Last Saturday night I spent a very enjoyable time looking through the BC Archives gallery of historic pictures of Ashcroft, where I was excited to find some new/old pictures had been uploaded to the page.
(Quite what the above sentence says about me and what I think constitutes an enjoyable — indeed exciting — Saturday night, I will leave to others to ponder. Please don’t tell me what conclusion you come to.)
A word of explanation. I have been to the BC Archives gallery of Ashcroft pictures more times than I can count over the past decade or so, and in that time the pictures haven’t changed: there are the same ones, in the same order, every time I visit. Indeed, so static is the site that I can pretty much go straight to the page I need (there are 12 in all) in order to find a specific photograph, such as the infamous one labelled “Horse racing in the streets of Ashcroft” (it’s actually of a grandfather clock, provenance unknown).
So on Saturday, when I went in for a look, I immediately noticed that page one was different. Two or three new pictures were there, and in colour, no less. What appears to have happened is that photographs or slides from the archives of Beautiful British Columbia magazine have been uploaded, including several of Ashcroft, their soft late-1960s/early-1970s colour a contrast to the sea of black-and-white.
Two that were of particular interest showed the Mesa subdivision, where I’ve lived for 25 years. Correction: one of them shows the Mesa subdivision, taken around 1977 from the hillside directly behind where my house now stands, looking west over the Mesa and the town below, with some of North Ashcroft in the far distance. My house (built in 1996) is of course nowhere to be seen, nor is the road it’s on. There are still many empty lots on the streets that are there, and the Mesa park looks raw and green in the centre of a circle of houses.
The other shot is taken from the west side of the river in about 1967, and looks back towards where the Mesa subdivision would start to be built in another three or four years. Only a few days before discovering the picture, I’d said to someone that there used to be a horse-racing track on the Mesa, but I’d never seen any pictures of it.
Well, there it was: the bare Mesa, with the perfect oval of the track on the otherwise bare plateau. I had the briefest taste of how Howard Carter must have felt when he got his first look inside King Tut’s tomb and was asked “Do you see anything?” “Yes; wonderful things,” he replied.
I put the pictures on the Ashcroft, BC Facebook page, thinking a few people might find them a curiosity, and was unprepared for how much interest they generated. Longtime Ashcroftonians left comment after comment, pointing out this house and that house, pleased when they picked out somewhere they used to live (or still do live), noting long-gone buildings that could be seen downtown.
It was fascinating to read all the comments, and I learned some new things, but it did make me wonder how many pictures of Ashcroft (and elsewhere) have been discarded over the years; pictures that could have taught us more about what used to be. In 1914, when what’s now the CN mainline was built through North Ashcroft, Journal editor R.D. Cumming noted in the paper that many people were there taking pictures of the huge track-laying machine. I’m sure that’s true, but none of the resulting pictures seem to have survived, which is a huge shame.
There are so many things we could learn from the countless photographs which seemed of no importance and were thrown away when the person who took them was no longer here. If you’re ever confronted with an old photo album or box of slides, think twice before tossing them away. You could be discarding a tiny piece of history.