Philip Timms Collection: Background Info

VPL 81056
Women on a beach,

Philip Timms, 1909. VPL 7816

The Philip Timms Collection

The Vancouver Public Library is privileged to have a collection of photographs taken by Philip Thomas Timms of British Columbia during the early part of the twentieth century. These photographs provide a rich contribution to the cultural heritage of the province of British Columbia, as well as a cornerstone upon which the Vancouver Public Library historical photograph collection is built. Philip Timms moved to Vancouver from Toronto in 1898 attracted by the prospect of prosperity resulting from the goldstrike in the Klondike. His idea was to "pick up" photography in his spare time while working as a picture framer but he soon became an experienced photographer and opened his own photographic studio. From 1900 to 1968 he managed his own photography and printing shop producing thousands of postcards and photographs and thereby becoming the oldest active printer in Canada. Everything was a subject for Timms' camera: streetscapes filled with people and vehicles; beach scenes depicting swimmers and observers wearing fedora hats; hikers in the mountains; animal husbandry in the Fraser Valley; gardens; theatres; parks and zoos. Timms' record of life in British Columbia during the first half of the twentieth century is now ours to observe and enjoy.

About the Photographs

There are more than 3,800 photographs in the entire Philip Timms Collection. Fifteen hundred of these images were digitized during the project entitled 'Vancouver's Golden Years, 1900-1910: Photographs by Philip Timms' which was funded through Canada's Digital Collections Program. The second Timms project, funded by Industry Canada, entitled 'British Columbia Through the Camera Lens of Philip Timms', ensured that the remaining images are available for the public to view.

Images in the collection exist in a variety of formats, including: glass plate negative, film based negative, lantern slide, and display print. Subjects include: children, streetscapes, houses, ships, ferries, locomotives, picnics, beach scenes, parks, mountains and local industry.

Timms' photographs provide a rich resource that lends itself well to a wide variety of audiences locally, nationally and internationally, including: film and television companies, architects and city planners, students, teachers, historians, librarians, and writers.

Biography: Philip Timms

"Mr. Timms is a real Vancouver pioneer; handpicked, extra special, double refined and forty over proof." Major J.S. Matthews, City of Vancouver Archivist, perhaps best described Philip Timms.

Born in Toronto in 1874, the son of pioneer music printers who emigrated from London, England. Philip Timms was an extraordinary man whose lifetime spanned: the days of horses and buggies; the invention of the first automobile, radio, airplane and television, as well as the landing of the first man on the moon. He lived to one month short of his 99th birthday having lived a long life filled with many interests and considerable accomplishments.

Timms' interests varied from shopkeeper, to professional printer and commercial photographer, to amateur archaeologist, archivist and historian, to musician, vocalist, choir and band leader, projectionist, lecturer and frustrated actor. He developed his own home museum, auditorium and theatre, was comfortable in churches of every denomination and was a deeply committed vegetarian and antivivisectionist.

Timms' considered his greatest professional accomplishment to be the photographic record that he created of Vancouver between 1900 and 1910. However, the images that he took during his travels throughout the province of British Columbia during subsequent years are also a tremendous cultural legacy. Timms' curiosity and adventurous spirit drew him to photograph many of the province's natural wonders. Like Leonard Frank who loved to photograph "The Lions", Timms loved to photograph the mountains, his favourite being "Black Tusk" in Garibaldi Provincial Park. He also loved the giant old-growth trees such as those in Stanley Park; his young son Harold was a favourite model to help indicate the scale. Timms was keenly interested in all the ways of life in the new frontier that was British Columbia. As a consequence, the photographic record that he left behind affords us a valuable glimpse of the province during its period of growth from a frontier outpost to a well-established centre of industry and tourism.

Philip Timms was a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society; he was also the official photographer for the Vancouver Museum. Of his work, James B. Stanton, Curator of History at the Museum in the early 1970s wrote: "All of Timms' photographs have a certain recognizable quality about them; much of the kindness and gentleness of the man himself comes through. His shots are candid and uncluttered and capture dramatically the feeling and mood of the time."

