Canadian colonial copyright photographs

Scene at Embarkation of 26th Battalion and Ammunition Column
D. Smith Reid, Scene at Embarkation of 26th Battalion and Ammunition Column, C. E. F., at St. John, N. B., June 13th, 1915

The British Library holds a significant collection of Canadian photographs that were received between the years 1895 and 1923.

About the collection

Produced by photographers from across Canada the collection contains photographs of a wide range of subjects and depicts Canada at an important point in its history. The years covered by the collection include important events such as, the Second South African War, the election of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the First World War, Prince Edward’s visit to Canada and these and many more notable occasions are depicted in the collection.

All the images were received as copyright deposits under Colonial Copyright Law legislation (now defunct) and this accounts for the wide range of photographers and topics covered by the collection. It is not mediated by curators, except for the creation of collection data and managing preservation issues, and so represents a raw view of Canada developing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

What is available online?

In 2012 the Library worked in collaboration with Wikimedia UK to digitise this collection. The resulting project, ‘Picturing Canada’ digitised the vast majority of the Colonial Copyright Collection, including all of its 1,800+ images of Canadian soldiers during the First World War. These can now be found on the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts resource, where you can search for them using a photograph title in the ‘keywords’ box or the shelfmark HS85/10 in the ‘manuscripts’ box. Photographs were also released onto Wikimedia Commons in JPG and TIFF formats under a Public Domain license.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

The photographs are available from two locations. Parts of the collection found at HS85/10 and L.R.233.b.57 are available in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room while the oversize topographical views found in the collection are available from the Maps Reading Room. For a guide as to which items are usable in each reading room see Patrick O’Neill’s, A Checklist of Canadian Copyright Deposits in the British Museum 1895-1923 (Vol. V, Photographs).

Further information

A Checklist of Canadian Copyright Deposits in the British Museum 1895-1923 (Vol. V, Photographs), by Patrick O’Neill (Halifax, 1989)

Canada Through a Lens:  the British Library Colonial Copyright Collection, published by Public Domain Review

The British Library, Picturing Canada, published by the Wikimedia UK blog

Fighting for the Empire: Canada’s Great War in Photographs, published for the British Library World War One learning resource

How to guides

Get a Reader Pass

A guide to how to obtain a British Library Reader Pass to use our Reading Rooms

How to get a Reader Pass if you are Under 18

How to apply for an under-18 Reader Pass