Collection F5 - Archives visual records collection

S.S. Aberdeen at Kelowna. SS Abyssinia coming into Vancouver. S.S. Alameda aground at Petersburg, Alaska. SS Alexander. The original SS Aorangi, of the Canadian Australasian Line, operated between Vancouver and Austra... M.S. Aorangi, gross tonnage 17,491; from Vancouver Harbour Commission Report, 1932. Wreck of the Barnard Castle, on Rosedale Reef, near Race Rocks, beached on Bentick Island, near V... SS Beaver in Upper Harbour in Victoria. The SS Beaver in Burrard Inlet, Vancouver. S.S. Beaver, first steamship on Pacific Coast; loading supplies from log boom; original includes ... "BC Western and Northwestern Hospital Associations Annual Convention Vancouver BC, August  1... The SS Beaver in Victoria Harbour on Cook's Ways. Wreck Of The SS Beaver At Prospect Point, Vancouver. The wreck of the SS Beaver at Prospect Point, Vancouver. Bow view of the S.S. Beaver wreck, Prospect Point, Stanley Park Wreck of the S..S Beaver at Prospect Point in Stanley Park in Vancouver; Royal Mail steamer Empre... Model inside display case of Hudson's Bay Company steam-powered sidewheeler "Beaver", H... "Model of S.S. Beaver"; in Provincial Library showing SS Beaver as a government survey ... Hudson's Bay Company's 'The Beaver', built on the Thames, sailed around the horn in 1835, install... S.S. BC Express on its way from Quesnel to Prince George. "C.P.R. Steamer Bonnington, Arrow Lakes, BC". "Compliments of the Vancouver Ship Yard Ltd., 'Casco', Robert Louis Stevenson's famous yacht... Canadian Pacific Railway steamer 'Charmer'; at Todd Inlet cement plant, four years after plant in... SS Chiyo Maru The CP SS City of Nanaimo, entering Victoria Harbour. "City of Nanaimo at Vancouver". City of Seattle at Ketchikan, Alaska; Mason collection. "Coquet" at Victoria Harbour; sailing time of 111 days from Hong Kong to Victoria. "Coquet" in Victoria Harbour. The sealing schooner Dolphin
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Title and statement of responsibility area

Title proper

Archives visual records collection

General material designation

  • graphic material

Parallel title

General file; Genfile

Other title information

Title statements of responsibility

Title notes

  • Source of title proper: Title based on the content of the collection.

Level of description


Reference code


Edition area

Edition statement

Edition statement of responsibility

Class of material specific details area

Statement of scale (cartographic)

Statement of projection (cartographic)

Statement of coordinates (cartographic)

Statement of scale (architectural)

Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


  • [ca. 1850-1990] (Creation)
    British Columbia Archives

Physical description area

Physical description

ca. 60,000 photographs : b&w and col.

Publisher's series area

Title proper of publisher's series

Parallel titles of publisher's series

Other title information of publisher's series

Statement of responsibility relating to publisher's series

Numbering within publisher's series

Note on publisher's series

Archival description area

Name of creator


Biographical history

From 1893 to 1908 all archival functions were performed by the Legislative Library. In 1908 R.E. Gosnell was appointed as the first Provincial Archivist. The original name of the organization was the Provincial Archives, later expanded to the Provincial Archives of British Columbia (PABC). The archives grew alongside the legislative library, and shared the same building and facilities until 1970, and the same individual held the dual positions of Provincial Archivist and Legislative Librarian until 1974. On March 1, 1989, the Provincial Archives of British Columbia was merged with the Records Management Branch of the government of British Columbia to form the British Columbia Archives and Records Service (BCARS). In 1996, BCARS was united with the Information and Privacy Branch of government. The resulting organization was called the BC Information Management Services (BCIMS). This was divided into two sections with Information and Analysis Services providing for records management and information and privacy and Archives and Information Access branch representing the traditional archives as it existed before its merger with the records management branch in 1988. This administrative structure lasted for two years until 1998, when the Information and Privacy Branch was removed and the remaining portions were renamed the British Columbia Archives. This structure existed unchanged until 2003 when the British Columbia Archives was merged with the Royal British Columbia Museum as a branch of the Royal British Columbia Museum Crown Trust.

