Community Engagement

$1.2m UBC photo collection offers priceless glimpse into B.C. History

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Uno Langmann with University Librarian Ingrid Parent. Photo credit: Don Erhardt

A treasure trove of rare historical photos from the early days of British Columbia valued at $1.2 million has been preserved thanks to gift from a Vancouver art collector to the start an evolution campaign.

The Uno Langmann Family Collection of B.C. Photographs, donated by Uno and Dianne Langmann and Uno Langmann Limited, consists of more than 18,000 rare and unique early photographs from the 1850s to the 1970s. It is considered the premiere private collection of early provincial photos, and an important illustrated history of B.C.

“I don’t think we worship the past enough,” says Uno Langmann, 80, an avid collector and art lover, who wanted to keep the collection in his adopted province of B.C. and tap into educational opportunities at UBC. “There’s enough in this collection for a thousand students to dig into,” he adds. “I want them to learn where B.C. comes from, and where they come from.”

To date 70 photo albums from the collection have already been digitized and added to the Library’s website. Researchers and the public are able to request items from the collection through UBC Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections.  Photos from the collection are also on display at the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre at UBC until December 2015 and will be featured in an exhibit at Presentation House Gallery in spring 2016.

The collection is unique in its breadth and scope, says UBC Archivist Krisztina Laszlo. The photos were collected over several decades and capture everything from the history of B.C.’s railroads, to First Nations peoples, to the early days of the gold rush.

“It’s a really fantastic addition to UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collections and an amazing resource for anybody interested in the history of Western Canada,” says Laszlo.

Some of the photos in the collection offer rare glimpses of B.C residents even before the province joined the Canadian Confederation in 1871.  One shows the Barkerville “hurdy gurdy girls,” who offered themselves as dance partners to the miners for $1 a dance.

Others capture the sentiment of a period of time, like a moving image of troops marching in New Westminster before departing for the war in 1940. A young boy runs to reach his father’s hand as he marches away. It became famous the world over as Life Magazine’s ‘Picture of the Week’.

The collection has been embraced by students and faculty and has become a popular tool for photo historians and other researchers. Dr. John O’Brian, a Professor of Art History at UBC, taught a fourth year seminar course at UBC using the photos. He says it offers students and researchers rare exposure to original artwork about which little has been written.

“Here is an opportunity for students to engage directly with these extraordinary historical objects, then to do some serious research into it,” he says. “UBC is now a place where people will want to come from across Canada and around the world to see these materials.”

To see more photos from the collection, visit the Uno Langmann Collection at UBC Library.