Photo pioneer Alice Anne Girling shot images across Saanich and the Capital Region 100 years ago. Her collection of work was lost for decades before being donated to the Saanich archives.

Photo pioneer Alice Anne Girling shot images across Saanich and the Capital Region 100 years ago. Her collection of work was lost for decades before being donated to the Saanich archives.

Saanich, through the eyes of Anne

Luck and fate preserve century-old photographic work of Anne Alice Girling

When Caroline Duncan drives around the Swan Lake area, she sometimes ends up back in 1912.

It’s a game of fantasy made vivid by the municipal archivist’s work cataloguing a massive photo collection taken by Anne Alice Girling, a photographer who moved to Swan Lake from England in 1912 and documented every aspect of life in young Saanich.

On Oct. 4, 100 years to the day since Girling’s family arrived on the Island, Duncan and Girling’s great-niece, Maureen Mackenzie, scanned through the prolific photographer’s work. The two women have gotten to know each other through the 916-image, 535-glass plate negative, 357-film negative and 24-print photo collection, which they continue to catalogue and discuss as Mackenzie uncovers new details from the family.

“We don’t always have this connection and looking through these, the family becomes very real to me,” Duncan said. “(Maureen) embodies all of the history. It brings all of the history completely to life.”

Girling was born in Suffolk, England in 1880 and studied photography at Woolwich Polytechnic before immigrating to Canada with her parents and seven siblings. She was a tiny woman – just four-foot-seven. She never married and kept a close relationship with her family, with whom she lived her entire life.

“If Annie was here, we’d ask what it was like coming over to Canada, but we don’t need to because we can see right here, with all of it documented, the life that she had through her photographs,” Duncan said.

From 1912 until 1940 Girling shot still lifes, captured quiet moments in nature and experimented with adding colour to the glass negatives. Her photos detail life in Greater Victoria: regattas on the Gorge, heavy snowfalls, the legislature lit up at night and landscape shots at Swan Lake – where she often took photos during brush burning for a dramatic smoky effect – but she also kept her lens focused tightly on her own family.

She often posed her brothers and sisters and their pets, revealing the tender relationship she shared with her siblings, seven of them younger than herself.

The collection could easily have been lost or destroyed, but luck and one determined student kept it intact. Until 2008, the photos, along with Girling’s 1901 mahogany Instantograph camera were in the care of Lindsay Lambert, who had been given the collection 31 years earlier and kept them preserved without ever knowing to whom they had belonged.

The Girling family had moved from Swan Lake to Thetis Lake, then finally to a home near the University of Victoria on Finnerty Road, where Girling died in 1953, leaving behind her massive body of work.

Somehow the photo collection, abandoned in the home, remained intact. When UVic purchased the Girling home in the 1950s, a university staffer discovered the images and held onto them until 1977. He then passed them to Lambert, a UVic theatre student with a strong interest in vintage technologies.

Lambert eventually moved to Ontario. He attempted to give the photos and negatives to museums, but without any reference details, archivists were reluctant to take the donation.

Four years ago next month, Lambert was visiting Victoria, equipped with the entire collection in hopes of donating the mystery to the Saanich archives. On that trip he happened to read a letter to the editor in the Times Colonist from Mackenzie’s husband Richard, who made reference to one of her great uncles pictured in the collection. Lambert finally matched a name to the work.

Lambert called the Mackenzies, and suddenly Maureen had a tea crate with nearly 1,000 photographic insights into family members she remembers meeting just once as a young child.

“It was wonderful,” Lambert said. “Everything came together beautifully. … I hung on to (the collection) for all those years for a reason.”

But the notion of scanning nearly 1,000 glass plate negatives, before the identification process could even begin, kept the archivist grounded during the windfall.

“(Lindsay) was showing us the camera and showing us the negatives, giving us a history lesson and I was just starting to get a sense of the significance. I was a little overwhelmed with the work ahead,” Duncan said.

