Archives, Copyright, Historical documents, Historical research, Library, Photos, Preservation, Research, Writers

Historical Photo research in archives

Many archives are now working to digitize collections of their photos to make access easier for researchers to do preliminary research from their home or office, and to minimize the handling of originals.

To track down digital images, start your research in the appropriate archive for your location or subject (municipal/provincial/federal OR cultural/industrial/artistic), and see if they have a photo database you can search. 

Every database will be slightly different but generally, you can enter date parameters, location, and  photographer information, plus a subject you think will be appropriate to carry out your search.

But not all of these databases are user-friendly so write or phone the archives and ask for step-by-step instuctions or help in using them.

Don’t feel embarrassed or shy about asking for help.

Archivists know that their databases can be challenging to use and are usually more than willing to help you navigate and find something you’re looking for. 

They want you to succeed! 

Bear in mind that the images you see may only be in a thumb-nail version, or they may be bigger, but regardless, your use of them will generally be limited to research purposes only unless and until you’ve made arrangements with the archives that holds the copyright to that photo.

Considerations of fair use, copyright, and costs for various kinds of use including replication in books or used for a commercial purpose such as a poster, t-shirt, mug, or marketing material. 


Gastown – never an official name for what became Vancouver

Gastown was never an official place name for what later became Vancouver, even though it shows up on some historical maps.

It was a local sobriquet,  an

  •  assumed name.
  • nickname; or fanciful appellation
  • affectionate or humorous nickname

The tiny place, officially named Granville, aka the Old Granville Townsite (OGT) was only a few blocks long in each direction and the majority of the businesses there were saloons servicing the men who lived and worked outside the town limits, at Hastings Sawmill.

And, like everywhere, it had a local character who put a stamp on the place – in this case Jack Deighton, who kept the Deighton House Salooon. He was the kind of guy who liked to talk and had a quick wit and a boisterous voice to boot. You can almost hear his hearty laugh as he sipped whisky and teased one of the millworkers who frequented his saloon.

Someone who talked alot was said to be Gassy – hence his nickname, Gassy Jack.  And in the guys from the mill who headed over to Granville to drink and gamble started calling it Gastown, the name stuck and evern shows up on maps.

As an aside, Hastings Townsite was much further east – closer to where Renfrew Street is now.  It was a vacation spot  with a few houses and hotels.

Archives, Cellulose acetate, Historical photos, Photo processing, Preservation, Vancouver history, Visual Art

Cellulose Acetate photographic negatives preserved

City of Vancouver Archives (CVA)  has recently begun a project to digitize thousands of negatives created by commercial Vancouver photographer Don Coltman who worked at Williams Brothers Photographers, and whose images were created in the years 1941-55.

Coltman’s images cover such subjects as

This is exciting news and will add much to the photo collection of Vancouver images that are available online.

old camera

Researchers will be happy to know that all Coltman’s photographs are in the public domain and will be freely available for use once the project is finished.

The negatives are made of rapidly deteriorating cellulose acetate and are stored frozen to keep them from deteriorating further.

Because cellulose acetate is toxic, the CVA had to develop a way to digitize the negatives that would still be safe for staff and figure out a way to manage preservation of the negatives while also reducing the amount of time they are out of the freezer.

See the link at the top for more about the chemistry and preservation of cellulose acetate photos and about the CVA’s preservation work with the Coltman collection.