Then and now: 55 years of British Columbia Magazine

By Jane Zatylny

When Beautiful British Columbia launched 55 years ago, it was one of the first publications in North America to showcase large format, full-colour photography.  The vibrant Kodachrome layouts highlighted the province’s spectacular scenery and made a lasting impression on readers, including Don Bourdon, now the curator of images and paintings at the Royal BC Museum.

“I grew up in a Beautiful British Columbia magazine household,” he told me in his Victoria office. “As a kid, many of my vivid fantasies about ghost towns and places unknown were inspired by the magazine’s colourful scenic and topical photographs.”

The child of two North Vancouver schoolteachers, Bourdon remembers travelling with his family to many of the locations featured in the early issues of the magazine. “We took these long driving vacations every summer,” he said. “There was nothing more inviting for my dad than an obscure unpaved road.” Last fall, while conducting research in the Cariboo for an upcoming exhibition, Bourdon had an opportunity to revisit some of his childhood haunts, including the historic gold-rush town of Barkerville. There, he and his colleagues sought out vistas to photograph and compare with images captured by colonial-era photographers.

“Re-photography, the process of contrasting old and new images, is a natural outcome of our curiosity about what places and people looked like in the past,” he explained. Used for more than a century by artists and surveyors alike, it creates a lasting record of change. But for Bourdon, re-photography is also about discovery: “I’ve always had this interest in looking for some consistent feature that still exists,” he said. “For me, it’s about finding it and being there in that exact, same spot.”

Here in our editorial offices, we went through a similar process while working on our 55th anniversary feature, “Then and now.” We spent weeks combing through our back issues, searching for iconic photos to contrast in a meaningful way with modern-day shots of the same locations. Securing the present-day image was challenging in some cases, but once the match was made, it was fascinating to see what changed and what has remained the same.

As Bourdon and I thumbed through early editions of Beautiful British Columbia magazine, he stopped and pointed at several photographs of places he’d visited with his family. “This publication had a considerable influence on me,” he reflected. “I remember every picture. Seeing these issues and images again has stirred up some good memories.”

We hope you feel the same way about our look back in time.

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Christine Ly

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