Focus on the Record – The Preservation of Family Photograph Collections

Some of the most interesting images at the City of Richmond Archives come from donations of family photograph collections. Family photographs are often thought to be of little interest to anyone outside of the family involved, but nothing could be further from the truth.

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Three girls take a swim at Whiterock in 1913 in this image donated by the Thompson Family. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1985 39 287.

Family photograph collections may show locations of interest and significance, portray activities of historical value and add social context to Richmond’s history.

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Irine McDonald is shown here in a duck punt on the still waters of the North Arm in 1924 in this McDonald Family photo. The Celtic Cannery can be seen in the background. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2013 47 4 5.

The City of Richmond Archives is the official repository for the inactive public and private records of enduring and historic value to the City of Richmond and the community as a whole.

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This image of Richmond Photo is one of many donated to the Archives by the family of Noel McConnell, a well known and prolific Richmond photographer who worked out of this building. He took countless photographs in Richmond, from aerial photos to wedding, sports and school photos to pictures of life around the area. Much of his work is now preserved at the Archives. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2012 2 a.

It is the work of the City of Richmond Archives to preserve and protect these records and to make them accessible to City officials and the public, as set out in Corporate Records Management Program Bylaw 7400.

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This image, donated to the Archives by the Russell Family, shows winning horse “Fair Ruffles” and jockey Wells at Lansdowne Park on June 21, 1952. Also shown are trainer Jackie Russell, Phyllis Russell, Barry Blair, Archie Blair and Roberta (Blair) Diamond. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1998 29 16.

The Archives acquires both public and private records by scheduled transfer, gift, bequest, purchase, exchange or any other action by which title to the material passes to the Archives, with the understanding that ownership is held in trust for future generations.

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This photograph of young couple walking their dog near Garden City Road between Saunders and Francis Roads, ca. 1958, is a good example of a family photo that has been donated to the Archives. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1985 5 7.

Significant photos may come from any time period, right up to the present. If you have any photographs that relate to Richmond and you are not sure what to do with them, please do not throw them away!

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A farmer raises his hat while sitting on a haystack in this photo. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1978 35 13.

Donating your original family photographs to the Archives ensures their long-term preservation and accessibility by you and your family members for generations to come. Contact the Archivist by telephone at 604-247-8305 or by email at archives@richmond.ca to determine if they might become part of the Archives’ collection.

New Archives Search Page

Online researchers will find an improved search experience for the Archives holdings on the City of Richmond Archives’ website.

There are 5 entry points, depending on the type of record you are interested in, and each one has the option of Quick or Advanced searching.

search tabs

The All Records search is just that, you have access to all the descriptions which are available online, from high level descriptions of particular fonds such as The Steveston Community Society fonds, to individual items, such as architectural drawings.

If you are looking for photographs only, use the Photos search pages. Both Advanced and Quick Search screens provide a “Digitized material only” checkbox, which will provide search results for those materials available as high resolution JPGs:

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The Maps search pages have the same Advanced and Quick Search options, but also include a new graphic interface for browsing by geographic location. Click on “Map Search” and you will see 3 “clickable” maps: two for Planning Areas (one pre-1999 and one post-1999) and one which divides Richmond into Section, Block and Range squares (this is the survey system used in legal descriptions of property.) Use your mouse to hover over the area of Richmond you are interested in; clicking on any section will perform a search of the maps for that area.

The BC Packers search includes a large amount of photographs and maps digitized in 2007 which was presented as a Virtual Exhibit on our previous website. The new search interface will retrieve these records as well as other records of the BC Packers fonds.

A recent and large addition to our digitized holdings can be accessed from the Interurban Tram link. This consists of the images created by traction enthusiast Ted Clark. Over 5000 images can be found, either by keyword or content searching such as tram line or station.

Quick vs. Advanced Search

The quick and advanced search options, provided in the types of searches described above, both access the same information.

The advantage of the Quick Search is that any keyword or phrase will search a number of database fields simultaneously. For instance an All Records Quick Search for “garden” will retrieve records with the word “garden” in the description as well as “Garden City Road” in the title. If you find your search results are too lengthy there are ways to improve your search. Search Tips are instructions found on every search page which will help you construct a more focused search.

Use of the advanced search pages will give you even greater power to combine and limit searches. Each of the 5 Search areas will have Advanced Search fields particular to the type of record. Photos for instance has subject and name fields which can be searched, in combination or alone. The Interurban Tram advanced search has car number, tram line number and station fields.

