Giving the gift of history

It’s that time of year again, the season of giving. Stuck for holiday gift ideas? Why not give the gift of local history? How about creating your own artwork using historical photographs of Vancouver? Sound intriguing? Then read on for a step-by-step guide to downloading hi-res photos from our online database.

The City of Vancouver Archives has approximately 80,000 high-resolution photographs that are available for download from our online database. They are either Public Domain or City of Vancouver copyrighted images, which means that you are free to download and use them for anything your heart desires. The creative possibilities are endless, so let’s get started.

  1. First, navigate to the City of Vancouver online database –
Search Archives main page. Select "Advanced search" at top of page.

1. Search Archives main page. Select “Advanced search” at top of page.

Continue reading

The Archives at Vancity Theatre – A Distant Mirror & Reflecting the City

The Archives returns to the Vancity Theatre this November with Vancouver – A Distant Mirror. Over the summer, we worked with local historian and artist Michael Kluckner to program this year’s archival screening. This year’s roster will premiere newly digitized films not yet available in our online database. We will be showing home movies, and industrial and promotional films from the 1920s to 1960s that focus on the city’s landmarks, transportation, industry and domestic spheres. Here is the trailer for this year’s screening.

As with previous screenings, this showing will feature two live elements. Continue reading

Friends of the Vancouver Archives Photographic Cold Storage Facility

We have a specialized, custom-built freezer to provide the highest standard of care for the storage of our photographic materials. It was the first institutional freezer built to the specifications researched by the Smithsonian Institution and it was officially opened by Mayor Philip Owen on February 20, 2002.

Mayor Owen being offered scissors

Mayor Owen is offered scissors to cut the ribbon on the freezer in 2002.

Why a Freezer?

Some types of photographic materials are unstable and cold storage will prolong their useful lives. Storage at freezer temperatures will prolong their lives the longest.

Without cold storage, cellulose acetate negatives wrinkle and become brittle 
as they give off acetic acid (vinegar). Continue reading

Putting the Goad’s 1912 Plan into Open Historical Map

We’ve had great response to making Goad’s 1912 Fire Insurance map available as a Vanmap layer and as downloadable open data. We received a request to make it available in a different type of service so that the information can be used a variety of ways. As a result of all the feedback, we plan to contribute the information through Open Historical Map and the Province of British Columbia’s innovative BC Developers’ Exchange is collaborating with us to help make it happen.BCDev-home



The BC Developers’ Exchange is an experiment to find ways that help the public and private tech sectors innovate and collaborate. They are helping share code created by BC’s public sector and collaborating with vendors to make that code better. The Exchange is also supporting the sharing and re-use of other digital resources. Continue reading

More improvements to our online search

We’ve recently updated our online search to add a few new features.Date-range-location


In response to your suggestions, we sponsored development of an improved date search. It’s in Advanced Search, on the left sidebar. Continue reading

Map repaired with a blank ballot

This year, we received funding from the B.C. History Digitization Program to digitize more maps and plans from our holdings. The maps need conservation work done to them before they can be digitized. Here’s an example of a map that had an unusual old repair.

Back of map, close-up showing old repair.

Back of map, close-up showing old repair. Item No. LEG1153.367

This is one sheet from a set of Point Grey sectional maps from the 1920s. The map is 2.8m long, printed on cloth and has several tears at one end. A very long time ago, probably in 1929 or soon after, someone repaired it with cheesecloth, paper and glue, and later with adhesive tape.

The repair paper caught my eye. Once it was removed, I took a closer look. It was made of blank ballots!

Patch material from back of map.

Patch material from back of map.

The questions on the ballot identified it as the second page of the money ballot from May 15, 1929, which we have as part of the City of Vancouver Record of Elections.

Second page of money ballot from May 15, 1929. Reference code COV-S37-- .

Second page of money ballot from May 15, 1929. Reference code COV-S37– Container 87-G-1 vol. 2.

Today’s equivalent of the money ballot is the capital plan borrowing questions section of the modern ballot.

Since the original map was created by the Municipality of Point Grey, and the repair pages are 1929 City of Vancouver ballot papers,  it seems likely that the maps were received during the process of amalgamating Point Grey and Vancouver (along with South Vancouver) in 1929. The repair was probably made by someone in the City of Vancouver who needed to use the map. Amalgamation included coordinating the street grid and street naming.

The map was repaired and the torn end now looks like this:

Front of map after treatment, detail of one end.

Front of map after treatment, detail of one end.

Association of Canadian Archivists Conference 2015

In June, I attended the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) annual conference in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Hotel Saskatchewan

The venerable Hotel Saskatchewan, site of the 2015 ACA conference

The Association of Canadian Archivists is the national professional organization for archivists in Canada outside of Quebec. Here are some highlights of this year’s event.

