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Philip Francis Postcard Collection

Phillip Francis Postcard Collection

Postcards provide a window into the past unlike other written or photographic materials. In many respects, they can be viewed as the precursors of today’s social media. They were, first and foremost, a quick, inexpensive and often visually appealing means of communication. In the Golden Age of postcards, from 1900 - 1914, when there were sometimes five or more postal deliveries in urban areas each day, postcards cost less than a letter to send – whether to friends in the city or relatives back home – and they told a story. The story might be of a photojournalistic nature, before the technology existed to print photographs in newspapers; or it might tell a story about the sender (proudly patriotic or with an ironic sense of humour perhaps) or even about the interests or preferences of the recipient – anthropomorphic cats, or railways, or sailing ships. For serious researchers, it is the back of the postcard that contains a mine of information – not only about the photographer or publisher but about the events, locations, sentiments, hopes and fears of the sender. As well as the social history, we occasionally find a rare piece of postal history – for example, a postcard from a town long-since vanished from the map of British Columbia.

In aggregate, this collection of 13,000 postcards (approximately 6,000 of which are digitized and available here) tells the story of the early development of British Columbia. It shows how very British this province was in the early years of the 20th century. But it also captures the rich history of the First Nations as well and illustrates the key contribution of immigrants to the economic growth of western Canada, through transportation systems and urbanization and the development of the resource industries of mining, forestry, and fishing. We owe the early photographers – people like Philip Timms, Leonard Frank and George Barrowclough - who set out to provide a visual record of the early years, a great debt of gratitude. A hundred or more years later, we get to see history in action and each one of their images is worth more than a thousand words.

--Philip Francis

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License and Usage Permissions

Images from the Philip Francis Postcard Collection have been made available by Simon Fraser University Library under a Creative Commons attribution, non-commercial license. A full legal outline of the license can be viewed at: We encourage the appropriate open use of images from this collection for educational and other not-for-profit purposes. Attribution/citation should be provided as follows:

Image [insert image number here, eg. MSC130-19003-01] courtesy of the Philip Francis Postcard Collection, a digital initiative of Simon Fraser University Library. [Please include the website url when images are used in an offline or print-based context].

Parties interested in using high-resolution versions of the images from the Philip Francis Postcard Collection for commercial purposes should contact Special Collections and Rare Books, SFU Library.


SFU Special Collections and Rare Books gratefully acknowledges the financial support provided by the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre's "BC History Digitization Program" to make this collection available online.

Contributed by Special Collections and Rare Books, Simon Fraser University Library.