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For many of the advanced search fields, terms used in them are very specific. For these fields you need to click on the link beside the field to browse a list of terms, then choose the terms you would like to use:

list of terms

For really precise search results keywords and terms can be used in combination by using the AND / OR / NOT option for any field (this is called a Boolean search). For instance, the following example will search for all photographs with the subject term “British Columbia Electric Railway”, excluding those which are part of the Ted Clark fonds:

search example

Reference Files and Biography Files

You will notice that you can no longer search Reference Files and Biography Files on their individual pages on the City of Richmond Archives’ website. This is because they have now been incorporated into the new Archives search page along with the rest of the fonds/collection/series. Simply use the above search tips to locate the record(s) you are interested in.

Other New Features

If you would like to create a list of your search results just flag each record “Add to List” as you go. Once you are done searching, go to “View Selection’s” near the top of the page you are working in. Your list is automatically generated and can be emailed, saved to your home computer, or printed out on your printer.

What’s in a Name – Lulu Island

The City of Richmond is an island city, built on islands formed over millennia by the action of the Fraser River. The largest of these islands is Lulu Island, home to the great majority of the city’s population, farmland and industry. Even though it has been part of the Corporation of the Township of Richmond since 1879, people who were born and raised on the island will tell you that they are from Lulu Island, not Richmond, the name appearing on birth certificates, in telephone books up into the 1960s, in business names and even as an official mailing address through the 1950s. Where did this likeable if somewhat whimsical name come from?

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This map was sent by Col. Moody to BC Governor James Douglas and was dated June 29, 1860. It shows trails that were existing at the time, trails that were under construction and trails and roads that Moody recommended be built. It also shows the names of Lulu and Sea Islands, added at a later date in different handwriting. (City of Richmond Archives digital files)

The person responsible for naming Lulu Island, and many other features of the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, was Colonel Richard Clement Moody, a pivotal figure in the history of British Columbia. Moody was made the Commander of the British Columbia detachment of the Royal Engineers in 1858 and was sworn in as the Chief Commissioner of Land and Works and Lieutenant-Governor of the Crown Colony of British Columbia in 1859. Under his command the Royal Engineers located and surveyed defendable town sites, surveyed country lands, built roads,  examined harbours, and reported on mineral deposits, fisheries and other resources. Although police work was not part of the detachment’s mandate, they also took on the task of ensuring that the rule of law was upheld in the fledgling colony.

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Colonel Richard Clement Moody, Royal Engineers, one of the most influential people in early BC history. (BC Archives photo A-01722)

Moody selected New Westminster as the site of the Colony’s capitol, mostly due to its strategic location on the north bank of the river, defendable from an attack from the United States and able to be resupplied from Burrard Inlet through North Road, which was also built by the Engineers. By 1858 the New Westminster town site had been cleared and the streets were not even finished being laid out before town lots were being sold. No frontier town would be complete if some enterprising individual did not open a saloon, and so Mr. J.T. Scott opened the Pioneer Saloon in New Westminster, to which he soon built an addition “in the shape of an extended wooden shack” and called it the Pioneer Theatre. Into this rough frontier town in 1860 came the Potter Dramatic Troupe, who were dropped off on Burrard Inlet and had to walk to New Westminster along the trail which would become North Road, carrying all their costumes and set materials with them. The company’s leader, John S. Potter, was a well-known figure in early American theatre, having opened theatres and managed dramatic companies in virtually every corner of the United States. From 1855 to 1865 he operated in the Northwest, from California to British Columbia, and from October 1860 to May 1863 he was the most important figure in theatre in Victoria.

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Moody’s capital, New Westminster, ca. 1864. A frontier town on the river. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1977 2 25)

 

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Travelling theatre troupes often had to operate on a shoestring budget. Potter was held in custody in Victoria for an unpaid bill of $250 he left in Sacramento. A benefit performance for the relief of his debt was held, featuring members of the Stark Theatrical Troupe as well as members of his own company, including Lulu Sweet, and her mother and father. (The British Colonist, Feb 11, 1861)

Travelling theatrical troupes in the frontier lived a rigorous and hazardous existence. They performed in some of the most primitive theatres one can imagine, in front of audiences consisting of pioneers who were starved for entertainment, often well lubricated at the saloon to which the theatre was often attached. The troupes lived temporarily in boarding houses and cheap hotels, often had to eat poor food and were subjected to the social prejudice that was associated with theatrical people, especially actresses, during that time period. Travel was usually difficult, time consuming, and all the equipment for the shows had to be carried with them, leading to standardization of sets and costumes. A company would carry several sets, painted on canvas, such as a landscape, a fancy interior, a plain interior or a street scene. Costumes would also be adapted to serve for many roles with little attention to historical accuracy. Even the actors would play stereotypical characters for which they had developed a talent for portraying, regardless of the age or gender of the person.