TAATU – the technology unconference

If you’re into tech, one of the best parts of any ACA conference is The Archives and Technology Unconference (TAATU). Hosted by the Technology and Archives Special Interest Section (TaASIS), TAATU is laid-back and designed to be non-intimidating for non-techies, but it also has its serious side, perhaps this year more so than others. As more and more Canadian archives adopt AtoM as their holdings management database and experiment with its sister product, digital preservation system Archivematica, TAATU has become a valuable venue for sharing information, including success stories and lessons learned, for both open source products. Continue reading

Our digitized maps are now available in TIF format

This post is of special interest to the mapping community and may be too technical for some researchers.

We digitize all of our images—photographs, maps and text—as TIFF master files, which are processed through our digital preservation system and preserved in our secure digital storage. We have been making all our digitized images available to researchers in our online search in JPG format. It allows us to make high-resolution files available in a fairly small size so they can be opened and viewed quickly. The quality is good enough for most uses.

Clicking on this map image will bring up the high-resolution JPG version, which can then be downloaded.

Clicking on this map image will bring up the high-resolution JPG version, which can then be downloaded. Note the usual descriptive metadata below the image.

The mapping community has told us that JPG files are not good enough for their use. TIF or PNG formats give the best results when manipulating files in mapping software. The original scanned files, without any compression artifacts, would be the most useful.

To support the use and re-use of these valuable resources by everyone, we’re making losslessly compressed versions of the original TIFFs of our scanned maps available for download. We’ve added a link to the TIFF of a map to our online search as part of the descriptive record for that map.

Scroll down to find the link to the TIFF on the City’s FTP site.

Scroll down the description to find the link to the TIFF on the City’s FTP site.

So that you can verify that the file downloaded correctly and completely, we’ve included the full file size and the MD5 checksum.

We’d like to thank City Information Technology, whose recent upgrade of the City’s FTP site made it possible for us to make the files available this way.

Microfilm Scanners

In the last couple of years, we’ve been replacing our old, analogue microform reader-printers with new digital microform scanners. We’d like to show you why researchers like them so much.

Microform workstation with Indus 4601-SL scanner.

Microform workstation with Indus 4601-SL scanner.

Microforms still have to be used by researchers, as we have hundreds of reels of film and thousands of fiche and aperture cards. These new scanners provide fast and convenient viewing and saving of images.

The workstations can be used with many styles of microform and will also scan to file or scan to print.

The scanners will work with all these different styles and colours of fiche, aperture card and film.

The scanners will work with all these different styles and colours of fiche, aperture card and film.

The scanners produce crisp, high-resolution scans and will scan in colour, greyscale or bi-tonal. Images can be cropped and rotated. Scans can be saved in common formats like PDF or TIFF.

Screenshot from a fire insurance plan.

Screenshot from a fire insurance plan.

The workstations have a wireless internet connection, so saved scans can be sent through email or dropped into cloud storage, as well as copied to a flash drive. Note that if you keep a copy of a work that is under copyright to a party that is not the City of Vancouver, you are responsible for obtaining permission of the copyright owner for publication. You may use the copy for fair dealing purposes covered by the Canadian Copyright Act, such as private study.

The scanners are attached to 27” monitors to provide a readable full-screen view of maps, plans and other large-format originals.

If you have used one of our microfilm scanners, we’d love to hear your feedback!

Our online search has been upgraded

You may have noticed that our SearchArchives database looks a little different. For example, the information for a full record is in a more compact form, reducing the amount of scrolling you’ll have to do.

Illustration of reduced screen area for new results

Screenshots of identical dimensions show the dramatic difference. The old version is on the left and the new one on the right.

The software has recently been upgraded to version 2.1 of AtoM. Most of the changes in the updated version affect how things are handled behind the scenes. Besides the example above, there are other changes that affect users:

Improved search times. Updates to the search index have reduced the time it takes the database to respond to your search query.

Searchable subject and place terms. There is a search box that appears on the Browse Subjects and Browse Places pages that allows you to search for specific terms, rather than just browse them.  Be sure to hit the magnifying glass symbol (indicated below) to search.

Search results for subject term “building*”.

Search results for subject term “building*”.

Better list of search results. There has been a change to the results algorithm that will give you results in a slightly different order.

Results of searching for “dog”. The old version is on the left and the new one on the right.

Results of searching for “dog”. The old version is on the left and the new one on the right.

We are anticipating further improvements to our SearchArchives database with the AtoM 2.2 release later this summer.