Original Published 12:29 Apr 14, 2022
By Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Christian Cassidy wants West Enders to plumb their basements and attics for windows to the past.
As part of the West Central Digital History Project, Cassidy is putting out a call for pre-1980 photos—as well as any other “ephemera” (small paper items like calendars, postcards, print ads and ticket stubs)—to be shared on a Manitoba Historical Society website. And he’s not just looking for famous buildings or people.
“Everyday photos of streets and homes and people in the neighbourhood are wanted…and it’s not just images, we’d love the story behind them.”
Cassidy says there’s a shortage of historical photos of Winnipeg’s West End, and he would know. The self-described urban history geek has spent countless hours haunting archives and scrolling through old publications researching material for his historical newspaper columns and blog posts for more than 10 years.
He says the West End grew quickly and relatively recently as a middle-class neighbourhood. As a result, fewer grand homes favoured by photographers were built. As well, the neighbourhood missed an era when city postcards were done of general street views. But people took photos, and Cassidy has faith they are waiting to be found and shared.
“There’s thousands and thousands of pictures out there, but they’re in people’s family photo albums down in the basement (or) maybe in church files and stuck in the back rooms of old companies.”
Cassidy says the supply of archival photos also lacks diversity—leaning more towards a white, middle-class population. He hopes to change that.
“I’d love to get photos from some of the early Filipino families that moved into the neighbourhood, you know, and some of the early Indigenous families.”
Cassidy is probably best known for his historical West End Dumplings blog (he also authors the Winnipeg Places and This is Manitoba blogs). Not surprisingly, he has a love for history.
“I’ve always had it ever since I was a kid. I would look up as I walked along streets downtown, you know, that’s where the lions are and the gargoyles and the great cornices and terracotta stonework.”
He has researched the history of about 500 buildings and gives in-person workshops teaching people how to research their own homes—research that is made easier by the wealth of free online information in Manitoba. During the pandemic, the workshops went virtual and one was recorded and posted to the Manitoba Historical Society’s YouTube page.
The West Central Digital History Project is currently looking for pre-1980 material from just the St. Matthews and Daniel McIntyre neighbourhoods. Cassidy says he will soon ask for submissions from the entire West End if the initial response does not snow him under with images to digitize and post. Submitters can email email@example.com to arrange to send digital images or to deliver items to be digitized. A title, description, location, date and contributor name are gathered for each image. Cassidy is hoping submitters will include detailed descriptions with as much history about the image they are willing to share.
“If it’s your grandpa, where did your grandpa come from? When did he come here? What did he do for a living? If it was your uncle’s bakery on Ellice, great, tell me about your uncle.”
A scanner for digitization was made possible by a small grant by the Daniel McIntyre/St. Matthews Community Association (where Cassidy works as community programs coordinator) and submissions will be shared on the Manitoba Historical Society’s website at mb1870.org/piwigo
This item reprinted with permission from The Leaf, Winnipeg, Manitoba