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Manitoba History: The Western Canada Pictorial Index

by Laura McLaughlan
Parks Canada, Winnipeg

Manitoba History, Number 1, 1981

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

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Even before the invention of the camera, the orientals postulated that a picture is worth a thousand words. Yet, historians have remained a print-oriented lot, more inclined to use photographs as illustrations than sources; as pretty pictures rather than provocative images. At “Canadian Perspectives”, the last national photographic conference, Andrew Birrell, Head of Acquisitions with the Public Archives of Canada, loudly lamented that we have not given historic photographs the attention they warrant. He added that this is particularly regrettable when our society is becoming increasingly visually oriented.

However, the Media Department at the University of Winnipeg have recently made a daring move. They have compiled “The Western Canada Pictoral Index” and their recently printed periodical challenges all of us to make use of its growing slide collection of historic prints.

The Index has been compiled over the last year and a half under director Lionel Ditz and full-time researcher Thora Cooke. Its aim is to make historic photographs accessible to interested researchers. At the moment, its collection consists of 5,000 catalogued slides but it is a growing collection actively encouraging the donations and loans that will be necessary to make the collection a bona fide research source. A full-time photographer is employed to make reproductions and process photographic orders.

To date, the Index has received everything from mouldy sports photographs from the catacombs of the Winnipeg Arena, to family albums otherwise destined for the garbage heap. Copies are made by the Index photographer and the originals are either returned to the source, or if donated, deposited in the Provincial Archives.

When I spoke to Thora Cooke she stated that the booklet on the collection can be obtained by writing The Western Canada Pictoral Index, University of Winnipeg, or by phoning Ms. Cooke at 786-7811 (extension 571). The Index is a resource which every one of us should stake and as its holdings increase, perhaps historians will mine it like the “mother lode” it will become.

Gene Deagle and his Arcadians at Grand Beach, 1928
Source: Western Canada Pictorial Index

Page revised: 15 February 2012

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