Vancouver’s Early Affection For The Art Of Photography

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by Stevie Wilson | Anyone with a camera (or a smartphone) knows that Vancouver is a fantastic place to snap incredible photographs. Long before the days of digital sharing, there were many Vancouverites with an eye and a passion for the art of photography, and their organizations tell us quite a bit about our city’s leisurely relationship with the capture of scenery.

Back in the late 1800s, photography was a passion for many well-to-do individuals with enough time and money to spend their days reflecting on the craft. The first independent club in Canada was the Quebec Amateur Photographer’s Association, which operated from 1884-1886 in Quebec City. Other creatives set out to celebrate the science and art of photography by launching numerous clubs across the country. This resulted in myriad partnerships and affiliations, with British Columbia spawning many clubs, including the Powell River Camera Club (1939), the Victoria Camera Club (1944), and the granddaddy of them all, the Vancouver Camera Club (1897). The VCC is not to be confused with the Camera Club, a 40-member co-ed Vancouver organization established two years earlier previously in 1895, though the 1897 group was purported to be the first of its kind in the province.

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The Vancouver Camera Club featured many high-ranking individuals from across the city, including the young F.T. Salsbury, whose father, William Salsbury (of Salsbury Street fame), was involved in the finance sector of the Canadian Pacific Railway and had been an alderman for Ward 1 (among many other distinctions). Salsbury Jr. was an active Vancouverite, known for being a sports fan (cricket and rowing, natch), and the first secretary of the VCC. Other members included Board of Trade member C.M. Beecher (one-time Vice President), alderman and businessman George Buscombe, and accountant Maurice Gintzburger. Most members appear to have been involved in the various resource industries that were creating a name for Vancouver back then. The club had 56 members when it launched, but it only lasted three years, disbanding in 1890.

Members would likely have been quite thrilled with the development of the Kodak camera, which launched as their club reached its nadir. Previously, other cumbersome box cameras had relied on the manual use of plates, but Kodak’s new technology introduced rolled film to the masses. The first meeting of the club was held at the Edwards Brothers Studios on Cordova Street, which was known in later years as a hub for amateur photography in Vancouver following the Kodak revolution. In 1903, the Vancouver Photographic Society was established, paving the way for a new generation of enthusiastic photographers to get together and share in their documentation of Vancouver’s adolescence. One can only wonder what sort of Instagram filters they might have preferred!

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Stevie Wilson is a historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she’s decided to branch out with a cryptic agenda: encouraging the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with You Should Know, a Scout column that aims to reveal to readers the many historial things that they already see but might not undertstand.

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