The Alberni Valley Museum has a few Christmas cards, all based on images or artefacts in the museum’s collection. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

The Alberni Valley Museum has a few Christmas cards, all based on images or artefacts in the museum’s collection. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Christmas cards explore the history of the Alberni Valley

Alberni Valley Museum has put out seven Christmas cards over the years



The Alberni Valley Museum has created a number of Christmas Cards over the years, based on images or artefacts in the collection.

The sending of Christmas cards has been a traditional custom for many years. Henry Cole is credited with creating the first commercial Christmas card, in England, in 1843. Henry would later become the first director of the Victoria & Albert Museum (the V&A) in London.

In 1843, prior to his work at the V&A, Henry Cole printed 1,000 Christmas cards and sold them in his art shop. The introduction of the penny post three years earlier contributed to the establishment of the Christmas card sending tradition, but it took about a decade before the idea really took hold—in the English speaking world, anyway.

Canadian historian Marcel Trudel wrote about Christmas when he attended boarding school in Trois-Rivieres, in 1926. He wrote: ” …we had to write our parents a letter in English, expressing the season’s greetings. The English-speaking world’s custom of sending Christmas wishes was beginning to spread among French Canadians. Until then, we usually sent New Year’s greetings and nothing more.” [p.58, Sleds, Sleighs & Snow].

The Alberni Valley Museum created its first Christmas card in the 1990s, and since then has put out six other Christmas cards over the years. Advances in digital communication has led to a decline in letter mail, but despite the arrival of email and e-cards, Christmas cards continue to be sent during the holiday season.

The Museum’s first Christmas card shows a photo of the train station in the snow. The only heritage building in the city with protected heritage status, the train station is just a favourite building for many. This view from around 1915 looks at the back side of the train station, and then out over the inlet. Just beyond the train station at the left, you can also see Bird’s sawmill. Built about 1900, its official title was “The New Alberni Sawmill,” but locals knew it as Bird’s Mill.

The photo was given to the Museum by the niece of Mr. Woolet. Woolet had served on CPR vessels, and later managed the Cameron Lake Chalet and the Somass Hotel. And it looks like this photo may have been taken from the Somass Hotel, which was across the street from the train station.

Our blue Christmas card shows Tantramar in the snow in 1916. Tantramar was the name of the Prescott home located at River Road and Golden. W.R. Prescott, born in 1883, arrived in the Alberni Valley in 1908 to be the first manager of the Royal Bank in Alberni. If you happened to see our Dressing Alberni Exhibit, you may recall the frock coat that was on display. This beautifully made wool suit with a silk lining belonged to Mr. Prescott. Made by London tailors, Prescott probably brought it with him when he moved here from the maritimes.

Interestingly, we also have a Christmas card in the collection that was sent by Mr. and Mrs. Prescott. It’s a painting by Mary Collinge. Again, you may recall the Museum’s exhibit on Mary Collinge called “A Lady of Paisley.” Mary’s letters home to Scotland were published by her father in the local newspaper. These letters, coupled with Mary’s paintings, provide a lovely history of the town, especially as Mary was a resident in 1912 when the city of Port Alberni was incorporated. This Christmas card is an advertisement from when Mary sold her paintings and cards at her husband’s real estate office.

The yellow Christmas card shows the New Alberni public school. New Alberni was what they called the south side of town when that community was first established. It would change its name to Port Alberni in 1910. The first school on the south side of town started in 1903, at which time it was located in the basement of the Watson House at First and Argyle. Here we see the building later, in 1912, when the OK Barbershop was located on the upper floor. The New Alberni School got its own building on Third and Argyle in 1906, and this photo was probably taken in the first few years of its operation.

Unlike the previous cards, the image for the silver Christmas card isn’t snowy. Snowflakes were superimposed on top of an image of Cathedral Grove. Yet it’s the most popular card that we’ve had. This photo of the Grove, with a person walking along the road, is dated to 1924. The photographer is Francis R. Cope of Pennsylvania. The name was provided by Francis’ widow when a friend donated the image to the Museum. However, the seal in the corner says Photo by Trio, Victoria, BC. The Trio Photography Studio was in operation in Victoria from about 1908 to 1946. Putting these fragments of facts together, it’s perhaps possible that Francis provided some images to the Trio company, which in its early years specialised in scenic postcards.

The image on the burgundy Christmas card comes from a linoleum block in the Museum’s collection. A linoeleum block works much like wood cut, only it’s carved from linoleum instead of from wood. The Museum has several linoleum blocks created by George Cathcart, as well as the tools used to create the blocks and prints. Born in Scotland in 1879, George travelled widely in North America before he ended up in Alberni in October of 1912. For many years George was a bridge foreman for BC Public Works. His lino prints were created as an amusement, and for events such as birthdays and Christmas.

The hazelnuts Christmas card uses a colourised version of a glass plate negative in the museum’s collection. Glass plate negatives scan really well, and from our scan we added a more sepia-toned background, brought in some green for the leaves and then added rust browns to bring out the hazelnuts.

The card was created in concert with the Museum’s exhibit “Art of Still” that featured the landscape and still life photographs from an unknown photographer. The beautiful images in this collection were made not only into a Christmas card, but a series of note cards.

And lastly, we come to a reproduction of a Christmas card in the collection. This is one of 11 Christmas cards in the Museum’s collection that were sent to the SC Coggles family by George Roff. George started the cards each January, and worked on them all year long; there would have been different designs create in a year. George’s hands shook, but he was still able to paint.

The last Christmas card the Coggles received is from 1961, even though George died in November of that year.

Like many things, holiday celebrations are a little different this year, but it’s expected that more Christmas cards than usual will be sent. The traditional holiday greetings are a way of staying in touch that conforms to the social distancing precautions that have become the norm in 2020.

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