Newfoundland and Labrador’s history fascinates Jenny Higgins, a Flatrock-based writer and researcher. Her books Perished: The 1914 Newfoundland Sealing Disaster and Newfoundland in the First World War – both from Boulder Publications – are packed with vivid images, captivating facsimile documents, and riveting text.
Higgins also makes documentary videos.
Thanks to her pitch, The Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Website hosts a Documentary Series, which Higgins writes, edits, and narrates.
“I’d already been working with the website for several years, and my job was to write encyclopedia-style articles about various aspects of the province’s history,” Higgins says.
“As I did more research, I kept coming across all these fabulous visuals in the archive – photographs, handwritten letters, maps, and even old films. I wanted to find a way to share these visuals with a wider audience and incorporate them into the storytelling.”
As project coordinator, Vince Walsh oversees the entire website and provides Higgins with creative freedom.
“Jenny will often consult with me over practical matters, but in regards to the creative aspects of the series, she works very independently,” Walsh says. “That is how it should be. The last thing I would want to do is to interfere with and hamper her exceptional talents.”
The website launched the first 23 videos in 2015. They explore such topics as resettlement, the cod fishery, women’s suffrage, and the First World War. Higgins chooses topics according to specific criteria.
“I want to appeal to school students as well as the general public, so all of the videos support topics covered in grade eight or eleven courses in History or Newfoundland and Labrador studies. The topics also complement, and usually expand upon, articles that already exist on the website.”
Higgins’ goal is to bring history to life, but the project is not without obstacles.
“The thing I love about this series is that it pulls together hundreds of archival images and brings them to the public in a very accessible way – online videos,” says Higgins.
“It’s also fun to hear the voice actors reading old letters and diaries. I think it breathes a spark of life into the old documents. Finding enough images can be a problem, especially for the earlier time periods before cameras were around. Fitting all of the information into ten or fifteen minutes is another challenge.”
While a video about the 1929 Burin tsunami is the current popularity frontrunner, Higgins is focused on the second rollout and the series’ future.
“There’s one about Bob Bartlett that I like because I got to research polar exploration, which is fascinating,” Higgins says. “Another one is about the photographer Elsie Holloway, who was also a trailblazer. It’s always fun to research stories of adventure and achievement.”
The new rollout features a five-part series about Confederation. It began on Thursday, May 4th, with one video per week scheduled to appear on the website.
“We’ll post links on our Facebook and Twitter accounts, too, and people can subscribe to our YouTube channel,” Higgins says.