Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 21 – George A. Barrowclough
Last year I took on the challenge of the first-ever Local History Advent Calendar! For 24 days in a row, I presented random historical tidbits I’d collected over the previous year and presented them in the form of “treats” for my 2018 Local History Advent Calendar. This year, the “Heart of Mount Pleasant” was number 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List for 2019. So I decided to choose Mount Pleasant as the theme for the Vanalogue Local History Advent Calendar for 2019. Each day you can “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Mount Pleasant history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.
Two of my favourite photos of historic Mount Pleasant (because they clearly show Abray House) were taken by a photographer named George Alfred Barrowclough (1872-1950). English-born Barrowclough came to Burnaby, B.C. via Winnipeg in 1906. By the end of that year, Barrowclough had settled in Mount Pleasant and opened a restaurant at 2440 Westminster Avenue (Main Street). On January 17th, 1907, Barrowclough was involved in an accident at his restaurant. Frozen water pipes caused his boiler to explode when he lit his stove, resulting in the rear wall of his restaurant being blasted out. So, I suppose it is not surprising then that by 1908, Barrowclough is no longer running a restaurant and decides to work full-time as a photographer (again).
But, what about his photographs? In their book, Breaking News: The postcard images of George Alfred Barrowclough, Fred Thirkell and Bob Scullion chronicle Barrowclough’s career as a picture-postcard photographer in Vancouver from 1906 to 1920. In it, they describe how he headed to San Francisco immediately after the great earthquake that shook that city on April 18, 1906, to take photos of the destruction. Documenting disasters or accidents would become a signature of Barrowclough’s photographic work. Barrowclough would photograph a subject, and if it was a timely news event, he’d process and print the photographs so that they would be available to go on sale by the following day.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Barrowclough, some of his work reveals that he had a sense of humour:
In 1910 he married twice-widowed Elizabeth Davie and moved back to Mount Pleasant settling into the newly constructed Algonquin Apartments at 10th Ave and Ontario. Shortly thereafter, Barrowclough starts working as a caretaker at Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church at 10th and Quebec. He is still taking photographs and producing postcards, just not full time. Interestingly, there is no evidence to suggest that Barrowclough ever did portrait photography – which was quite common for most professional photographers at that time. Another interesting thing about Barrowclough is that every couple of years he seems to switch from photography full time to another job and then back again – at least that is what a survey of the City Directories of the time suggests. For example, in the city directory for 1915 he is listed as a photographer, in the 1916 directory, he is listed as a helper at BC Sugar Refining Co., and in 1917 he’s listed as a photographer in active service. During WW1 he served with the 231st Battalion.
After the war, George and his family ( in addition to two step-daughters, he and his wife have a daughter named Grace) move to 168 West 22nd, but he still has ties to Mount Pleasant through his work at the church. And in a surprise move in 1928, he takes over the proprietorship of Coville Bakery (later Federal Store) for about a year.
Sadly, his young daughter Grace died at age 13 on Sept. 15, 1925. The circumstances surrounding her death are unknown. In 1926, Barrowclough and his wife leave the family home and move into a suite in the Lee Building at 175 E Broadway. They live the remainder of their lives in Mount Pleasant within a couple of blocks of their church at 10th and Quebec Streets
Barrowclough seems to have stopped taking photos by 1930; the last time he is listed in the city directory as a photographer is in 1928. In fact, when authors Thurkell and Scullion contacted the step-granddaughter of Barrowclough in an attempt to find out more about the subject of their book, she was surprised to find out that he was a photographer at all! Her family had never seen any of his photographs before.
Through a donation by Uno Langman, UBC has a collection of about 125 Barrowclough picture postcards, you can check them out here.