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Western Canada Pictorial Index

The WCPI consists of reproductions of more than 70,000 images related to the history of Western Canada, gathered over nearly three decades. It began as a centennial project in 1970 under the direction of local journalist Eric Wells and Thora Cooke. Wells and Cooke appealed to archives, museums and the public to provide pictures of the province’s past for an exhibit which was displayed at the Central Canadian Exhibition, and then toured around schools and fairs in the province. When Wells and Cooke needed a home for the Index, the University of Winnipeg offered space and some expertise, and the Index came to live here. In the early 1990s a decision was taken to move the project off campus, and the Index found a new home in the Exchange District under the direction of a new Board. In 2005, the University of Winnipeg agreed to move the Index back to campus under the management of the Library.

The Index consists of slides and contact sheets and does not include any original negatives or prints. Collecting practices for images in the Index varied throughout its development, with the primary source of images being other archives, museums and historical societies. Another significant percentage of images came from families, companies and other forms of private donation.

The Database

The images in the Index were catalogued by WCPI staff and that information was eventually computer-generated. A descriptive record was created for each image in the WCPI. In some cases, these descriptions were provided directly by the parties donating the records. In most cases, WCPI staff catalogued the records themselves. When the U of W took back the Index, the online database available on this website was created to make the data more accessible. The catalogue records were broken down into the following fields:

Image number: Every image has a unique 5-digit identification number that was assigned at the time the image was entered into the Index. This numbering system does not correspond to the numbering system of the institution holding the original record.

Contact Sheet number: Most of the images have been reproduced on contact sheets, which generally contain 36 images per sheet.

Collection: As noted above, the images were assembled from a variety of private and public repositories in Manitoba and around the country. For the most part, the name of the collection in WCPI accurately reflects the origins of the image, but in other cases, it does not. For example, the provenance of the “Miscellaneous Collection” is virtually unknown and untraceable.

Creator: The purpose of this field was to provide the name of the photographer, however this field was just as often used to give the name of the person who collected the image, not necessarily the person who created it.

Title/description: This field contains a description of the image content, in some instances with a correponding title assigned by the donating party or repository. Where titles exist, they are displayed in "brief entry" mode. Due to variations in collecting and cataloguing methods over the span of WCPI’s development, we cannot guarantee that this information reflects the true content and context of a photograph. For example, in some cases images were reproduced from archival institutions before that institution undertook its own description or re-description work for the same images. Archival description is not a static practice, however the catalogue records in the WCPI are frozen in time depending on when they were reproduced for the Index. For this and other reasons, the reliability of the descriptions cannot be guaranteed.

Subjects: The subject field contains terms from a limited list of subject-headings, listed in the Subject Browse display. These terms can be entered singly or in combination as keywords to refine a query in the Simple or Advanced searches. Subject headings were assigned by WCPI staff at the time of entry into the Index.

Date: This field provide the date on which the image was initially created, or first appeared in a published format (such as a newspaper). Due to the many challenges inherent in dating photographs, we cannot guarantee that the dates provided in the Index are accurate.

Copyright and Ownership

Title, description, collection and date information about the images in the database were transferred to the University of Winnipeg, and unfortunately there are no other records available that provide information about provenance or ownership.

Under the Copyright Act, images dated earlier than 1949 are technically in the public domain, which means that they can be reproduced without any breach of copyright. However, because the original print or negative versions of a large percentage of these images are housed in other institutions, there are issues surrounding the ownership of these images. Please see our Reproduction Policy for more information.

The images in the Index typically fall into one of the following categories, and we are currently working on refining the contents of the database to reflect these differences:

  1. Originals are available in their home repository: This category comprises those images which have been taken from larger heritage institutions, such as the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections or the Archives of Manitoba. For information about these images, contact the University Archivist.
  2. Unresolved questions related to image ownership: These are images whose ownership is questionable. Often these come from businesses or other organizations, or in cases where the donor of materials was not the legal owner of the materials. Some of these collections have been suppressed in their entirety until ownership can be properly traced.
  3. Small private collections with few or no outstanding questions regarding ownership: Our greatest concern is to preserve the images in WCPI that are not available anywhere else. Work is underway to renew connections with original image donors, creator or their families to ensure ongoing public access to these valuable images.

Moving Forward with WCPI

As the WCPI enters into the fourth decade of its existence, Manitobans recall it fondly as one of the province’s great repositories of historical images. Its purpose was to make Western Canada’s visual history more accessible, and this goal was a lofty one in the 1970s, well before archival institutions and museums were able to conceive of a day when their images might be visible across the globe at the click of a mouse.

Today, many repositories whose photos were reproduced by the WCPI have gone on to successfully digitize, or are in the process of digitizing, these same materials and making them available online, accompanied by current and reliable archival descriptions of the images. There are other cases of smaller collections in the WCPI that were loaned to the Index for the purpose of increasing their public reach, the originals of which are either sitting in attics or in smaller institutions who lack the resources to create their own online access. For this reason, the WCPI cannot be dealt with as one large group of images.

Work is slowly being completed to gain insight into the various collections within WCPI so that we can focus resources on the materials in WCPI that are likely to be the only available versions of a given image. Through our ongoing work on the WCPI, we hope to ensure its lasting value as an historical resource by updating catalogue information and attaching digital thumbnails. We also hope to work with the archival, museum and heritage communities to ensure that the WCPI is a viable resource that complements local and national photographic archives.