Colouring History

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Canadian Colour
VD Celebrations in Chinatown in 1945. Original photo: CVA 1184-3046

If you’re on social media you are likely already familiar with Canadian Colour–beautiful, eye-popping historical photographs of Vancouver’s people, buildings and events. The guy behind these colourized photos is Mark Truelove, a Brit who moved to B.C. 16 years ago, and now lives in Hope.

Mark’s day job is web designer/developer, but increasingly he’s doing colourization work for individuals and corporations.

Canadian Colour
Joe Ricci and the Vancouver Police Department, 1924. CVA 99-3470

Lucky for us, he also colours photos for fun and then shares them via Facebook and Twitter.

“The colour erases a little bit of that barrier between us and history and I really like connecting with the regular people back then and I find the colourization helps me to do that,” he says.

Joe Fortes, ca.1910. CVA 677-441
Joe Fortes, ca.1910. CVA 677-441

Mark has always been interested in history, and about five years ago, started to digitally colour old black and white photos from his family album.

When he ran out of those he went to Vancouver Archives.

One of his favourite finds is a photo of the Amputation Club of 1918. The club, which had offices in the Dominion Building, was formed shortly after World War 1 and is now known as War Amps.

Canadian Colour
The Amputation Club, 1918. CVA 99-5217

“That photo ticks my World War 1 interest box. I can see the connection between then and now with lots of soldiers coming back from Afghanistan or somewhere like that. Their hopes and dreams are going to be similar to the ones those guys have, so I see a connection across time.”

Another one of his favourites shows a crowd going about their morning outside the ABC coffee shop in Burnaby in the ‘40s.

Canadian Colour
CVA 1184-3276 1940s

“I’m not so keen on doing famous people, I genuinely like photos that are of regular people doing regular things. It’s more just slices of life,” he says.

After Mark finds an archival photo that captures his attention he starts to research the period to find out the proper colour of everything from clothing to transit to sign posts. He often lands on blogs such as Past Tense, Illustrated Vancouver and Every Place has a Story where a local writer has already researched the history, such as his colourized photos of Joe Ricci and the Vancouver Police Department, Joe Fortes, and the Flying Seven.

Canadian Colour
Flying Seven, 1936 CVA 371-478

“Knowing those personal details really ties me to the photograph,” he says.

He starts by loading the black and white photograph in Photoshop. Then he adds layers of colour and then begins to define a “mask” for the layer which shows where to apply the colour on the image.

Canadian Colour
Bloody Sunday, May 20, 1938. Original photo courtesy Vancouver Public Library.

“If I am working on a portrait of somebody I would put on these coloured layers and I would mask it out so that colour only applies to the face,” he says. “If it was a guy in a suit, I would do another layer for his jacket, and for his waistcoat, shirt, tie and shoes.”

A portrait, he says, can take just an hour or two, whereas a photo with dozens of people and buildings and scenery can take upwards of 40 hours to complete.

Canadian Colour
Almonds Ice Cream on Beach Avenue in 1920. Sylvia Hotel at back. CVA 99-3097

© All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Eve Lazarus.



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  1. This gentleman’s work looks very accurate. I have to admit Im not a fan of the art especially when it involves old movies. These examples are so good though they might cause many to embrace the change.

  2. These are so vivid and bring the photographs to life as if the pictures were taken today. I have a number of old photograph/portraits which my grandmother left me. It would appear somebody ‘coloured’ them in the 1950’s. I would assume my grandparents thought the pictures were absolutely wonderful. Nothing in comparison though to today’s technology.

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