Potter’s troupe played in the Pacific Coast States and Washington Territory, appearing in Vancouver Washington, Portland Oregon and many small California towns. They also performed in theatres in San Francisco and in 1860 made the sea voyage to Victoria, where the troupe boasted about “Being composed of Fifteen Ladies and Gentlemen of acknowledged talent and respectability, they are enabled to present a better series of legitimate entertainments than ever yet attempted in this city.”

The star of Potter’s troupe was young Lulu Sweet, “The Beautiful Juvenile Actress, Songstress and Danseuse.” Lulu, who was born around 1844, was accompanied in her travels with the troupe by her mother, Mrs. E. Sweet who was also an actress, and her father, Dr. John D. Sweet, a physician. Starting around age 12 Lulu was a child actress in the San Francisco Theatre circuit, performing with a company of 27 “juvenile comedians.” She had joined the Potter troupe by 1860, traveling to the western states with them and then to Victoria, where they performed to good reviews for several weeks before taking the trip to New Westminster for a three week engagement. Music for the production was taken care of by the Royal Engineers Band and performances were attended by all the local dignitaries, including Colonel Moody, who was apparently quite a fan of Miss Sweet’s.

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Lulu Sweet, ca. 1865, actress, singer and dancer who gave her name to Lulu Island. (City of Richmond Archives photo RCF 21)

The Potter Troupe played in Victoria and made three trips to New Westminster during their stay in the colonies. It was on the trip back to Victoria on the steamer Otter in January 1861 that Lulu Sweet asked Colonel Moody the name of the large island they were passing. He told her that it had no name and then exclaimed that he would name it after her, and Lulu Island it has been ever since. It appears that Moody had second thoughts about the name he had chosen. A map he sent to the Colonial Office that same year had the name “Lulu” overwritten with the name “Palmer”, most likely hoping to rename the island after one of his officers, Lieutenant Henry Spencer Palmer but Lulu Island it remained.

 

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This photo of Lulu Sweet was taken in 1863 at a studio beside Maguires Opera House in San Francisco, a theatre in which she performed for many years. She never returned to BC after leaving Victoria, and never set foot on the Island that was named for her. (Image from the City of Richmond Biography Files)

Lulu Sweet and the Potter Dramatic Troupe left the colonies in 1863 and returned to San Francisco where she continued to act, sing and dance in venues such as Maguire’s Opera House. She was a successful actress whose name shows up in many playbills and newspaper ads for theatres in San Francisco through 1865 as well as later newspaper articles about the history of theatre in San Francisco. Around that year it appears that she married a Mr. Smith, had four children, later divorcing. She lived with her daughters in Burlingame, a suburb of San Francisco until her death in 1914.

 

 

Aida Knapp – A Life in Dance

Aida Knapp was a dance teacher in Richmond who taught many hundreds of students ballet, tap, jazz, modern and ballroom dance for 40 years in her studio on Railway Avenue and in various halls and auditoriums in Brighouse, Steveston, Ladner and Marpole.

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Aida Knapp outside her dance studio 1965. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 19.

Born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1911, she was an only child to parents Frank and Amy Trueman. The family moved to China in 1917 when her father, a textiles engineer, was sent there by his company. Aida was introduced to dancing while attending an American boarding school at Kuling in the Lushan District. Her first ballet lessons were in the Russian method of dance taught by an Australian instructor, Madame Kelly. Aida loved dancing and took as many lessons as she could, determined to be a professional dancer someday.

Aida and her family left China after she completed her high school education, around 1928. They settled first in Vancouver, where she resumed her dance lessons with the Duncan Barbay School of Dance, and then on Lulu Island. She financed her lessons by working in various theatres and clubs in Vancouver where she got her first break into show business when a travelling road company from England played a theatre where she was working. They needed some girls to dance in their production and Aida eagerly accepted the offer to go on the road with the company.

