A sampling of material from Bill Borgwardt’s Terri Clark collection: a setlist, promotional table-top cards, a children’s cassette story that features Terri Clark, and of course, a signed white cowboy hat. Photo credit: Meghan Mackrous.

Music Fans Before Social Media: Bill Borgwardt’s Terri Clark Collection

In the Internet age, it can be easy to forget what being a fan of an artist was like before everyone had Instagram or could book concert tickets online. Photographer Bill Borgwardt spent two decades collecting memorabilia for Canadian country artist Terri Clark. With the collection’s generous donation to the National Music Centre (NMC), I had the opportunity to catalogue it and think about fan culture and the purpose of archiving Canada’s music history.

In April of 2019, I was a university student who had just returned from a semester abroad and was looking for a job. I honestly hadn’t given much thought to what kind of job, and expected serving or retail as usual. What I didn’t expect was to start working as a summer student at NMC, and begin my gargantuan summer project: The Terri Clark memorabilia collection.

The collection was donated generously by Bill Borgwardt, a multi-award-winning photographer from Alberta. He grew up listening to country bands near Edmonton, and has worked in media since 1966. His three passions have always been country music, photography, and collecting Canadian antiques, and his Terri Clark collection reflects those passions exactly. Containing everything from concert T-shirts to CDs to cereal boxes, Borgwardt’s Terri Clark collection is a comprehensive study of every single promotional item released for the artist. I started the project with no idea who Terri Clark was, and ended it with a level of knowledge about the Canadian country star that was more complete than I assumed possible. 

Clark was raised in Medicine Hat, Alberta, to a mother who was a part of the folk scene, and with grandparents who were also country singers. She moved to Nashville after high school, was signed by a label, had hit after hit, and awards and inductions followed. Bill Borgwardt’s Terri Clark collection spans the early years of her career in 1995 to the present, complete with merchandise, promotional material, and photographs. There were definitely some interesting things to sort through: A highlight might have been the Terri Clark themed beer cozy. Or maybe the ’90s newspapers with some dated opinion pieces next to Terri Clark concert coverage. 

Sometimes I wondered why, exactly, I was working through a seemingly endless pile of merchandise and memorabilia. But there’s something special about promotional materials from a time before Twitter. Nowadays, pop stars can simply tweet to their fans, you’re notified about concerts through Spotify, and interviews are largely read online. Borgwardt’s collection spans over a decade of painstakingly cut out magazine clippings and posters, from an era where you couldn’t get media about your favourite artist on demand. So things are treasured, collected, kept, and eventually become an archive. There’s a level of care there that isn’t replicated by liking a musicians’ Instagram post.

In addition to the physical collection, NMC was lucky enough to conduct interviews with both Bill Borgwardt and Terri Clark upon Terri’s induction to the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2018. These primary source oral histories complete the full picture of the collection. While I had been cataloguing everything ever released on behalf of Clark, her interviews were a peek behind the curtain. How did she feel about her hits? Her albums? Calgary Stampede and the Grand Ole Opry? Likewise, the Borgwardt interviews provided backstory as to how this immense collection came to be. I’m a history student, and information about a collection can be just as valuable as the collection itself. Preservation rarely happens by chance, and so knowing why and how things were preserved, what was deemed important and what was not – these contexts tell us a lot about a specific moment in time.

While 1995 might not seem like too long ago now, someone else, like me, will be looking up the history of Canadian country stars and the industry 30 years from now. In the meantime, we can all enjoy this collection of Terri Clark memorabilia – and maybe you can start collecting for future generations as well.