The first photographic technologies were invented and developed during the 1830s and 1840s. Among more than 56,000 available photographs in UBC Open Collections, many of our oldest photographs were taken in the early periods of photographic history.
1854: Early timber cruisers beside their makeshift accommodation
MacMillan Bloedel Limited fonds contain the records of the MacMillan Bloedel Ltd and are housed in UBC Rare Books and Special Collections. The collection has more than 2,500 images documenting the history of the forestry company and its predecessors. The oldest pictures of the timber cruisers and makeshift accommodations were known to be taken in 1854, prior to when the original company, Powell River Power Company, was launched in 1909 by two entrepreneurs.
1859: Florence Nightingale
In the Florence Nightingale Letters Collection, you can find 188 letters written from and to Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) and 15 photographs relevant to her. Our oldest photographic portrait of her was taken in 1850s, before she started the first professional nurses training school, the Nightingale Training School (Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery at Kins College London) in 1860.
1887: View of the Beaver in Burrard Inlet, B. C.
You can find the oldest photographs we have in the UBC Library Framed Works Collection, which include two pictures of the Beaver, the first wooden paddle steamer on the Northwest Coast. The steamship started its sailing on May 2, 1835, near London, England and arrived at Vancouver on April 10, 1836. In 1888, the steamer was wrecked in the First Narrows in Vancouver Harbour.
How can you find our oldest photographs in Open Collections?
If you would like to explore more vintage photographs, you can search them in Open Collections as follows:
1. Go to Open Collections (https://open.library.ubc.ca) and click a search button without any keywords.
2. Select “Photographs” in Genre.
3. Select “Sort oldest to newest”.
4. Filter by “Date Range” from 1835. (If you don’t set the date range, you will see the materials whose dates are unknown.)
- Invention of photography (British Library)
- Marsh, J., Beaver (Steamer) (2016). In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/beaver-steamer
- Florence Nightingale biography (Florence Nightingale Museum)
- Explore Open Collections: UBC Library Framed Works Collection (Digitizer’s Blog, July 13th, 2016)
- Explore Open Collections: MacMillan Bloedel Limited Fonds (Digitizer’s Blog, July 7th, 2016)
- Explore Open Collections: Florence Nightingale Letters (Digitizer’s Blog, May 11th, 2017)
Correction (June 21, 2019): In the original post, we introduced the Beaver’s photos as the oldest photographs in the Open Collections. After we posted, we figured out that the first photo was known to be taken between 1888 and 1892, and the second photo was between 1839 and 1888. We edited this blog post, and will change the items’ metadata.