Title and statement of responsibility area
Forest Service lookout photographs
General material designation
- graphic material
Other title information
Title statements of responsibility
- Source of title proper: Title based on the content of the series.
Level of description
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
- British Columbia. Ministry of Forests (1988-2005)
- British Columbia. Ministry of Forests and Lands
- British Columbia. Dept. of Lands
Physical description area
ca. 9300 photographs : prints, negatives : b&w
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
The Dept. of Lands was established in 1908 (Department of Lands Act, SBC 1908, c. 31). Before 1908, the agencies responsible for the functions of the Dept. of Lands were:
(1) the Dept. of Lands and Works, including Crown lands management, sales, pre-emptions and leases, lands surveying and mapping, timber inspection, forest protection and log scaling, and;
(2) the Dept. of Mines, including water rights in regards to mining operations.
The Dept. of Lands, headed by the Chief Commissioner of Lands, was given responsibility for public lands and water rights, and all matters connected therewith. (SBC 1908, c. 31, s. 5). These responsibilities included:
(1) the management of all public lands, as per the Land Act, (RSBC 1897, c. 113);
(2) administration of water rights, as per the Water Clauses Consolidation Act, (RSBC 1897, c. 191) [in 1892 by means of the Water Privileges Act (SBC 1892, c. 47), the government had reserved to itself the right to manage all water resources in the province that were unreserved and un-appropriated as of April 23, 1892]; and
(3) land settlement programs for returned soldiers.
In 1909, the enactment of the Water Act (SBC 1909, c. 48) resulted in the creation of the Water Rights Branch of the Dept. of Lands, under the management of the Chief Water Commissioner (re-named Comptroller of Water Rights in 1912). This legislation also resulted in the creation of Water Districts under the management of District Engineers, who would be responsible for management in the field of the Branch’s responsibilities.
In 1911, the Timber Department, including Timber Inspectors, forest protection services and log scaling operations, was transferred from the Dept. of Public Works to the Dept. of Lands. In 1912, the management of timber resources was formally added to the department’s responsibilities with the enactment of the Forest Act (SBC 1912, c. 17). To accommodate these new responsibilities, the Forest Branch, under the Chief Forester, was created in the Dept. of Lands. In 1945, the Dept. of Lands was renamed the Dept. of Lands and Forests (Department of Lands Act Amendment Act, SBC 1945, c. 45).
Name of creator
In 1945, the Dept. of Lands was renamed the Dept. of Lands and Forests (Department of Lands Act Amendment Act, SBC 1945, c. 45). At this time, the department was reorganized into two branches, the Lands Service and the Forests Service. The department's structure was based on that of the Dept. of Lands. The Dept. of Lands, headed by the Chief Commissioner of Lands, was given responsibility for public lands and water rights, and all matters connected therewith. (SBC 1908, c. 31, s. 5). These responsibilities included:
(1) the management of all public lands, as per the Land Act, (RSBC 1897, c. 113);
(2) administration of water rights, as per the Water Clauses Consolidation Act, (RSBC 1897, c. 191) and the Water Act (SBC 1909, c. 48) ; and
(3) the management of timber resources under the Forest Act (SBC 1912, c. 17).
In 1962, the Dept. of Lands and Forests was renamed the Dept. of Lands, Forests, and Water Resources (Department of Lands and Forests Act Amendment Act, SBC 1962, c. 22). At this time, the department was reorganized into three branches, the B.C. Lands Service, the B.C. Forest Service, and the B.C. Water Resources Service.
Name of creator
In 1962, the Dept. of Lands and Forests was renamed the Dept. of Lands, Forests, and Water Resources (Department of Lands and Forests Act Amendment Act, SBC 1962, c. 22). At this time, the department was reorganized into three branches: the B.C. Lands Service, the B.C. Forest Service, and the B.C. Water Resources Service.
On December 23, 1975, the Dept. of Lands, Forests and Water Resources ceased to exist. The government established two new agencies, the Dept. of Forests and the Dept. of Environment, to replace it (OIC 3838/75). All activities associated with the forestry function were transferred to the Dept. of Forests (OIC 3849/75, 3868/75). With one minor exception, the remaining functions of the Dept. of Lands, Forests, and Water Resources were transferred to the Dept. of Environment (OIC 3843/75, 3844/75, 3846/75, 3852/75). In 1976, these organizational changes were reiterated in legislation (SBC 1976, c. 18).
Name of creator
The Dept. of Forests was established in 1975 (OIC 3838/75). Prior to 1975, the responsibility for forests in the province was carried out by the Forest Branch under the Dept. of Lands and Works (1871-1908) and later under the Dept. of Lands (1908-1945). The Forest Branch was renamed the Forest Service under the Dept. of Lands and Forests (1945-1962) and retained that name under the Dept. of Lands, Forests, and Water Resources (1962-1975).
