Vancouver in the Seventies: Photos From a Decade That Changed the City
By Kate Bird. Greystone, 168 pp, hardcover
Appearing out of the mist like a gritty and sodden Bali Ha’i, the Vancouver of 40 years ago now seems almost mystical. A small town—in feel, if not physical size—it was a community on the cusp, soon to be awash in money, development, immigration, and that most bittersweet of modern curses, constant change.
In Vancouver in the Seventies: Photos From a Decade That Changed the City, author Kate Bird reminds us of all that once was, offering up nearly 150 period photos by veteran Vancouver Sun photographers Glenn Baglo, Ralph Bower, Deni Eagland, George Diack, and many others.
Most of the photos are taken with a newsman’s eye, but there’s also some great art—as in the case of the high-rise sunbather who evokes Saul Bass’s North by Northwest title sequence, or the excesses of a B.C. Pen riot that suggest the brutal imagery of Hieronymus Bosch.
Although it’s easy to think of the pre-Internet, preglobalization 1970s as a simpler, more innocent time, this collection documents a complicated port community at a crossroads, both literally and figuratively. While civic, business, and societal control was still staunchly male, traditional, and Anglo-Saxon, fracture lines are clearly visible. Change was on its way, and it’s nearly palpable in images documenting protest movements by women, gay and aboriginal activists, environmentalists, and the counterculture.
That being said, there’s also a lot of good-natured fun to be had. Vancouver wasn’t so preoccupied with its own image back then, and there’s a bounty of lively photos of bathtub races, Dickie Dee vendors, demolition derbies, Robsonstrasse, and that briefest of political stars, Mr. Peanut. Also, bell-bottoms—a lot of bell-bottoms.
If newspapers are, as the saying goes, the first draft of history, then photojournalism must surely be its rough notes. Whether or not one was present for the Vancouver of the 1970s, this collection serves as an important primary document and a fascinating—not to mention entertaining—window on the city’s rapidly disappearing past.