Who knew? Rare photographs portray early Vancouver and B.C. – Vancouver Sun

One hundred old prints are part of a sale of rare photographs of early Vancouver and B.C.
Most Vancouverites have heard of the Great Fire of June 13, 1886, which turned Vancouver to ashes.
Not as many know that there was a Great Fire in New Westminster as well, on Sept. 11, 1898. But a couple of rare, old platinum prints of the fire’s aftermath have turned up for sale in a new catalogue from the Wayfarer’s Bookshop, Vancouver & British Columbia in Early Photographs.
The ghostly images were taken by Stephen Joseph Thomson, and show smoky streets where buildings have been reduced to shells. The people viewing the destruction look like shadows.
Both images are very powerful, and are for sale for $750 for both. But this is much less than what an original of H.T. Devine’s famous Great Fire photo of Vancouver sells for. Alas, there is no Devine Great Fire print in the sale. But there are 30 Devine photos up for grabs, taken from an album that was purchased by Eric and Alisa Waschke of the Wayfarer’s Bookshop.
Still, some of Devine’s lesser-known images are just as interesting. In 1889, for example, he took a photograph of what seems to be two couples and a child posing in an open-air gazebo with a straw, thatched roof. It looks like something from the South Seas. But Devine has etched another location on the negative: Prospect Point, Stanley Park, Vancouver, B.C.
Who knew?
The gazebo with the straw roof was known as the “summer house” at Prospect Point, which was sometimes called Observation Point in the 1880s-’90s.
One of the reasons Vancouverites would go to Prospect Point was to watch ships pass through the First Narrows. In early Vancouver, the most famous local vessel was the S.S. Beaver, a steamship that was wrecked on the rocks below Prospect Point on July 26, 1888.
At some point before that, Harry Devine took a photo of the Beaver before it set sail for a logging camp, loaded with provisions in the front and oxen in the back. Yes, oxen. It’s for sale in the catalogue for $1,250; the Prospect Point gazebo shot is $375.
The priciest Devine photo in the sale is a print of his famed image of Vancouver’s first council meeting in a tent after the Great Fire, which is $2,500.
There is a very rare Devine photo of Gastown, pre-fire, for $1,750, several photos of gold mining in the Fraser Canyon and some scenic shots taken along the Canadian Pacific Railway line, including a wonderful print of an old steam engine crossing the picturesque Salmon River Bridge ($850).
The catalogue includes 100 photos in all, and can be obtained by emailing [email protected]. It features photos from many prominent early B.C. photographers, including the Bailey Brothers, Trueman and Caple, Richard Maynard and Frederick Daly.
Daly took a remarkable photo of a salmon weir constructed by First Nations on the Cowichan River on Vancouver Island. (A salmon weir is a structure designed to divert and trap fish in the water.) Another Daly photo of a salmon weir was in an album of B.C. photos that was presented to Queen Victoria. This print is $1,500.
Trueman and Caple were only in business for four years between 1890 and ’94 but produced some fabulous images along the CPR line and in the city, including a lovely 1891 photo of two trams from the Westminster and Vancouver Tramway Co., which was later known as the Interurban. The photo shows the trams by Central Park in Burnaby, and has already been sold to the Burnaby Museum.
Waschke deals in rare books, ephemera and photos from all over the world, and many of the photos in the sale were discovered during his travels.
“Some of the stuff I bought in California, a bunch of the stuff came from B.C., some has been bought in the U.K.,” he said. “They would be sold as tourist items, but people also moved. (Perhaps) somebody who lived in Vancouver in the early 1900s bought them, then moved to Toronto.”
Most of the items in the sale are prints, but there are some “real photo” postcards from the early 1900s as well, including an image of “Riveting the Last Spike” on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway at Fort Fraser on April 7, 1914.
“(The well-known) photographers tended to photograph big, iconic scenes, whereas with the real photo postcards you get a lot more variation,” he said.
[email protected]
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