The Globe & Mail 2007
 
 
 
By Mark Hume, National Correspondent
The Globe & Mail
One spring day in 1925, Cyril Littlebury, a slightly built man with a narrow, angular face, who wore sturdy work boots with his dark suits, made his way to Prospect Point in Stanley Park and set up his camera on a heavy tripod.
 
He probably didn't know it, but that day he was about to record a poignant moment in history — the end of the age of sail.
 
During the 1920s and 1930s, Mr. Littlebury became one of Western Canada's leading photographers, and he was often seen on the streets, beaches and docks of Vancouver, where he chronicled everyday life in a bustling new city.
 
Over the decades, however, he was forgotten, his collection of photographs lost to the world, until Dudley Booth set out to bring his memory, and the history he recorded, back to life.
 
Unfolding a case that contains dozens of poster-sized black-and-white prints, Mr. Booth, a retiree who restores historical photographs as a hobby, pulls out Mr. Littiebury's shot from Prospect Point.
 
Although he often photographed people at work and at play, Mr. Littlebury was also drawn to ships, locomotives and aircraft.  Inanimate objects he shot in ways that captured their grace and power.
 
On that June morning, looking down on the swirling waters of First Narrows, which had yet to be spanned by Lions Gate Bridge, Mr. Littlebury took a picture of a majestic four-mast barquentine, the Puako, a blue-water tall ship that was part of a legendary "sugar fleet" used to haul raw cane from Hawaii to San Francisco.
 
The ship, which a recent book says was the scene of some of the worst brutality ever meted out to sailors at sea by Captain Adolph Cornelius (Hellfire) Pedersen, was headed to a dry dock in Vancouver harbour, where it was about to be dismantled.
 
"This is the last picture ever taken of the Puako and the best picture ever taken of her," Mr. Booth says. "The ship was built for the sugar trade, but steamships were taking over and she had become uneconomical. It was the end of the age of sail."
 
The lines of the ship are stunningly beautiful, but the sails have been stripped from the masts and the hull is stained and worn. You don't notice it immediately, but there is a tow rope from the bow, drawn tight by an unseen force just outside the frame, that is pulling the Puako to its death.
 
Mr. Booth marvels at the picture, a smile spreading across his face as if he were a boy of 14 again, on that day in 1946 when his dad came home and thrust a black wooden box into his hands,
 
"The story behind the Littlebury photos is that my father was hired to clear litter from a vacant house,in Vancouver.  Among the litter was a box," Mr. Booth said.
"Here, Dudley, see what this lot is," his dad told him.
 
Inside the box, the curious boy found 1,000 tightly packed negatives.  Each was carefully labeledl with date, place and subject matter.
 
At 14, Dudley Booth wasn't too interested in history.  But he saved the box all his life.  On his retirement, 50-odd years after he'd been given the negatives, he pulled them out and began to study them carefully.
 
He wondered who could have taken the photographs, none of which he'd seen reproduced anywhere.  There were several hundred pictures of ships on the West Coast, so Mr. Booth went around to the Vancouver Maritime Museum, where a startled curator was able to match the shot of one vessel to a faded old print they had in the archives.
"You've got a Littlebury!" he was told.  What Mr. Booth had was a massive — and until then unknown —collection of Mr. Littlebury's work.
 
Starting in the 1920s, Mr. Littlebury and his dad had traveled around the West, roaming from Vancouver to Calgary in a Model T Ford, taking pictures as they went and selling them.  "Cyril was the artist behind the camera and his dad was the promoter," Mr. Booth said.
 
One theme they focused on were train engines, and a collection of those photos would be published in a book, which labelled Mr. Littlebury as a steam engine photographer.  His work was far more eclectic than that, but after he died of cancer in 1936 his photos, other than the train portfolio, faded from public memory.  In 1945, Mr. Lttlebury's father died, leaving the collection of negatives stored in a black wooden box that was about to be thrown out with the trash until Mr. Booth's father picked it up.
 
Over the past several years, Mr. Booth has been reproducing and publicly lecturing on Mr. Littlebury's work.  He has posted some of it on a website, along with other historic photos he has collected and restored.  "I get really excited over old photos. There is magic in history," he says.  Over the years, he has found with delight that the photos have opened surprising windows into the past.
 
Through the photograph of the Puako, he came into contact with E. Kay Gibson, an author who was researching the terrible history of Capt. Pedersen, who beat and murdered his crew.  Mr. Littlebury's photo ended up on the cover of the book, Brutality On Trial.
 
He also got into contact with a model shipbuilder who had been hired by the grandson of Capt. Charles Helms, the Puako's last commander, to make a scale replica of the vessel. The craftsman turned to Mr. Littlebury's picture for details.
 
A photograph of a lighthouse, now long vanished, that stood at the mouth of the Capilano River in West Vancouver led him to the grandchildren of the lighthouse keeper.  Now, when he shows that picture, he can talk about the life the family led there on the tidal flats.
 
At one lecture, he showed a Littlebury picture of the Princess Alice, a CPR ship that, in 1935, in-bound from Seattle, ran over a small ferry, the West Vancouver #5, in Vancouver harbour.  Everyone got off safely except for one woman, who went down with the ferry.
 
"A woman walked up after the lecture, introduced herself, and said her grandfather was the last man off the ferry.  He was trying to free the woman and she was tangled in the wreckage and he just couldn't get her free.  She said that haunted him all his life."
 
The Littlebury pictures are evocative and touching.  With Mr. Booth's help, they are reviving interest in the long-forgotten photographer — and stirring stories about a city's forgotten past.
 
 
Dudley Booth at English Bay Beach, Vancouver BC
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