Victorian Picnic Images of the 1890s

For a summer project, I’ve been systematically viewing all photos available online from the City of Vancouver Archives – starting with the earliest images and gradually working my way forward in time. (This is no small project; the total CVA images online currently number more than 124,000!)

While I was looking at some of the earliest images made in the area now known as Greater Vancouver, I noticed a pattern. Vancouver residents were often photographed in the great outdoors in mixed gender groups, often with food and drink handy (and/or showing some evidence of having imbibed something stronger than tea).

Here are a few examples.

A Pear With Your Tea?

SGN 175B - [Group of men and women assembled for a picnic on the lawn in front of the Vancouver Waterworks Company house in Stanley Park] 1890?

SGN 175B – Picnic on the lawn in front of the Vancouver Waterworks Company house in Stanley Park. 1890?

According to the archive notes that accompany this image at CVA’s office (the notes aren’t online), this image was made “a few feet north of where Lord Stanley dedicated [Stanley] [P]ark in 1889….In 1937 [when the notes were written by Major Matthews, CVA’s first archivist] the locality has not changed much. The trees beyond are almost exactly the same.”

I think it’s unlikely that the spot where the image was made is today remotely similar.  The building that belonged to the Vancouver Waterworks Company is no longer extant, and neither is the company. But the location of the image (probably near Prospect Point) is beside the point, really.

To me, the most striking aspects of this photo are the food and drink available and the fact that everyone in the image is wearing (to borrow my late grandmother’s phrase), their “best duds”.

There seem to be pears on the picnic blanket. I think I see a slice or two of layered cake and partly emptied jam sealers. There also appears to be a tin of something (lunch meat perhaps? tinned tongue? in my limited reading of novels from this period, that seems to have been the tinned meat of choice of the Victorians).

I’m really not qualified to speak about fashion trends. But it is interesting to note that none of the men in the image had hats, while all of the ladies were wearing hats.

My wife is convinced that the fellow near the centre back row of the group was attracted to the lady immediately to his right. I gather that she reached that conclusion because he seems to be looking in her direction. I argued (being admittedly contrarian) that he could just as likely have been looking at something outside of the frame of the exposure. Or at the young woman next to the lady in question. I don’t think I convinced my wife.

“With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm”

SGN 76 - [Thos. Masters, Chub. Quigley, Chas. Macaulay, Miss Drainie, Mrs. Macauley, Miss Wright, Mrs. Chas. Mowatt, Mrs. McIntosh, Miss Lou McLaren and others assembled behind fence rai

SGN 76 – Thos. Masters, Chub. Quigley, Chas. Macaulay, Miss Drainie, Mrs. Macauley, Miss Wright, Mrs. Chas. Mowatt, Mrs. McIntosh, Miss Lou McLaren and others assembled behind fence rail. 189-?

I can’t help it. Whenever I look at this photo, I’m reminded of Anne Boleyn (one of King Henry VIII’s unfortunate, beheaded wives). All of those ladies lined up with their heads propped on the wooden fencing. . . and I find myself humming the 1960 tune by R. P. Weston and Bert Lee about the ghost of Anne walking the bloody Tower of London “With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm“!

The location where this image was made isn’t clear. But if I were forced to guess, I’d say it was somewhere up Indian Arm, perhaps at or near Granite Falls, which was a popular destination for day trips from Vancouver at the time.

Of the images in this post, this one is the only one in which at least some of the subjects are identified by name.

Edward A. (“Chub”) Quigley, I’m pretty sure, was the fellow standing at the centre rear of the group. “Chub” was, according to the local biographical resource, B.C. From Earliest Times, working in Winnipeg until 1892, when he left there for Vancouver. He became a branch manager with coal dealers, McDonald Marpole. He was also a well-known amateur athlete.

Charles H. Macaulay was a real estate broker and financial advisor and was a partner in the firm Macaulay & Nicolls. In June 1898, Macaulay married Miss Ethel Jean Maclaren, a daughter of a mine owner who pioneered B.C.’s Cariboo district. I cannot say which of the gents in the photo is Charles.

“Mrs. Charles Mowatt” was, plainly, the spouse of “Mr Charles Mowatt”. But past that fact, there isn’t much I can say. Charles Mowatt was the son of Alexander Mowatt, of Mowatt Transfer Co. in Vancouver. Charles left the city at some point to move north to Hazleton where he became a rancher. Sadly, he died there in 1926 at age 53 of Tuberculosis.

Which of the ladies shown above is “Mrs. Mowatt”? No clue. I likewise came up empty with “Miss Wright” and “Mrs. McIntosh” and I concluded that identifying the un-named blokes in the image was well beyond my ability!

I was no more able to identify “Miss Lou McLaren”, unfortunately. But I’m pretty certain that I’ve tracked down her marriage record. She was apparently wed in 1919 to an accountant and lists her occupation at the time of her marriage as “Lady”.

If You’re Grumpy, Say ‘Cheese!’

LGN 686 - [Men and women assembled for picnic in clearing] 189- Norman Caple-2

LGN 686 – Picnic in clearing. 189- Norman Caple photo.

The folks who were the subjects of this photo, for all of their wackiness, don’t seem to be having much fun! There are very few of what I’d identify as truly happy faces among this lot.

They appear to be a peculiar group. Of that there is very little question. There are a couple of gents in the back row who appear to be aiming pistols at something. The fisher-woman (approximately centre) seems to be taking little joy in netting a fish of a very respectable size. And the middle-aged lady in the polka-dot top (2nd row, two from the right) looks as though she’s just swallowed something nasty!

A friend who is also a professional photographer had this to say about the Un-Happy Gang:

There are a couple of faces that are close to showing that special twinge of ‘unstabilized’. The top row, the ones with the guns and crazy chapeau selections, have clearly been testing the moonshine to see if it’s ready yet. Looks like it’s ready!

Strawberry Social

SGN 965 - [Men and women eating strawberries at a picnic in Stanley Park] 189-?

SGN 965 – Eating strawberries at a picnic in Stanley Park. 189-?

These folks seem to be enjoying themselves as they pose with ‘tea’ and strawberries. Some of the gents have chosen to go hatless. And some of the ladies (I’m speaking, in particular, to you two in the back row, near centre) ought to have done likewise!

And what would a Victorian gathering be without a guy in drag? Yes, that looks to me very much like a fellow in the long gown, two in from the left in the front row.

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6 Responses to Victorian Picnic Images of the 1890s

  1. lhhouben says:

    Love them! I’m amazed at how dressed up they are for picnics. I love zooming in on the large options. And the young man in the middle back of the first photo is indeed admiring the young lady to his right. Thanks for the post! I love tea and picnics in the summer.

  2. Great bunch of entertaining shots! Always so much to look at in those old photos – I hope that someone 200 years from now will have something interesting to see if they go through today’s accumulated works of images!

  3. Ron Hyde says:

    Wonderful collection of early photos and great comments by you. Very informative and enjoyable. One of the viewers comments mentioned about how dressed up they were for picnics. We have photos of close friends of ours with their young son and our young daughter when we were 24 at Stanley Park with the ladies in skirts and jackets and my buddy and I in slacks, sports jacket and shirt with tie for a visit and picnic in Stanley 1956!

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