Photographs are a unique glimpse into the pioneer era.

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Around 1906 an unknown photographer took a shot of pioneer Vancouver’s legendary lifeguard Joe Fortes with some children at English Bay beach.

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It’s a real slice of the early city. Fortes is wearing a giant one-piece wool bathing suit, and looming behind him is the old English Bay Pier. Behind the pier are several substantial houses, on the water side of Beach Avenue.

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The photo was made into a postcard titled “‘Joe,’ English Bay, Vancouver, B.C.,” and was reissued several times. But the identity of the kids was unknown, until Brock Lumsden opened a family photo album put together by his late great-aunt Flora Richardson Strang.

Flora has identified herself in the photo, frolicking in the water to Joe’s right. Her sister, Gertrude, is beside her. A third sister, Ethyl, is on Joe’s left, with her friend Helen Newsom.

The Richardson girls probably knew Joe well, because they lived in one of the houses on the water on Beach Avenue, just west of the English Bay Pier.

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The houses on the water were all torn down for parkland decades ago. But in Flora’s family album, this lost city comes back to life.

Flora Richardson annotated a famous 1906 postcard of Joe Fortes with the names of some of the kids in the photo, including her own.
Flora Richardson annotated a famous 1906 postcard of Joe Fortes with the names of some of the kids in the photo, including her own. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Flora’s father, Wesley Richardson, moved to Vancouver in 1890. Richardson was one of Vancouver’s first dentists, and prominent in society circles in Vancouver and his native Ontario.

As such, he had the resources to hire one of pioneer Vancouver’s top photographic firms, Trueman and Caple, to take photos of a picnic to Seymour Creek on the North Shore in August 1892, when Vancouver was only six years old.

One of the two sepia-tone photos in Flora’s album shows a group of 14 adults and four children looking like they’re attending some formal event. Most of the men are in three-piece suits, while the women are looking very stylish in long Victorian dresses and slightly over-the-top hats.

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The second photo shows the same group posing in a giant canoe on the creek. Trueman and Caple were artistic photographers — it looks more like a pre-Raphaelite painting than a weekend picnic snapshot with some friends.

The sojourn across Burrard Inlet may have been a celebration of Wesley Richardson’s 1892 marriage to Christina Spink in Toronto.

Richardson is prominently seated in the middle of the group, his wife behind him and to the side. In 1967 Flora pasted the photo into an album, and identified everyone in the shot.

One of them is early B.C.’s top architect, Francis Rattenbury, who designed the provincial Parliament buildings in 1898. Rattenbury is identified as Frank, indicating he’s a family friend.

Lumsden inherited the family photos about a decade ago, and recently fished them out of a cedar chest. He’s thinking of donating them to the Vancouver Archives.

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He loved his great-aunt Flora, who was quite vivacious.

“When she was young she was a flapper,” he said. “And she was hot. She was a party girl.”

You can tell by many of the photos, which feature Flora vamping it up in the 1920s, ’30s in flapper dresses. Family lore is that she once dated a member of the Rogers Sugar family, but he committed suicide.

A Trueman and Caple photo of the Richardson family and some friends at Seymour Creek on the North Shore in 1892. Flora Richardson has identified the people in the photo in her family photo album. The photo ran in the Vancouver Province in 1926 and 1936.
A Trueman and Caple photo of the Richardson family and some friends at Seymour Creek on the North Shore in 1892. Flora Richardson has identified the people in the photo in her family photo album. The photo ran in the Vancouver Province in 1926 and 1936. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

In photos in Jasper, Alta., she identifies another suitor, Glen Farr, who was apparently shooting a movie there with Fox.

“He invented a camera that is able to travel into the mountains,” she wrote. “He proposed to me there and came later to Vancouver. There were 75 of the Fox film company there, and only four girls among them. It was 1929. Glen Farr lost all his money so I never heard from him again.”

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This makes Lumsden laugh uproariously.

“That’s him right there! That’s the guy!” he said, pointing to the photo. “She’s almost in Fox Studios, then he loses all his money and flakes her out. It’s not for lack of trying, Flora, you gave it your best shot.”

Flora was the youngest of the three Richardson daughters. Gertrude was Lumsden’s grandmother, Ethyl married and moved to Detroit, and Flora stayed in Vancouver and married Walter Strang.

