The largest music archive in Canada is being preserved at the University of Calgary and contains compilations from some of this country’s most well-known artists that have never been heard before.

Universal Music Canada, which aquired EMI in 2012, gave the U of C over 5500 boxes full of music and artifacts that document its history from 1949 to 2012. 

 A $2 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will help the team to preserve the rare collection.

EMI brought a number of the world’s most famous artists to Canada including The Beatles and Pink Floyd and a cover by Tom Cochrane, which has never been heard before, was found among the thousands of recordings in the diverse collection.

The recordings are in 40 different formats and tracking down the equipment to play and digitize them can be a challenge.

"The audiovisual material is perhaps the most fragile and the most likely to become obsolete," said Tom Hickerson, Vice-Provost and University Librarian.

“When we start talking about tapes that are 30 or 40 years old, the issue is that the machines that play them are also 30 or 40 years old and if you look at modern technology, like a lot of it, cell phones and things and computers, they’ll last for maybe five to ten years tops so finding 30 year old equipment that actually still works is always a challenge,” said Nathan Chandler, Audiovisual Preservation Technician. “One of the things the grant does cover, it gives us a budget for the equipment so we can actually go out and buy some of these machines."

The collection also includes thousands of images, lyric sheets, production notes and even drafts of album artwork.

“Now that you have behind the scenes of a record label the amount of research that can be done is going to be really positive for Canadian culture. It’s just an amazing resource for figuring out the identity of Canadians in the last half century," said Robb Gilbert, archivist. “There’s tons of music to discover in this collection.”

The goal of the project is to document Canada's music history and to share the unique stories behind some of this country’s favourite tunes.

The University of Calgary has also partnered with the National Music Centre to help bring parts of the collection to the public.

(With files from Jaclyn Brown)