Commons:British Library/Picturing Canada

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This page outlines some information about the "Picturing Canada" collection - a series of photographs from the Canadian Copyright Collection held at the British Library, mostly from the HS85/10 collection. They were digitised in 2012-13 with funding from Wikimedia UK and the Eccles Centre for American Studies and are in the process of being uploaded to Wikimedia Commons.

The collection is now available here. It includes two copies of every file - one original scanned TIFF and one cropped JPEG. All are in the public domain and may be freely used or modified.

For more details about the British Library's work with Wikimedia, see Commons:British Library.



Following an amendment to the Canadian copyright act in 1895, registration of copyright in Canada required depositing two copies of an item. One was kept in Ottawa (ultimately with Library and Archives Canada) and the other sent to the British Museum in London. The requirement to send a copy to London was stopped in 1924 when Canadian copyright law was updated, and no more material was received. The Museum's collection later passed to the British Library, where it was catalogued and conserved in the 1980s, and has not been heavily used since.

Wikimedia UK and the Eccles Centre for American Studies have co-funded the digitisation of around 4,000 images from this collection.

Outline of the collection


The material is particularly interesting as it covers a wide cross-section of material; everything deposited for copyright was retained, regardless of any perceived artistic merit. Most other large-scale photographic collections were selected either for topical coverage or for aesthetic value, and the absence of this filtering has led to the survival of a large amount of ephemeral or commercially-oriented material.

The project currently covers the main and outsize photograph collections, as well as some published bound volumes of photographs, for a total of about 4,000 scans; however, it does not extend to a small proportion of the more fragile photographic volumes, which will require significant conservation work before digitisation. It also omitted some printed postcards which were included alongside the photographic collection, as these are more likely to have been digitised by other programs.

Other than these items, there are a number of known omissions from the collection, which fall into three classes:

a) Material known to have been deposited but never to have reached London
At least one shipment of material is known to have been lost (when the Empress of Ireland sank en route to Liverpool in May 1914)
b) Material known to have been deposited but missing as of the 1980s
A comprehensive study of the copyright registers carried out by Dalhousie University in the 1980s discovered that a significant amount of material could not be identified; it is unclear what happened to this, but it may have been deaccessioned by the British Museum, lost or damaged while in storage, or simply into the main collection in such a way that it could no longer be easily traced.
c) Material retained by the British Museum
When its collections were split, the British Museum retained a small number of photographs (mostly by Geraldine Moodie) as part of their anthropological collections.

During the process of digitisation we were able to identify a previously unnoticed set of volumes containing 1,772 images from the Canadian Official Photographs series from the First World War - this represents about a third of the complete series. These images were digitised as part of the Europeana Collections 1914-1918 program, and will be made available on Commons at some point in the future - however, the collection does not include any metadata, and this is holding up progress!


Under Canadian copyright law, any photograph created in or before 1949 has had its copyright lapse and is now in the public domain in Canada. As such, these may be freely used, modified, reused or published in Canada without any legal restrictions.

If you are an institution which is interested in acquiring a copy of the complete set with metadata - around 80-100 GB - please get in touch; we would love to ensure that this material is made available to Canadian institutions.

Technical notes


The collection is held in Category:Images from the Canadian Copyright Collection at the British Library; for each file, we have the original TIFF (suffixed "original") and one or more cropped JPEGs. Items are tagged with {{Picturing Canada}} and {{British Library image}}, and as such link out to both the Library's catalogue and to its digitised images viewer. As of June 2013, the files are being exported to both these services, but may not be made available for a short period while the data is verified.

All files are named in the form:

File:description (HS85-10-xxxx) original.tif
File:description (HS85-10-xxxx).jpg

The description may be a title given by the photographer, or a descriptive one taken from the catalogue. HS85/10 is the collection shelfmark, and "xxxx" represents the item's copyright number, which is sequential up to around 1923, when it switches to a new numbering system suffixed "F". (e.g. "300F"). A single sequence of copyright numbers was assigned to all deposited material, not just photographs, and so there are large gaps in the sequence where books or other material were registered.

In some cases, multiple photographs were printed together or provided under a single copyright number (often to save on registration fees!) and these are mostly suffixed -1, -2, etc. In a few rare cases, we have images of both the front and back of an item.

Some material was not retained in the main HS85/10 sequence, but was transferred into the Maps collections. These have been listed with their correct shelfmarks in the metadata, but for simplicity and ease of navigation have been given filenames using "synthetic" numbers in the HS85/10 sequence, generated by using their copyright number.










Further reading