The family grew up in several homes in the West End, none of which survive. From 1894 to 1901 the family lived at 804 Hornby St., where Robson Square is today. In 1902 they moved to 1428 Robson St., which became the site of the recently demolished Sheraton Landmark hotel.

In 1907, they relocated to 1938 Beach Ave., the house on the water side of the English Bay shoreline.

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The album contains a couple of old postcards that show the Richardson home on Beach Avenue in the distance behind English Bay beach and the English Bay Pier. Flora has helpfully marked them with an ‘X’.

Flora Richardson marked the site of one of the old family homes on this early 1900s postcard.
Flora Richardson marked the site of one of the old family homes on this early 1900s postcard. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

She had no qualms about writing on photos, which would make modern archivists blanch but is quite helpful, because she uses them as a key to annotate the photos in the album.

There is a photo identified as “Picnic to Steveston, B.C., July 20th, 1894 SS City of Nanaimo,” for example, that features a throng of people peering over the edge of the boat.

Flora wrote numbers below 24 of the passengers, and then identifies them on a slip of paper underneath. Her mother must have done the identification — the trip was seven years before Flora was born on Feb. 14, 1901.

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The last family home was a mansion that Wesley Richardson commissioned at 1686 Harwood St. in 1909. It was often mentioned in the society or church pages of local newspapers, because Wesley Richardson was choirmaster at St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church from 1890 to 1931 and his wife and daughters held teas for their friends at the Harwood home.

Like many families in the 1930s the Richardsons seem to have run into some financial troubles — they rented out parts of the house for decades. It was torn down in 1966 for the Beach Towers development.

But the handsome house lives on in Flora’s photo albums, which also contain all sorts of letters and documents. One album contains Wesley Richardson’s invitation to the opening of Rattenbury’s “New Parliament Buildings” in Victoria on Feb. 10, 1898.

In terms of B.C. historical collectibles, that’s about as good as it gets.

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The cover of a booklet given out with the invitation to the opening of the New Provincial Parliament Buildings in Victoria in 1898.
The cover of a booklet given out with the invitation to the opening of the New Provincial Parliament Buildings in Victoria in 1898. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
Wesley Richardson’s invitation to the opening of the New Provincial Parliament Buildings in Victoria in 1898.
Wesley Richardson’s invitation to the opening of the New Provincial Parliament Buildings in Victoria in 1898. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
Brock Lumsden’s great-grandparents, Wesley Richardson and Christina Spink Richardson, around the time of their wedding on June 16, 1892.
Brock Lumsden’s great-grandparents, Wesley Richardson and Christina Spink Richardson, around the time of their wedding on June 16, 1892. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
Dr. Wesley Richardson in his dental office in the Flack Block at Cambie and Hastings streets, 1908.
Dr. Wesley Richardson in his dental office in the Flack Block at Cambie and Hastings streets, 1908. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
The corner of Hornby and Robson streets, January 1893, looking west. This is where Robson Square is today.
The corner of Hornby and Robson streets, January 1893, looking west. This is where Robson Square is today. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
A Trueman and Caple photo of the Richardson family and some friends at Seymour Creek on the North Shore in 1892.
A Trueman and Caple photo of the Richardson family and some friends at Seymour Creek on the North Shore in 1892. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
Wesley Richardson and his family at the Hollow Tree in Stanley Park, 1910.
Wesley Richardson and his family at the Hollow Tree in Stanley Park, 1910. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
Flora Richardson with Glen Farr, right, who asked her to marry him.
Flora Richardson with Glen Farr, right, who asked her to marry him. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
Flora Richardson, 1913.
Flora Richardson, 1913. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
The three Richardson girls, early 1900s.
The three Richardson girls, early 1900s. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
The Richardson family home at 1686 Harwood St. in the West End of Vancouver.
The Richardson family home at 1686 Harwood St. in the West End of Vancouver. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
Flora Richardson marked the site of one of the old family homes with an X on this early 1900s postcard.
Flora Richardson marked the site of one of the old family homes with an X on this early 1900s postcard. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
“Picnic to Steveston, B.C., July 20th, 1894 SS City of Nanaimo,” with identities of 24 passengers underneath.
“Picnic to Steveston, B.C., July 20th, 1894 SS City of Nanaimo,” with identities of 24 passengers underneath. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

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