When he closed his shop on Commercial Drive in 1968 at the age of 94, after 79 years as a printer and 70 years as a photographer, Philip Timms urged other photographers to continue similar documentation of British Columbia's history.

The photographs on this website are a tribute to Philip Timms. We owe him a debt of gratitude as expressed in Maclean's Guide to Vancouver, "for this comprehensive documentation of the [province's] history, and the invaluable contribution to our cultural heritage."

Viewing and Searching the Collection

View the Philip Timms Collection

Search this collection through the Historical Photographs Database of the Vancouver Public Library, Special Collections Department.

Ordering Digital Reproductions

All photographs in the database are available for purchase, and digital reproductions can be ordered from the Special Collections Department at the Vancouver Public Library. Visit Historical Photograph Collections for more information and to access the online order form.


Project Sponsors

  • The Philip Timms Collection was digitized under Industry Canada's Digital Collections Program. It was the second historical photograph collection to be entered into the Vancouver Public Library's Historical Photographs Collection Database through funding provided by Industry Canada.
  • Very special thanks to the City of Vancouver Archives.
  • We are especially grateful to Philip Timms' grand-children, Lois Peters and Lawrence Albert Timms, for their help and support during this project.

Library Team

  • Kate Russell - Supervising Librarian, Special Collections Department
  • Wendy Godley - Librarian, Special Collections Department
  • Kim McCarthy - Library Technician II, Special Collections Department
  • Melina Bowden - Library Assistant III, Special Collections Department
  • Corinne Sam - Library Assistant III, Special Collections Department
  • Jon Whipple - Graphics Technician, Marketing, Development and Communications Department; and Virtual Library
  • Paul Matthews - Scanning Technician
  • Krista Eckberg - Library Technician I
  • Special thanks to Vancouver Public Library System Support Group

Technical Information


The digitization of Vancouver Public Library's Special Collections historical photographs collection began in June 2000 with the Leonard Frank Collection, followed two years later by the intial phase of the online Timms' collection which was then called 'Vancouver's Golden Years: 1900-1910, Photographs by Philip Timms'. The second phase was called 'British Columbia through the Camera Lens of Philip Timms'. In 2017 the two online collections were merged into one Philip Timms Collection. InMagic DB/Textworks and Web Publisher software was used to facilitate searching and displaying the scanned photographic records on the World Wide Web. Creation of this rich, new, digital collection will serve to:

  • protect the collection because it will be available electronically thereby reducing the handling of original images;
  • represent the collection by raising researchers' awareness of the historical photograph collection and by heightening awareness of the significance and value of the collection to the wider community

Scanning Hardware

  • Seanix P3 600, 512MB RAM, 13 GB HD, CD-RW, Windows '98
  • ViewSonic G810 22 inch CRT
  • Microtek ScanMaker III
  • Wacom Graphics Tablet

Scanning Software

  • Scanwizard Image Acquisition Software
  • Adobe Photoshop 5.5
  • Adaptec Easy CD Creator 4

Text Database and Web

  • InMagic DB\Textworks 6.01, Web Publisher 4.03
  • Netscape Navigator 4.7
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 5

The Archiving and Scanning Process

Before image scanning and data entry into the electronic database could begin, a system was created to inventory all manifestations of each image in the Philip Timms Collection. A logbook was created (listing negatives: glass plate, film base, copy and source, and display prints: copy and source) from which the data was interpreted and then entered into the InMagic database. This data was merged with all additional information from the Special Collections Department photograph accession records and historic photograph index shelflist, thereby enhancing the descriptive information for every image. The entire inventorying process was highly labour intensive, in part because of the need to gather and organize information found in handwritten and index card format, in preparation for transferring it to electronic form.

After the text was entered, the source images were removed from the Special Collections historical photographs vault and were checked against the accompanying text. Once this step was completed, scanning of the photographs commenced, with each image scanned in greyscale to a minimum of 300dpi. The scans were saved as TIFFs and burned to CD-ROM for archival storage. The TIFFs were then used as the source for the creation of JPEGs in two sizes at 72dpi suitable for displaying on the website.

Learn more about the Historical Photograph Collection