antique volume of the Statutes of the Province of Alberta, 1935.
Leading up to its official 100th anniversary in June 2018, the Alberta Teachers’ Association is celebrating its history through a number of initiatives, one of which is this column. Curated by archivist Maggie Shane and appearing in each issue of the ATA News this year, this column will feature significant moments and individuals in the Association’s history as well as interesting artifacts or documents from the Association’s archives.


For most of its first century, the Alberta Teachers’ Association has benefited from the expert legal guidance of and steadfast representation by Field Law. That special relationship was celebrated last June when the “Fielders” presented the Association’s then executive secretary Gordon Thomas with an antique volume of the Statutes of the Province of Alberta, 1935 in which the first official version of the Teaching Profession Act appeared.

The act enshrined teachers’ professional status in statute, a long-sought goal of the early Alberta Teachers’ Alliance. With the Teaching Profession Act, the old Alliance passed into history and a new entity — the Alberta Teachers’ Association — was born. The act’s passing was a pivotal point in the history of the teaching profession in Alberta.

The volume’s pages are being blocked and rebound.

A working reference book, it contains amendments that are taped into place over top of the original wording.

This particular volume of statutes brings together years of mutual effort between Field Law and the Association’s early leaders, efforts that have continued over the ensuing decades. It was a deeply symbolic gift to the Association at the outset of its 100th -year celebrations.

Reference books, however, have a hard life. They pass through many hands; encounter errant coffee cups; are annotated, updated, dragged off shelves; and are generally expected to endure only until new bound volumes are available. Pages of amendments are cut up and Scotch-taped into the volume over original text, with the glue aging badly and yellowing. This lovely volume, although cherished for its symbolism and as an artifact of history, was showing its age. It needed expert restoration.

Enter Alex McGuckin, Edmonton’s own renowned fine book binding and restoration conservator, who has dedicated decades to the craft of bookbinding. McGuckin studied his craft in England, Canada, Mexico and Greece. A specialist in historical bindings, McGuckin has preserved medieval manuscripts, as well as books of all ages and materials, including a first edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. His bookbindery workshop provides bibliopegistic services on an impressive range of books. This is the dedicated expert to whom the Association delivered the beloved, but sadly deteriorating, volume of laws for restoration.

The volume remained in McGuckin’s workshop for almost 10 months. On May 3 McGuckin personally delivered the restored volume to Barnett House. Gone were the damaged cover boards.

McGuckin does all his work by hand in his one-person workshop in Edmonton’s west end. He hand- sewed the new binding and applied gold leaf to the binding and handmade case. Finally, he added hand-sewn headbands to the volume (the original had none of this stitching) in ATA blue and gold colours. The results are spectacular, with no obvious tape abrasion or discolouration remaining in the volume.

Going forward the newly restored volume will be protected by a custom-made drop-spine clamshell case with felt bumpers and custom labelling. The Association is grateful to McGuckin for ensuring that the volume returned in time for the 100th ARA in Calgary. The Association is also deeply appreciative to Field Law for the gift of this volume preserving our shared history. ❚

The book looks brand new from the exterior due to new front and back covers.

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