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Aida Trueman, photo taken in Paris in 1934. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 13.

Aida’s job was to travel ahead of the company, training new sets of dancers in each town, thereby reducing the need to travel with a large group of dancers and lessening expenses. The cost cutting measures were ineffective however as the company went bankrupt, stranding Aida in Ottawa.

Undaunted by this, Aida got on a train to Rhode Island where she stayed with her aunts and worked as a dancer in a Chinese Restaurant, making enough money to take more dance classes. She moved to New York where she attended auditions for dance companies and theatre productions, eventually landing a job in Atlanta Georgia at a luxurious hotel and theatre.

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The Twelve Aristocrats in a scene from the movie, “Calling All Stars”, London 1936. Aida Trueman on the far left. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 14.

It was in Georgia that Aida was asked to join an act called “The Twelve Aristocrats”, a very successful dance troupe known for their versatility and the variety of their dance styles. The Twelve Aristocrats played all over the United States and Europe in the years leading up to World War II and took part in the filming of a musical movie called “Calling All Stars” while in England. An excerpt from the movie on YouTube, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YehBT1MFIxY , shows Aida performing with the Twelve Aristocrats.

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Aida Trueman flies through the air during the Twelve Aristocrats’ dance routine. Photo taken in Indianapolis in 1936. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 15

As World War II grew nearer, the Twelve Aristocrats split up, some settling in London and others in New York. Aida returned to Lulu Island where her parents still lived. She was hired as the choreographer for the Palomar Theatre where she helped several girls get their start, including a young Yvonne de Carlo who went on to become a star in film and television.

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Aida and Al Knapp outside their home on Railway Avenue in 1992. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 20.

It was during this time that Aida met her future husband, Elwood (Al) Knapp, who was working as a horse trainer at Brighouse Racetrack. In late 1939 they were married. Al built a house at 928 Railway Avenue where they lived and raised two sons, Wesley and Frank. Aida decided to start a small dance school to help make ends meet, moving the furniture out of their kitchen every day to make room for a small dance floor. As her school grew the space became too small and she rented space in halls in Brighouse and Steveston to hold her classes.

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Aida Knapp with a student inside her dance studio, 1956. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 18.

In 1950 Al built Aida a dance studio behind the family home. The dance school became a full-time job for Aida with as many as 200 students attending lessons six days a week. During her career Mrs. Knapp continued with her own education, attending dance workshops and conventions where she took additional training as well as giving instruction to other teachers.

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Aida Knapp with a group of young dance students in her studio, 1968. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 22

Every June Aida would put on a dance recital where her students would perform the routines that they learned during the year. Costumes were made by the student’s mothers, and the events were eagerly attended by parents, grandparents, friends and neighbours. Proceeds from the recitals always went to benefit a variety of community activities, such as in 1948 when the funds were given to the Fraser River Flood Relief program in Richmond.

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Dancers from the Aida Knapp School of Dance strike a pose prior to their annual recital. Shown here are, L to R, Margaret Parker, Linda Dixon, Louise McMath, Beverly Bull, Frankie Knapp, Sharon Michaud, Marilyn Gates, Patsy Marshal and Elsie Brad. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 21.

Her students performed at many venues in Richmond and around Greater Vancouver, such as the Kitsilano Showboat, the PNE, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, as well as in senior’s centres, for various community service organizations, etc.

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Aida Knapp’s two sons, Frank (L) and Wes (R) pose with Sharon Michaud in this photo from 1958. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 16.

While some of her students went on to pursue dance in professional and semi-professional ways, most ended their dance instruction as teens, but with a great appreciation for the art of dance and with love and fond memories of the woman who taught them.

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The acknowledgment from the end of program from one of Aida Knapp’s annual dance recitals, “Frolics of ’64”. City of Richmond Archives 2003 28.

Aida taught dance until 1984 when she was in her 70s. The dedication and love that she demonstrated for the art of dance and for her students have made her a Richmond legend, remembered sentimentally by the generations of young dancers that she instructed. She passed away in 1998 at the age of 87 having left a legacy of contribution to her community that lives on long after her passing.

