First-time author up for B.C. Book Prize

Long-time Royal B.C. Museum photo curator compiles First Peoples collection

When he heard his book was nominated for a B.C. Book Prize, Dan Savard was a little red-faced.

“I didn’t know what a B.C. Book Prize was,” he said.

That’s understandable, because Savard had never written a book before. As the audio-visual collections manager at the Royal B.C. Museum, Savard was sitting at his desk near the end of the day when the e-mail from museum publisher Gerry Truscott arrived to say he’d been nominated for the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize.

“When I got home that night I spent three hours Googling the book prize and checking out previous winners,” he said.

Five other Victoria-area authors are nominated for B.C. Book Prizes. There are seven prizes in fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children’s literature to be awarded at the 27th annual prizes, to be handed out at an April 21 gala in West Vancouver.

Savard’s 209-page book, Images from the Likeness House, is a selection of 310 images taken by both white and aboriginal photographers in documenting First Peoples in the Pacific Northwest from the 1860s to 1920.

It took Savard five years to select the photos and write accompanying short essays to go with each. It was a project he wanted to complete before he retired, which he did on March 30 after 37 years with the museum.

“It is important,” he said of the book, “because it shows a continuous vibrant culture that lasts to today.”

Rather than recording a fading culture, professional and amateur photographers including Hannah and Richard Maynard, Edward and Asahel Curtis and Charles Newcombe have provided visual proof of a continuity of culture, he said. Savard was careful to underline that he is an outsider to First Peoples culture and that his observations were more concerned with how photographers worked than why they chose to record First Nations culture.

“I wanted to emphasize that these photos were not taken with a Nikon that could be slipped into a pocket,” he says. Photographers such as Frederick Dally travelled with a mobile darkroom, drawn by horse and buggy through the Fraser Canyon. “It would take him 40 minutes to set up (his) equipment.”

The photos in the book published by the museum were drawn from the collection of more than 25,000 stereographs, snapshots, picture postcards and lantern slides and other images.

Photos such as Newcombe’s side-lit image of a Musqueam woman spinning yarn were donated to the museum by the amateur photographer’s family in 1961 as part of his collection.

Savard won’t be writing a sequel to Images to bring the subject up to 2011.

“That’s for someone else to start,” he said.

Find more on the B.C. Book Prizes at

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