Custodial history

Scope and content

The Archives photo collection (also known as the General file or genfile) consists of photographs collected by the Archives from around 1908 until the 1990s. The photographs were primarily collected because of their subject matter and little or no information was gathered as to their provenance and type. A single volume, arranged numerically by a classification code, appears to indicate that the first 14,000 or so photographs acquired were arranged by subject groupings.

By 1934, the annual report of the Provincial Library and Archives department noted that the "collection of photographs and prints in the Archives, which is estimated to consist of at least 14,000 items, is rapidly outgrowing the old filing system, and sooner or later the entire collection must be recatalogued and rearranged." In 1935 the new system of applying individual catalogue numbers known as "HP" or "Historic Photograph" numbers had begun. In 1940 the Provincial Archivist reported that half the photographs had been recatalogued. The cataloguing consisted of entering the photographs into registers in HP number order; the first number assigned was HP101 or HP000101. This system of item level numbering continued into the 1990s with over 100,000 photographs entered into the HP accession registers. While most of these photographs continued to be acquired because of their subject matter, selected photographs that formed part of original record groups, were also catalogued with an HP number.

The "original" photographs acquired in this way consist mainly of photographic prints in a variety of sizes and formats, but also include original negatives (both glass and flexible). In many cases, the Archives borrowed and copied photographs from individuals and other institutions. In these cases the "original" is a copy print made by the Archives at the time.

The prints are stored in HP number order in several runs: main run of several hundred boxes, one run of Maynard photographs, two runs of oversized photographic prints and one run of large oversized prints stored in map cabinets. Original negatives are stored by type (glass, nitrate, acetate, polyester etc.), usually by HP number. These original records are often know as "HP originals".

Copy prints were made of many of the prints and are arranged by subject in several runs. Portrait/family files are arranged in alphabetical order; topographic (place name) files are arranged alphabetically by place name and then by subject within the place; and a small set of subject files (including ships) are arranged alphabetically by subject. There are a variety of indexes and lists of files available in the Archives to help determine which general file copy print files are available on request.

Copy negatives (arranged by negative number or photo lab number) were made from many of the prints and original negatives. These records were used for reproductions and are stored in a large negative cabinet.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition


While the photographs have been given individual HP numbers, copy negatives were given negative or photo lab (plab) numbers. These numbers were chosen to be the reference code when the Archives began putting photographs online in the 1990's. The individual description of the photograph will have the HP number in the general notes field. A conversion list of HP to Plab numbers exists.

Language of material

Script of material

Location of originals

Availability of other formats

Approximately 60,000 photographs have been described online at the item level. Ca. 40,000 have scanned images attached.

Restrictions on access

Access to HP original prints and negatives may be restricted. Use the available indexes and copy prints.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Photographs that predate January 1, 1949 are in the public domain. Any photographs taken after that date may have reproduction or publication restrictions, including those borrowed for copying.

Finding aids

Associated materials

The majority of the photographs at the archives are linked to archival fonds.

Related materials


General note

Accession number(s): 193501-001; 2009.129.1; 2009.130.1; 95-1854; 95-1977; 198002-017; MS-0392; 197910-004; 198902-003; 197912-021; 91-9578; Maynard; 197901-070; 198207-094; MS-1294; 197901-110; GR-1449; 199011-003; 198303-041; 89-0969; 199205-008; 197812-010; 198312-005; 197912-038; 198105-006; MS-2792; 197901-007; 198401-006; 198809-003; 197909-046; 198905-006; 198905-003; 198203-077; 198502-005; 93-7330; 199508-008; 198202-005; 198205-002; 198704-001; 198608-010; 198608-0001; 198006-027; 198304-008; MS-1962; 198302-030; 198203-001; C/AA/30.J7; MS-1901; MS-455; MS-0089; 198701-001; MS-2685; MS-5; 198503-019

Alternative identifier(s)

Standard number area

Standard number

Access points

Subject access points

Place access points

Name access points

Genre access points

Control area

Description record identifier

Accession area

Related people and organizations

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