Farming in the Round – The Ewen Cattle Barn

The Ewen Cattle Barn, also known as the Keur Barn, was one of Richmond’s more unusual heritage structures, a type of barn that was unique in British Columbia and rare in Canada. Although it looked round, the barn was in fact polygonal, having 12 sides. It was representative of a time when agricultural practices in Europe and North America were undergoing reform through mechanization, the development of modern farming practices and the redesign of farm structures for increased efficiency.

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This aerial view shows the Ewen Barn’s location in relation to the Lafarge Cement plant at upper right and the Annacis Channel. Lion Island, the location of Alexander Ewen’s Ewen Cannery, is just visible at top right. No. 9 Road runs left to right in the photo. (City of Richmond Archives Accession 1990 13)

One of the aspects of this “High Farming”, as it was called in agricultural journals of the day, was the design of appropriate animal housing, with a focus on efficient use of space to allow animals to be kept warm and well fed over the winter. Round or polygonal barns fit this requirement well, although their more complex structure and higher construction costs compared to conventional barns made them less appealing to the average farmer. As a result, they tended to be built by farm owners who had an interest in the new farming practices and who had the capital to buy and outfit large farms.

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An upper level plan of the barn shows the granary and ramp leading to the second floor space. (City of Richmond Archives 1990 13 6)

This was the case with the Ewen Barn. It was built by pioneer salmon cannery owner Alexander Ewen, who had purchased 640 acres of land in east Richmond in the 1880s. The barn was erected around 1893. It was built of red cedar, logged and cut in the Lower Mainland and used a combination of traditional heavy timber framing and light timber framing systems.

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A drawing showing a cross section view of the barn with its cattle stalls below and second floor space. A cow and a man are added for scale.(City of Richmond Archives 1990 13 5)

Unusually large for a barn of this type, it was 100 feet in diameter and 50 feet high with two floors, the lower floor being the stable floor with the capacity to house and feed 100 cattle and the upper floor used for hay and equipment storage. The stable floor took only one quarter of the building’s height, leaving three quarters of the interior volume available for storage. Cattle stalls were arranged in a circle around the outside of the lower floor and openings in the upper floor allowed feed to be dropped down to the hungry mouths below.

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A team of horses haul a wagon of hay with the Ewen Barn in the background in this image, ca. 1900. The barn’s roof is still fitted with the rooftop ventilator which was removed in the 1940s. (City of Richmond Archives photo 2009 2 19)

A rectangular granary was added to the outside  of the barn shortly after it was built, and a ramp was provided from the ground to the barn’s second floor so that wagons could be driven up to unload hay and feed, circling around the circumference of the structure and down the ramp again. Built before electrical power was available, daylight was the only illumination available. Fitted with few windows, open doors admitted most of the light. An eight foot wide roof ventilator mounted atop the barn’s huge conical roof admitted light to the upper floor, although this was removed during reroofing in the 1940s.

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The Ewen Barn in 1979. The rectangular granary and ramp to the second floor are clearly visible. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1984 4 58)

The farm served by the Ewen Barn became one of the largest beef producers in Richmond, with as many as 4500 cattle a year being fattened and sent to slaughter at its peak. It also grew to be the largest Jersey cow breeding  establishment on Lulu Island. The barn continued to house cattle until the mid 1970s when it fell into disuse and began to deteriorate.

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A view of the deteriorating barn, ca. 1996. (City of Richmond Archives photo 2003 17 1)

In an attempt to preserve the barn, work was started by the Richmond Heritage Advisory Committee, spearheaded by Committee member Graham Turnbull, which included detailed reports on the barn’s historical context, architectural details and history. In 1995, at the request of the Committee, the barn was designated a National Historic Site by the Canadian Historic Sites and Monuments Board. In 1998 the Committee contracted Architect and Heritage Advocate Robert Lemon to prepare a report and facilitate a Conservation Workshop aimed at exploring options for the barn’s preservation. It was determined that the building could be stabilized at a cost of $112,000. A non-profit Society, The Friends of the Ewen Barn Society, was formed in order to begin the process of raising the money for the stabilization work and to negotiate with the property’s owner.

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In February 1999 the old barn collapsed in a windstorm. (City of Richmond Archives photo 2006 24 57)

Unfortunately, nature cares nothing for the preservation of old barns and in February 1999 a windstorm caused the collapse of the barn, at the time believed to be the oldest structure in Richmond. The barn was a total loss, although some of it remains as part of another heritage structure in Richmond. Salvaged lumber from the barn was used to repair the wharves at Britannia Heritage Shipyards.