The first photographic technologies were invented and developed during the 1830s and 1840s. Among more than 56,000 available photographs in UBC Open Collections, many of our oldest photographs were taken in the early periods of photographic history.

1854: Early timber cruisers beside their makeshift accommodation

MacMillan Bloedel Limited fonds contain the records of the MacMillan Bloedel Ltd and are housed in UBC Rare Books and Special Collections. The collection has more than 2,500 images documenting the history of the forestry company and its predecessors. The oldest pictures of the timber cruisers and makeshift accommodations were known to be taken in 1854, prior to when the original company, Powell River Power Company, was launched in 1909 by two entrepreneurs.


Early timber cruisers beside their makeshift accommodation, [1854?].

Early timber cruisers beside their makeshift accommodation, [1854?].


1859: Florence Nightingale

In the Florence Nightingale Letters Collection, you can find 188 letters written from and to Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) and 15 photographs relevant to her. Our oldest photographic portrait of her was taken in 1850s, before she started the first professional nurses training school, the Nightingale Training School (Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery at Kins College London) in 1860.


Florence Nightingale, [between 1850 to 1859].


1835: View of the Beaver (grounded) in Burrard Inlet, B. C.

You can find the oldest photographs we have in the UBC Library Framed Works Collection, which include two pictures of the Beaver, the first wooden paddle steamer on the Northwest Coast. The steamship started its sailing on May 2, 1835, near London, England and arrived at Vancouver on April 10, 1836. In 1888, the steamer was wrecked in the First Narrows in Vancouver Harbour.


[View of the Beaver (grounded) in Burrard Inlet, B. C.].

[View of the Beaver in Burrard Inlet, B.C.].

How can you find our oldest photographs in Open Collections?

If you would like to explore more vintage photographs, you can search them in Open Collections as follows:

1. Go to Open Collections ( and click a search button without any keywords.

2. Select “Photographs” in Genre.

3. Select “Sort oldest to newest”.

4. Filter by “Date Range” from 1835. (If you don’t set the date range, you will see the materials whose dates are unknown.)



See also

Correction (June 21, 2019): In the original post, we introduced the Beaver’s photos as the oldest photographs in the Open Collections. After we posted, we figured out that the first photo was known to be taken between 1888 and 1892, and the second photo was between 1839 and 1888. We edited this blog post, and will change the items’ metadata.


ClareYow_ChinoThe politics of identity and location are inexplicably tied to the ways in which space and the self are mutually constitutive. The self as a site, is one of continuous splitting, doubling, and grafting, of histories, markings, and vulnerabilities. In this exhibition of new photographs and small sculptural works, artist Clare Yow focuses on the mobile and malleable body as material for interrogating personal, political lived experience. Togetherness-in-difference is an imperative issue for 21st century cultural and identity politics. Holding a doubled relationship or dual loyalty to the idea of places, is for Clare, at once invigorating and troubling, rewarding and tiring.


Clare Yow is a Vancouver-based artist, holding a Master in Fine Arts in Visual Art from the University of British Columbia and an Honours Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photographic Studies from Ryerson University. Her art practice is foregrounded in the everyday and seemingly unremarkable as subject matter, material and process. With ongoing interests that lie in navigating what it means to be located within the triple bind, hyphenated existence, and imaginary homeland of Chinese-Canadian femininity, Clare’s work seeks to explore how conditions of in-between-ness come to exist in relation to her particular subjectivities.

It is of note that Clare was born in Singapore 100 years after the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885, and that on Canada Day this year, it was 90 years ago that the Chinese Exclusion Act first came into effect.

For more works, please visit

Reading List

*These are some books that helped guide Clare’s research and work.

On not speaking Chinese : living between Asia and the West / Ien Ang.
Koerner Library / DS732 .A585 2001

Art on my mind : visual politics / bell hooks.
Irving K. Barber / N6537.585 A2 1995

Woman, native, other : writing postcoloniality and feminism / Trinh T. Minh-ha.
XWI7XWA Library / YC T75 W66 1989

Race, space, and the law : unmapping a white settler society / edited by Sherene H. Razack.
Koerner Library / FC104 .R313 2002

Displacement, diaspora, and geographies of identity / edited by Smadar Lavie and Ted Swedenburg.
Koerner Library / GN357 .D57 1996

Mappings : feminism and the cultural geographies of encounter / Susan Stanford Friedman.
Koerner Library / HQ1190 .F77 1998

China, transnational visuality, global postmodernity / Sheldon H. Lu.
Koerner Library / DS779.23 .L82 2001

Black skin, white masks / Frantz Fanon ; translated from French by Richard Philcox.
Koerner Library / GN645 .F313 2008

Black looks : race and representation / bell hooks.
Okanagan Library / E185.86 .H734 1992

The writing on the wall : Chinese and Japanese immigration to BC, 1920 / Hilda Glynn-Ward.
Koerner Library / PR9217.O89 W8 1921 A

a place of mind, The University of British Columbia

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