In 1975, the Dept. of Lands, Forests and Water Resources, was dissolved, and its functions were evenly distributed between the Dept. of Environment, and Dept. of Forests. As a result, the Forest Branch and all forestry functions were transferred to the newly established Dept. of Forests. It was responsible for the management of forest and range resources of the Crown and the planned use of such land in accordance with the Forest Act and Department of Forest Act. The department was also responsible for encouraging maximum productivity of those resources and encouraging a competitive timber processing industry in the province.
In 1976, the Dept. of Forests was renamed the Ministry of Forests (OIC: 3199/76), though the functions of the department remained basically the same.
Name of creator
In 1976, the Dept. of Forests was renamed the Ministry of Forests (OIC 3199/76). The Ministry of Forests was responsible for the management of forest and range resources of the Crown and the planned use of such land in accordance with the Forest Act and Department of Forest Act. The department was also responsible for encouraging maximum productivity of those resources and encouraging a competitive timber processing industry in the province.
The functions of the Ministry of Forest remained basically the same for the next ten years. Up until this 1976, the Forest Service remained a distinct service within the Ministry, and was led by the Chief Forester/Chief Executive Officer. The executive of the Forest Service was composed of the Chief Forester/CEO, Assistant Chief Forester (Operations), Assistant Chief Forester (Resource Management), Director of Services and Director Range Branch.
In 1977, the divisions included: Reforestation, Forest Service Training School, Inventory, Resource Planning, Special Studies, Engineering, Information, Comptroller, Protection, Administration, Valuation, Personnel and Research. The forest districts were: Vancouver, Kamloops, Prince George, Nelson, Prince Rupert and Cariboo.
The passage of the Forest Act, the Range Act and the Ministry of Forests Act in 1978 completed a transformation of the BC Forest Service into the Ministry of Forests. The reorganization that followed replaced forest districts with forest regions, however, the boundaries and the names remained the same. Central services were provided to the forest regions by the headquarters in Victoria. Four divisions included Finance and Administration; Operations; Timber, Range and Recreation; and Forestry. An assistant deputy minister headed each Division and reported to the Deputy Minister. Under each of these divisions were a series of branches, each headed by a director. The Operations Division was responsible for all of the forest regions. Two exceptions were the Information Systems Branch and the Strategic Studies Branch, whose directors reported directly to the Deputy Minister. The goal of this reorganization was to decentralize decision-making and centralize support services.
In 1986, as a result of government reorganization, functions relating to Crown lands, taken from the Ministry of Lands, Parks and Housing, were merged with all forestry functions. As a result, the Ministry of Forests was given the new name Ministry of Forests and Lands (OIC 1491/86).
Name of creator
In 1986, the Ministry of Forests and Lands was renamed from the Ministry of Forests (OIC 1491/1986). As part of this reorganization, the functions relating to Crown lands were taken from the Ministry of Lands, Parks and Housing and merged with with this new ministry. The ministry was responsible for the management of crown land resources of the Crown and the planned use of such land. The department was also responsible for encouraging maximum productivity of those resources.
The Ministry was organized into four divisions, each led by an assistant deputy minister. These divisions included: Forestry; Timber and Lands Marketing; Forests and Land Operations; and Management Services.
The Assistant Deputy Minister of the Forestry Division was also the Chief Forester. The Forestry Division's branches included: Integrated Resources (Planning, Recreation and Range); Inventory; Research; Silviculture; and Protection. The Forest Regions were the responsibility of the Forest and Lands Operations Division. The Timber and Land Marketing Division consisted of two distinct sections: Timber (Timber Harvesting and Industry Development and Marketing); and Lands (Land Policy, Land Acquisition and Marketing, Surveyor-General).
This reorganization expanded the responsibilities of the former Ministry of Forests to include activities relating to the marketing, settlement, surveying, and disposal of Crown Lands.
In August 1988 the Ministry of Forests and Lands reverted to the name Ministry of Forests. Responsibilities for Crown lands were transferred to the newly established Ministry of Crown Lands (OIC 1305/1988).
Name of creator
In 1988, the Ministry of Forests was renamed from the Ministry of Forests and Lands (OIC 1305/1988). The Ministry of Forests was responsible for the management of forest and range resources of the Crown and the planned use of such land in accordance with the Forest Act and Department of Forest Act. The department was also responsible for encouraging maximum productivity of those resources and encouraging a competitive timber processing industry in the province. The new organizational structure consisted of three divisions: Forestry, Operations and Management Services. A number of branches also reported directly to the Deputy Minister. During fiscal year 1993-1994, a Policy and Planning Division was formed to take in the branches that formerly reported directly to the Deputy. The ministry was renamed the Ministry of Forests and Range in 2005 (OIC 450/2005).
Scope and content
The series consists of ca. 4300 negatives and ca. 5000 photographic prints taken from forest lookouts between 1936 and 1993. Falling under the function of forest protection, "lookout photography" or "panoramic lookout photography" was first initiated in B.C. in 1936. It involved taking a set of eight large-format film images at 263 fire lookout sites.
