On October 1, 1957 a group of ten concerned citizens met in the Council Chamber of Belleville City Hall, determined to gather and preserve the history of Hastings County. Paying $1 membership each, they formed the Hastings County Historical Society.
This small group met regularly in the home of Gerald Boyce where they attended workshops and began the process of collecting historical documents, photos, maps and records, researching, cataloguing and preserving them. Mr. Boyce remained the leader, guide and inspiration of devoted teams of archive volunteers for the next 60 years. The collections grew rapidly and, in 1961, this archival collection moved to the former Hastings County Land Registry Office on Church Street. With the Society gaining recognition and strength, the County of Hastings began depositing historical records and assessment rolls along with valuable paintings while the City of Belleville turned over early assessment rolls.
In 1973 Hastings County decided to demolish the old registry office to enlarge the parking lot. The Hastings County Historical Society then made arrangements to move its holdings to the former Phillipa Faulkner home on Bridge Street East, which is now Glanmore National Historic Site. Space limitations forced the Society to transfer some of the assessment rolls and legal documents to the Ontario Archives in Toronto. Progressively, more of the archival material was moved to the Canadiana Room at the Belleville Public Library. The Society continued to expand both its holdings, research projects and community activities and the Canadiana Room at the library officially became the home of the Society’s archives in 1986. Even at this point, space was not sufficient and some of Belleville’s early assessment rolls went into storage at a vacant space in the Sir James Whitney School on Dundas Street West.
In the late 1990s, the Society negotiated a lease with the City of Belleville for part of the former Thurlow Township offices in Cannifton. This became the home of the Hastings County Historical Society in 2001 and was named the Hastings Heritage Centre. The Society’s photo archives were transferred from Glanmore and its manuscript and microfilm collections were transferred from the Library’s Canadiana Room to the Heritage Centre. The Society’s collections of priceless, irreplaceable documents, photos and maps, and newspapers were now gathered under one roof, with items now numbering in the tens of thousands. The teams of volunteers grew and became highly skilled in archival preservation.
At a meeting of the Directors of the Historical Society in 2006, then president Orland French proposed to the Board that this collection had reached such a size and value to the community that it was time to move it to the next level: a purpose-built, professionally managed archives. The concept was developed and ultimately brought to the City and County Councils in 2007, where there were many questions at first and possibly some doubts. However, as the discussions moved forward, the City and County came fully on board and the process of developing a Community Archives was launched.
The former Irish Hall on Church Street was considered and purchased, but ultimately found to be unsatisfactory. Then part of the second floor of the Belleville Public Library was offered and found to be very suitable. The Society, under President Orland French, launched a major fundraising campaign, ultimately reaching around $300,000. The City of Belleville and the County of Hastings provided additional funding and the project moved forward. Under the formal agreement, the City, County and Society are partners in the ownership of the Archives while the City and County share the operating expenses 50/50. All holdings of the Society were transferred to the Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County under the control and management of the Archivist.