British Columbia

Colourized photos of First World War bring Canadian history to life

The Vimy Ridge Foundation released 150 rare images from the First World War in honour of Remembrance Day

Battle of Amiens, 1918

Soldiers bring in prisoners and the wounded wearing gas masks. (Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-002951)

All images from the Canadian Department of National Defence and the Library and Archives Canada.

For the first time this Remembrance Day, Canadians can see rare images from an important part of their history in colour.

The Vimy Ridge Foundation collaborated with Library and Archives Canada and the National Film Board of Canada to surface rarely seen pictures from the First World War. They then used digital technology to add colour to the black and white images.

The First World War in Colour Education Program aims to engage young Canadians with defining moments in history by bringing to life photos depicting important battles, life on the home front and the wartime contributions of Canadian women.

Three Canadian soldiers in a German dug-out captured during the Canadian advance east of Arras.

B.C. digital colourist Mark Truelove first started adding colour to old photos because he was interested in his own family history.

The Vimy Ridge Foundation contacted him to work on the initiative after seeing his work on his Twitter feed. 

Truelove said he draws from historic records to decide how to colour the scenes. It's often straightforward for photos featuring soldiers in uniform, but in other instances, he said, some guesswork is involved. 

"My rule of thumb is that as long as I don't break the magic of the photo, I'm okay. So as long as I don't put someone in a neon pink dress in 1900, I'm probably okay with picking a colour for the dress that is period appropriate," he said. 

​​Gen. Currie tells a crowd that Vimy Ridge was taken. Visit of Canadian Journalists to the Front. July, 1918.

Truelove said that black and white images can sometimes cause people to forget that the individuals they're seeing in the pictures were real.

He said he hopes that colourizing these historic images will help Canadians feel more connected to their history. 

"The people fighting in these battles, they were real humans, they look like us, they thought like us, they had all the fears that we have, and so they're not so far away from us as maybe a black and white photo might indicate."

The 150 images are part of a travelling photo gallery and will eventually be published as a book.

Despatch Rider for His Majesty's Pigeon Service leaving with birds for the trenches. November, 1917.