The negatives were used to create 20 x 32 cm (7½ x 12¾" black and white photo prints, and a grid was photographically superimposed on each print, indicating the compass bearing from 0 to 360 degrees and vertical angle from +10 to -15 degrees from the horizontal. These prints were bound into book form, and kept on hand in the lookout and at the Ranger Station to aid in communicating the details of fire locations using visual references. They were also used to orient the fire finder in the lookout - a rotatable sighting device mounted over a map located in the centre of the building. The books list the date of the images and the location. Some books also contain notations on the photos. The series also contains 2 boxes of photographic proofs which contain information about the date and time that the image was taken and the weather conditions at that time.
In the photographing process, bearings were established with the use of a surveyor's transit and level, and an interchangeable camera. With the transit, the photographer determined the precise known bearing of a distant reference object (usually a mountain peak or another lookout, sometimes a topographic survey cairn). By lifting the transit off the mount and replacing it with the camera, they could then take their eight photographs at 45-degree horizontal intervals. Photographs from the lookout were taken in this order: shot #1, North; shot #2, 45 degrees; shot #3, East; shot #4, 135 degrees; shot #5, South; shot #6, 225 degrees; shot #7, West; shot #8, 315 degrees. A suitable camera was initially borrowed from another agency until one specially built by the National Research Council in Ottawa was obtained in the summer of 1945. One report from the late 1940s states that the eight views each included a horizontal angle of 50 degrees, so that the full panorama was completed with an overlap of 5 degrees per photograph. Photos were taken on infrared film to maximize haze penetration, and a duplicate set of negatives were taken with panchromatic.
Most lookouts were photographed at least once; some were photographed two or three times. This “rephotography” was deemed necessary when there were appreciable changes, over time, in a view from a lookout. Changes in view were caused by various factors: elimination of vegetative cover due to wildfires or logging; the erecting, rebuilding or relocation of a tower; construction of dams; or the change in view caused by tree clearing at the mountain summit. Most lookouts were sites that had established structures; however, some were undeveloped sites.
The photography was sometimes carried out by a two-man crew consisting of UBC forestry students. In time, "visibility mapping" to evaluate potential new lookout sites was combined with lookout photography at existing sites; in some years a two-man crew would do both. Access to lookout sites by helicopter was used by 1960. The same crews sometimes also took photographs on behalf of the National Parks Service for parks lookouts located in B.C. For some years there was limited or no field work undertaken in either lookout photography or visibility mapping. The last photos were taken by professional surveyors on a contract basis as a pilot project.
The majority of the lookout structures were built by the B.C. Forest Service; however, several had been built by the federal government to fulfill their obligation to protect timber from wildfire within the Railway Belt. In 1930 the Railway Belt and its lookout structures were turned over to the Province of B.C.
The number of lookouts that were staffed declined in the late 1970s and early 1980s as other means of fire detection became more efficient, notably, aircraft patrols and public reporting. In addition, the electronic lightning location system that began in 1980 indicated where lightning activity had occurred, and computer models then predicted the likely location and number of new lighting-caused and people-caused fires. The decline in fire lookouts was due to technological changes, and cost-benefit analyses probably showed that some lookouts were no longer good investments. Lookout photography was given up as lookouts declined in value.
The photographs are a resource for studying landscape change. Old harvesting, regeneration, and the impacts of wildfire and urban expansion may be observed in many of the photograph sets.
Immediate source of acquisition
Language of material
Script of material
Location of originals
Availability of other formats
Restrictions on access
No access restrictions apply
Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication
All photographs created prior to January 1, 1949, are in the public domain. For photographs created after that date, copyright is held by the Province of British Columbia.
Item-level descriptions and digital images, taken from the negatives, are available on the BC Archives web site. A file list is available for the photograph albums and photographic proofs. http://search-bcarchives.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/Document/Finding_Aids_AtoM/GR-3001_to_GR-3500/GR-3263.pdf
Further accruals are expected.
Visibility mapping ("vismapping" for short) involved sketching the seen area from each potential lookout site to a distance of 32 km (20 miles) all around. This was done by sighting through an alidade (from an old artillery gunsight) placed over a 1:250 000 topographic map mounted on a plane table to assess what portion of the topography was either directly visible or indirect and just hidden from view. Additionally, a small-scale contour map of the potential site was created by pacing and profiling in order to properly locate a lookout of the required height to see the close-in terrain. In 1880, the Dominion Government granted the Canadian Pacific Railway a strip of land extending twenty miles on each side of the main line in return for building the railway. This was known as the Railway Belt.
The Visibility Mapping and Lookout Photography Working Manual (ca. 1974) is in the Ministry of Environment library (634.909711 BCMF PRO 197u MR 2). For further information on panoramic lookout photography in B.C. see Forest History Newsletter published by the Forest History Association of British Columbia No. 74 Victoria, British Columbia, August 2004. There is also information about the forest lookouts in: Forest History Newsletter No. 71, September 2003; and in the British Columbia Forest Branch/British Columbia Forest Service annual reports and Protection newsletters.
Accession numbers: 94-4991, 93-5772, 92-5588, 92-9091, 94-4999
Series was classified as 14500-25 in the BC Government Operational Classification System (ORCS).