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Historical Photographs Collection

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About the Historical Photographs Collection

The collection was established by Ron D'Altroy in the early 1960s. The first major collection to be purchased was the Leonard Frank Collection, consisting of approximately 7,000 negatives capturing all elements of B.C. life from mining and forestry to ships and cities from 1910 to 1944. Over time, the number of photographs housed in the Special Collections Division has increased through the acquisition of a number of major collections, some of which have been digitized and made available through our web pages:

Canadian Pacific Railway

Approximately 1,500 images depicting the history of the CPR in British Columbia are now digitized and available for viewing via the website: Canadian Pacific Railway Collection: A Special Collection of Photographs Documenting the History of the CPR in British Columbia.  These images provide a fascinating insight into the role of the railway in the development of British Columbia. The photographs portray rural and urban railway stations; railway bridges that are true engineering feats, reaching out across the challenging topography of the province; the workers who laid the tracks and manned the locomotives; the passengers who travelled on the railway; and many of the buildings, hotels, yards, and ships that were part of the Canadian Pacific Railway in British Columbia. The images were captured by a number of different photographers and they range in date from the 1880s to the 1950s.


Early in 1994, a collection of approximately 11,000 photographs from Artray Limited Photographers was donated to Vancouver Public Library by Art Jones. This collection comprises a treasure trove of images of Vancouver from the 1940s and 50s depicting street scenes; vehicles; traffic accidents; local and visiting celebrities; theatres; parades; local architecture and industry; sports; people at work and play, as well as aerial views of the city. Approximately 1,000 images from this collection are now digitized and available for viewing via the website: The Artray Photograph Collection: Vignettes of Postwar Vancouver.

Philip Timms

Timms, with his camera and his bicycle, roamed the Lower Mainland in the first half of the last century taking photographs of scenery, towns, buildings, children and families having fun. There are now approximately 3,500 Timms photographs available online. Take a look at the following two websites for more information on Timms and his photographic endeavours:


Madeline Gunterman

A pioneer settler in the Kootenays, Madeline Gunterman took with her a camera and a bright informal attitude not found in her contemporaries in 1905 (her work is the subject of the book Flapjacks and Photographs: the life story of the famous camp cook and photographer, Mattie Gunterman, by Henri Robideau).


Leonard Frank

Leonard Frank documented life in Vancouver and industrial British Columbia between the two world wars. Photographs from the Leonard Frank Collection were the first images to be digitized by the Library.

The Province Newspaper

By a twist of fate, we received many negatives from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s that cover the perspectives of a variety of photojournalists in British Columbia. A proportion of this collection is now available online. Select: Province Newspaper Collection from the dropdown Collection menu.


The Dominion Photo Company

Percy Bentley and John Fawcett  founded the Dominion Photograph Company in Vancouver in 1914 specializing in commercial/industrial photography and portraiture. Photographs from the company range from the early 1910s to the 1960s and they document the amazing growth of the city of Vancouver during this period. The earliest photographs (1914-1926) are in glass plate format  and a portion of these are now available online. Select:Dominion Photograph Company Collection from the dropdown Collection menu.

Bailey Brothers

These pioneer photographers took several hundred glass plate panoramas of Vancouver in the 1890s.

Croton Studio

This collection comprises the work of a New Westminster commercial photographer for the period of 1950 - c1978, a period of commercial growth in the province. The Croton Studio was the official municipal photographer of New Westminster.

Daniel O'Neill

Daniel O'Neill worked summers in the Vancouver Public Library Historic Photographs Section from 1977-1980 and full-time from 1981-1983. He took many photographs for the collection during his time in Historic Photographs. These photos are now a very useful record of Vancouver during that period. Some of these are available online. Select:Daniel O'Neill Collection from the dropdown Collection menu.

Access to this collection:

A card index, known as The Historical Photographs Subject Index, provides access to the entire VPL historical photograph collection of over 90,000 accessioned photographs. Photocopies of some of the images may be viewed in the 131 albums located in the reading room. The majority of the images, however, are available for viewing only in negative format on the light table. Approximately 30,000 scanned images may be searched for and viewed in the Historical Photographs Database. This number continues to grow as more images are scanned and added to the website.

Available for purchase:

Scans of all of the accessioned photographs in the collection are available for purchase for research or personal use. For those photographs not in the public domain, and where VPL does not own the copyright, permission must be sought from the copyright owner before the photographs can be used for commercial use.  Information and the VPL fee schedule is available on how to order a VPL historical photograph.


The Commons on Flickr

Vancouver Public Library is contributing historical photographs to The Commons on Flickr,  which contains images from photograph collections around the world. The objectives of The Commons are:

  • To increase access to publicly-held photograph collections
  • To provide a way for the general public to contribute information and knowledge

The photographs from VPL's collection that are featured on The Commons are either in the public domain, and are therefore free of copyright restrictions, or VPL owns the copyright and is willing to make the photographs available for personal or research use.




Inmagic® DB/Text® Web Publisher software is used to facilitate searching and displaying the scanned photographic records on the World Wide Web. Digitization reduces handling of the delicate negatives, and increases their accessibility to the public.