DOES it help to be a bit of a detective when gathering images for a book on community history?
"Oh, yes," says John
Moir, curator of Cottages to Community: The Story of West Vancouver's Neighbourhoods, commissioned by the West Vancouver Historical Society to commemorate the community's 100th anniversary next year.
"It's true that every picture tells a story - and some have a story of their own," he says.
A painting that opens the chapter on Caulfeild and Lighthouse Park illustrates this point perfectly.
In 1888, noted Canadian artist Lucius R. O'Brien was in Howe Sound for the summer, travelling with two Chinook guides in a sailing canoe and painting the western Canadian landscape to promote tourist travel on the Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.
One of the watercolours O'Brien painted that summer, Sandy Cove, turned up as Moir trolled the provincial archive for images of West Vancouver.
Moir knew that Sandy Cove had not been named until at least the 1920s. Further, the painting, of a tent perched on a rocky outcrop above a beached canoe, does not resemble that particular stretch of North Shore beach. He learned also that when the painting was transferred from the national archive to the provincial archive, the original title, The Artist's Camp, Howe Sound, had been changed.
Moir dug a little deeper. O'Brien's notes say, "We are camped below the lighthouse at the entrance to Howe Sound."
From there, the artist could see Mount Baker and the "dark wooded forest that hides the city." Knowing there had been a lighthouse at Point Atkinson since 1874, Moir and Elaine Graham, of the Lighthouse Park Preservation Society, searched for the site of the painting. Although the rocky outcroppings near the lighthouse proved too abundant for them to pinpoint the precise location of O'Brien's camp, another link in the chain of West Vancouver's history had been forged.
Moir grew up in West Vancouver with his two sisters and parents who were in the news business. His father was city editor of The Province and his mother, a reporter for the paper, received a heritage award in 2006 for her service as an education docent at the West Vancouver Museum and Archives.
Until he retired in 2002, Moir taught English and photography at his alma mater, West Vancouver secondary.
These days, he's a writer and photographer and works in his garden, building dry-stack stone walls and contemplating turning his bamboo into sculpture.
Moir's initial participation in Cottages to Community - to provide contemporary photographs - expanded rapidly when the scope of the book became apparent. He drew on his experience with photography and art installations and relied on the expertise of his colleagues. Most important was the support from the community.
"I knew the people involved," he says.
For example, Jim Carter, chairman of the society's book committee, had been principal at West Vancouver secondary when he was teaching there.
"Most of the photographs came from the West Vancouver Archives with the help of archivists Shauna Moore and Carol Howie. So many people came forward to contribute their memories and their photographs," says Moir.
In his search for the right image to complement the text and the design of the book, Moir looked at thousands of photographs and shot hundreds himself. As author Francis Mansbridge completed each chapter, he and Moir would select images to pass on to book designer Colleen Wood, of West Vancouver-based Butler + Wood Design.
"Each chapter represents a neighbourhood in West Vancouver," says Wood. "John would provide a selection of photographs for each chapter, with multiple subjects and a choice of formats that I used to work out the overall layout. He made my job so much easier."
Chapters open with paintings and sculpture by resident artists - Gordon Smith and Elizabeth Smily among them - and close with photographs of local landmarks as they were in the early days and as they are now. Moir's photographs of modern day West Vancouver serve to balance the inevitable preponderance of historical photographs shot in full daylight and in black and white.
For everyone involved, the creation of Cottages to Community was a true collaboration, one that includes the people of West Vancouver.
"Finding West Vancouver was not difficult," says Moir.
"We started off looking, and it came out to meet us."
Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. Contact her at 778-279-2275 or email her at email@example.com.
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