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dave obee Vancouver in the Seventies: Photos from a Decade that Changed the City
By Kate Bird
Greystone, 168 pages, $29.95

Reviewed by Dave Obee

You know the old saying about one photograph being worth lots and lots of words, right? This book, featuring 149 photographs taken by staff members at the Vancouver Sun, helps to prove the point.

Newspaper photography in the 1970s was better than it had ever been before. Cameras were more flexible, film was faster, and flashes had become smaller and more powerful.

Beyond that, access was still easy. Photographers who wanted to get close to the Queen or to Rod Stewart could do so. Politicians were also more agreeable than they are today, when their images are tightly controlled by their handlers.

So the 1970s represented a time of glory for news photographers, and the ones at the Vancouver Sun, the largest newspaper in the province, were at the top of the game.

This book by Kate Bird, who managed the Sun's photo collection for a quarter of a century, includes images from 20 photographers, including some of the finest in the history of B.C. newspapers.

Their photographs tell of a life that was simpler in some ways, but that does not mean that everyone was getting along. This book includes light feature photographs as well as images of protests, staged in a variety of ways.

More than anything, this book shows a city on the edge of change. Expo was years away, and Vancouver's international profile barely mattered.

It seemed odd that the Rolling Stones chose little Vancouver as the opening venue for their first North American tour in 2 1 /2 years, but maybe the choice was made because Vancouver didn't matter much at the time - a bad concert there would not be the same as a bad concert in Los Angeles or San Francisco.

We see photographs of Pierre and Margaret Trudeau the day after their marriage; Pierre feeding a whale; and Margaret with a couple of her children, including one named Justin who would one day become prime minister.

The book includes industry, rock 'n' roll, nudity, snow, fashion, flames ... basically, small slices of life in Vancouver in that wonderful decade.

Not surprisingly, there is a strong Vancouver focus in a book with the city's name in the title. That means there is nothing from Victoria.

There are the odd exceptions, including an aerial view of the collision between the Sergei Yesenin and the Queen of Victoria in Active Pass in 1970, as well as flooding near Chilliwack in 1975.

But the Vancouver focus means there is no reference to the end of the 20-year reign of Premier W.A.C. Bennett in 1972, although Dave Barrett, who defeated Bennett, is included here.

But those are small points. This book is not meant to be a definitive history of the city, but rather a reflection of what it was like during those 10 years.

It would have been nice to have an index to the photographs included here. The photos are in roughly chronological order, but that doesn't always help when looking for one specific image.

In all, however, this book should be welcomed. Many great photographs are to be found in newspaper files, and the Sun collection is the strongest one in the province.

The success of this book should prompt another, and another, from Bird and the Sun collection. The '60s, anyone?

This review was published in the Times Colonist on December 18, 2016


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