Philip Timms Collection: Background Information

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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. View a selection of photographs from the Philip Timms Collection in This Vancouver or use the Historical Photographs advanced search to view the larger collection.

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 a selection of photographs from the Philip Timms Collection in This Vancouver or use the Historical Photographs advanced search to view the larger collection.

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.

Learn more about the Historical Photograph Collection