Music researchers at the University of Calgary are pinching themselves over a $2 million grant that will allow them to archive a massive collection of rare music that spans more than 50 years of Canadian history.

Universal Music, which had acquired EMI Music Canada, had donated the massive collection of more than 18,000 audio files last year, but the university had to wait for a grant before attempting the tricky task of preserving it. The treasure trove of music is stored on fragile tapes, records and reels that are on the verge of falling apart, so much work is needed to save the information before it disappears forever.

“The actual information is literally falling off the tape, and the way to reverse that process is to bake it in a dry oven,” Nathan Chandler, an audiovisual preservation technician, told CTV Calgary. He says each tape needs to be put into an oven for 10-20 hours to prevent it from disintegrating.

The EMI Music collection spans 1949-2012, and has been dubbed the largest of its kind in Canada. It also includes photos, lyric sheets, production notes and drafts of album art, as well as approximately 13,000 master audio files.

“There’s no other copies of those anywhere in the world,” Tom Hickerson, university librarian and vice-provost, said of the master audio files. He adds that preserving the audio-visual recordings is particularly challenging because they are the most fragile, and the technology to play them is difficult to find.

“It’s rather spectacular that the collection even exists,” Hickerson said.

Other gems in the collection include an unreleased Tom Cochrane cover of the song “Hit the Road Jack.”

EMI Music Canada introduced a number of major artists to Canada, including the Beatles and Pink Floyd. Its parent company broke up in 2012.

U of C archivist Robb Gilbert hailed the collection for offering a valuable “behind the scenes” look at a major Canadian record label. “The amount of research that can be done is going to be really positive for Canadian culture,” he said. “There’s tons of music to discover in this collection.”

Gilbert adds that the $2 million grant will be tremendously helpful in acquiring all the old equipment needed to digitize the audio files.

Parts of the collection are expected to be made available to the public through a partnership with the National Music Centre.

With files from CTV Calgary