Free Press, Western Archives showcase London 50 years ago

A lot has changed in the 50 years since Canada’s centennial – from fashion and sports to architecture and technology.

In London, Ont. and the surrounding region, a collection of nearly 8,000 images from the centennial year, captured by London Free Press photographers, show strikingly different streetscapes, landmarks and people.

Until now, these photos, which were donated to Western and make up a small portion of the more than 1.6 million images taken by London Free Press photojournalists between 1936 and 1992, could only be viewed by examining small and inverted negatives using a light table at Western Archives and Research Collections Centre. The sizeable collection is currently stored in fridges and freezers – to preserve the negatives’ integrity and slow down deterioration – along a wall of the archives’ space.

This year, as part of a signature Canada 150 project undertaken by Western Libraries and Western Archives, a key selection of the 1967 images have been digitized and are being made available to the general public, online at historypin.org.

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“We don’t have a lot of visual documentation from 1867 – some – but (the 1967 collection) is a rich resource of images that connects us to what happened 50 years ago,” said Western archivist Tom Belton, who is heading the digitization project. “There are a lot of people who, 50 years ago, were kids and are now maybe retired. They’re a core audience for this particular project. There’s a lot of interest in that era. There was a lot of social change and cultural change at that time that is documented, to some extent in the collection.”

Approximately 18 months ago, Western Archives began sending boxes of the negatives to a local company that specializes in digitization of negatives. It took nearly a year to digitize the almost 8,000 images. Now that Western is in possession of digital copies, Belton is spending time each month uploading batches of the photos to the Historypin website.

“Someday, it would be wonderful if we could have a seamless process for sharing these images, automatically, rather than one at a time,” said Belton.

The majority of the 1967 collection is black and white, although there are a handful of colour images as well. According to Belton, even though colour film had been around for decades, the newspaper was behind the times on switching to colour film and only used the medium sparingly, when there was a particularly colourful image to shoot.

The photos feature anything from images of car accidents and business grand openings to promotional and advertising shots. In terms of the year 1967, Western Archives digitized an extensive number of the local July 1 centennial celebration photos.

“This project is exciting for a couple of reasons. One, we are helping to preserve the collection. Yes, we are keeping the negatives in cold storage and the deterioration is slowed down by that process, but one aspect of digitization is to preserve the image in a different format,” said Belton. “Beyond that, I think the really important part is to increase access to the collection and increase community awareness about it – it’s really a collection that documents communities like London.”

Because the newspaper had several regional offices at the time, in addition to images from London, there are photos from Chatham, Sarnia, Simcoe, St. Thomas, Stratford, Wingham and Woodstock.

“It’s very gratifying to be able to pull this stuff out of relative obscurity and push it out there in a way an individual can recollect or see something they recognize,” Belton said. “I think it also has potential to be a resource that could be useful to our students or faculty members conducting research.”

In addition to sharing these images, Western Archives also shares historical images of Western and the community on its own website and its social media accounts, including Faceboook and Twitter.

For more information about 1967 in Pictures, and other Canada 150 projects, visit: uwo.ca/canada150/projects.html.