While the bulk of the process was completed in 2008, additional details continue to trickle in today. Every November since 2008, Duncan, Mackenzie and Lambert go on an Girling adventure to uncover elements of the family’s past.

Last year they visited the site of the family’s Ralph Street home, which is now a part of the Swan Lake-Christmas Nature Sanctuary. There, they could see evidence of the home’s foundation and canary wheat grass planted by the Girlings. This year they’ll continue along a similar adventure, visiting Greater Victoria locations that Girling photographed.

“I go to auctions downtown and I find boxes of photographs … Nobody knows who they are and they’re not valued in the same way,” Duncan said. “There’s a story behind it and that story has been lost and this is why this is such a significant collection – the story hasn’t been lost, it’s stayed with it and has been protected and preserved and found its way home.”

“It’s a real gift,” Mackenzie said. “I always tell Lindsay that. It’s like it was meant to be.”

See Anne Alice Girling’s photos at the Arts Centre at Cedar Hill until Oct. 28. See her exhibit online through the Saanich archives at this link.

 

nnorth@saanichnews.com

 

 

Just Posted

Sofia Watts, Charlotte Magill and Harriet Knight were among the KELSET Elementary School students releasing salmon fry into Reay Creek May 7. (Ian Bruce/Submitted)
Saanich Peninsula elementary students help restock, clean up local creeks

Salmon fry releases took place at Reay Creek and Tetayut Creek

The City of Victoria hopes to improve its cultural spaces this year and it wants non-profits to help. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Grants up to $125,000 open to Victoria non-profit arts and cultural organizations

Victoria Cultural Infrastructure Grant applications close at the end of May

(Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich health and safety manager named one of Canada’s top 40 women in safety

Canadian Occupational Safety magazine celebrates women leading safety sector in 2021

North Saanich has started the design of a crosswalk at the intersection of Mills and Littlewood roads near Garden Child Care Centre, whose owner Tracey McCullough has been calling for such a sidewalk. As such, she has been echoing a previous appeal by the building’s owner, Heather and Cory Hastings, standing respectively with seven-year-old Jack Hastings and five-year-old Felix Hastings. (Black Press Media File)
North Saanich moves ahead with crosswalk near child care centre

Crosswalk proposed for Littlewood and Mills roads parts of approved active transportation plan

Colwood city council did a last minute adjustment to this year’s budget, dropping the planned property increase to five per cent. Last year they didn’t increase taxes at all. (Black Press Media file photo)
Colwood agrees to 5% tax increase for 2021, deferring some expenses to next year

Last-minute changes will save the typical Colwood homeowner $56

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021. Dr. Ben Chan remembers hearing the preliminary reports back in March of blood clots appearing in a handful of European recipients of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Science on COVID, VITT constantly changing: A look at how doctors keep up

While VITT can represent challenges as a novel disorder, blood clots themselves are not new

Poached trees that were taken recently on Vancouver Island in the Mount Prevost area near Cowichan, B.C. are shown on Sunday, May 10, 2021. Big trees, small trees, dead trees, softwoods and hardwoods have all become valuable targets of tree poachers in British Columbia as timber prices hit record levels. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne.
Tree poaching from public forests increasing in B.C. as lumber hits record prices

Prices for B.C. softwood lumber reached $1,600 for 1,000 board feet compared with about $300 a year ago

The warm weather means time for a camping trip, or at least an excursion into nature. How much do you know about camps and camping-related facts? (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: Are you ready to go camping?

How many camp and camping-related questions can you answer?

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Queen Elizabeth II and Clive Holland, deputy commonwealth president of the Royal Life Saving Society, top left, virtually present Dr. Steve Beerman, top right, with the King Edward VII Cup for his drowning-prevention work. Tanner Gorille and Sarah Downs were honoured with Russell Medals for their life-saving resuscitation. (Buckingham Palace photo)
Queen presents Vancouver Island doctor with award for global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman receives Royal Life Saving Society’s King Edward VII Cup at virtual ceremony

Most Read