Thirty-five years ago, a team from the BC Heritage Conservation Branch came to Nelson to study its old buildings as part of a pilot project on urban heritage planning.
It resulted in a comprehensive book about the city’s architecture and kick-started the downtown revitalization that reinvented Nelson as the Heritage City.
What’s not as well known is that the project also involved assembling a photo montage of both sides of Baker Street as it looked in 1977. Designers and architects studied the photos as they brought building facades back to their original appearances.
Now those images form the centrepiece of Baker Street Then and Now (and the Future of Heritage?), an exhibit that opens next week at Touchstones Nelson.
“These are working documents that were apparently just going to get chucked,” says curator Rod Taylor, who came across them a few years ago while working on another show.
“Someone found them destined for the trash in Victoria and sent them back to the museum, thinking they would be better off here than in the landfill.”
The photos, pasted on mat board, were never intended to be exhibited — they don’t align perfectly, and people and cars are sometimes cut off — but Taylor finds them fascinating.
“Most archival images I’m used to seeing don’t have architectural intent,” he says. “They capture buildings in the background. This very deliberate cataloguing was really interesting.”
The exhibit includes a digital copy of the montage and matching contemporary photos by Heather MacAskill, letting you compare the Baker Street of today to 1977, when gaudy aluminum hid Victorian detail. It’s further complemented with sketches loaned by Robert Inwood, co-ordinator of the mainstreet restoration.
The exhibit is timely given city council’s recent decision to eliminate its heritage advisory committee and dispense with Inwood’s services, but Taylor says that’s just a coincidence. The show does, however, consider the future of Nelson’s heritage.
“We have this as part of our identity, but what does that mean now in terms of building and renovating and restoring?” Taylor asks. “Some people feel restoration is the golden standard. Others use terms like adaptive re-use and renovation.”
While it’s a minor part of the overall exhibit, he hopes it furthers the discussion: “We would be remiss if we didn’t include something that alluded to this dialogue, and provide a way for people to comment.”
There’s also a virtual component: using the website Historypin, you can see many of the photos online as well as their locations on a map. Plus you can download an app that overlays historical images on the present day view with a smartphone.
• Baker Street Then and Now (and the Future of Heritage?) runs June 23 to September 9 in Touchstones Nelson’s Gallery B. The opening reception is Friday, July 13 from 7 to 9 p.m.