From its earliest days, the MHSO has worked to collect and preserve archival materials related to the histories of migration and ethnicity. Three different gathering methods have been used for its oral testimony, historical photographs, and textual records collections. First, the Society engaged historians and community researchers, especially in the initial years of its operation, to collect materials in individual ethnocultural communities, often in specific locales. These people, who included Vijay Agnew, Varpu Lindström, Lubomyr Luciuk, Susan Papp, Carmela Patrias, and John Zucchi, and the contacts and networks of trust they created remained the core of the MHSO’s approach for some time. Later, the Society adopted two other gathering methods – support, through financial and professional assistance, for the location, organization, and preservation of papers relating to particular ethnocultural associations (e.g., the Order Sons of Italy of Canada) and participation in regional, multi-community, research projects (e.g., the Delhi Tobacco Belt ethnocultural heritage project). More recently, the collection of archival materials has been undertaken in connection with specific MHSO initiatives.
The ethnic newspapers collection was established through a different means. After the Society had been in operation for several years, it became apparent that an ethnic press retrieval program was necessary. Of the hundreds of ethnic newspapers that had been published in Ontario since the mid-19th century, only about half – often just in short runs – had been gathered and preserved. Moreover, no concerted effort was being made to keep abreast of the explosion of ethnic newspaper publication, particularly non-European immigrant presses, since World War II. The MHSO tackled the problem of salvaging the Ontario ethnic press by identifying caches of copies of this fragile historical resource and by creating a system of automatic retrieval and deposit from the expanding contemporary press.
The archival materials collected and preserved by the MHSO are an excellent source of information for students and scholars, community historians, heritage and cultural organizations, genealogists, and journalists.