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Memory Mondays – Can You Help Us Learn More?

For this December’s #MemoryMondays, we’re doing things a bit differently!

The WDM’s Barton Collection of photos is a collection of around 1,000 photographs covering a period from the earliest part of the 20th Century to the 1980s. This collection is from one family who lived on a farm south of Saskatoon for multiple generations and provides a great view into everyday settler life in Saskatchewan through the 20th Century.

Though most of these photographs came to the WDM with information on dates, locations or the names of people pictured in them, some have no information at all. This month, we’re sharing photos from this Collection that we know little or nothing about, in the hopes that some of our followers may be able to help us glean some information from them!

As nice as it is to be able to learn about a photo just by reading notes written on the back, often there is no written information associated with a photograph. Though this can be frustrating, it doesn’t mean that information can’t be gathered from what’s in a picture itself! Photographs often contain clues to when or where they were taken. Things like the style of clothing people are wearing, how they have styled their hair, technology that appears in the photo (vehicles, kitchen appliances or the type of lighting used, for example) or even home décor can help narrow down a time period or location.

When we have the physical photos, we can learn even more. The ways photos have been taken, printed and preserved have changed dramatically over the past two centuries since photography came into being. Examining a physical copy of a photograph can reveal what era’s materials and techniques were used in printing it, which can narrow down when it was taken.

We do not have physical copies of the photos in the Barton Collection to examine, so we are left with the clues in the images themselves! Take a look at these photos and see if you can deduce anything about when they may have been taken and let us know in the comments, on Facebook, or by email to At the bottom of this page are links to helpful resources.

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

Interested in learning more about dating photographs? Here are some resources on dating old photos and other resources that can help:

National Archives UK – Dating Photographs <- Some basic suggestions for things to look for in photographs to help narrow down a time period from the National Archives in the UK.

Halifax Public Libraries – Dating Old Photos <- Examples from Halifax Public Libraries of how they identified some photos. This page also offers a few tips of things to look for.

Canadian Museum of History – Catalogue Shopping <- Catalogues can be used to narrow down dates for different styles of clothing, furniture, toys and other common objects. This database from the Canadian Museum of History has information on how to search digitized copies of old Canadian shopping catalogues. Their database of digitized catalogues appears to no longer be functional, but they are available elsewhere! See the link directly below this.

Library and Archives Canada – Mail Order Catalogue Database <- Library and Archives Canada’s website has a searchable database of mail order catalogues.

McCord Stewart Museum – Clothing Collection Database <- the McCord Stewart Museum in Montreal has a large portion of their clothing collection accessible online. Searching this collection may help narrow down when different styles of clothing were popular.

Canadian Automotive Museum – Canadian Cars <- The Canadian Automotive Museum has a number of photographs of vehicles in their collection, helpfully arranged by decade. This may help pinpoint which period a vehicle is from.

Ingenium Canada Artifact Database <- Ingenium Canada’s artifact collection is searchable and they have many examples of a wide variety of technology. A search for “telephone,” for example, brings up images of nearly 1,200 artifacts. Each photo can be clicked on to show more information about the object, including approximate dates.

Canadian Museum of History – Hats, 1890-1965 <- This old virtual exhibit from the Canadian Museum of History shows some examples of some of the most popular hat styles in Canada from 1890-1965.

Remember: If an object in a photo can be dated to a specific year, it doesn’t necessarily mean the photo is from that exact year. The photo could have been taken years after the item was first made. This means that if you see a photo of a car first manufactured in 1928, the photo can’t have been taken before 1928, but it could have been taken after 1928.

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