Wish You Were Here: Life on Vancouver Island in Historical Postcards


179 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-920663-80-X
DDC 971.1'203'0222





Reviewed by Kathy E. Zimon

Kathy E. Zimon is a fine arts librarian (emerita) at the University of
Calgary. She is the author of Alberta Society of Artists: The First 70
Years and co-editor of Art Documentation Bulletin of the Art Libraries
Society of North America.


Postcards originated in England in the mid-19th century, and travel,
public postal systems, and advances in printing and photographic
technology soon facilitated their spread.

The photographic or real-photo postcards produced on Vancouver Island
that are the subject of this book were handmade by the photographer, not
mass-produced, and were especially popular during the years of
prosperity before World War I. To be sent through the mail, early photo
cards had to have one side blank, so the pictures were smaller than the
card to allow for messages around the photo. It was in 1903 that the
Canadian Post Office authorized the use of postcards with divided backs,
so the stamp and address “could share the back with the message,
allowing the picture to fill the other side.” Real-photo postcards
became the stock-in-trade of itinerant photographic pioneers as well as
studio photographers who produced portraits and advertisements.
Photographs were contact-printed on postcard-size light-sensitive paper,
and the photographer often added captions, or his name, somewhere on the
card. Because of that practice, author Peter Grant has been able to
identify some 24 photographers who settled on Vancouver Island and
produced real-photo postcards. Along with their captions and messages,
the postcards document everyday life: leisure activities, fishing,
logging, coal mining, communities at various island locations, and
Aboriginal communities. Unlike most postcards today, their images were
of people, not scenery, and they are a remarkable record of the life and
preoccupations of ordinary men and women during the first decade of the
20th century. They tell a fascinating story of island life, with the
detail and veracity that only photography can convey.

A bibliography and an index of names round out the book’s 180 pages,
most of which are graced by black-and-white reproductions of postcards.
The bulk of the text consists of the extensive captions that comment on
them. That is as it should be: the picture postcard is indeed worth a
thousand words. Wish You Were Here is highly recommended for
local-history, photography, and popular-culture collections.


Grant, Peter., “Wish You Were Here: Life on Vancouver Island in Historical Postcards,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/17538.