Who is that? Yukon Archives asks for help to ID old photos

'We're expecting that people will be able to come by, and say, 'Oh, I recognize that person,' or, ... 'That was my grandmother,' said territorial archivist David Schlosser.

Hundreds of images, many of Indigenous people and communities, will be on display this week

One of hundreds of old photos the Yukon Archives wants to learn more about. This one shows members of the Peters family, on the bridge at Ross River. The names of the individuals, and the date of the photo, are unidentified. (Yukon Archives/Whitehorse Star)

So many photos, so little information.

It's an ongoing challenge for the Yukon Archives, which now has about 200,000 historic photos in its collection, some dating to the 19th century.

'Hopefully, we'll even get a few people come by and say, 'That was me when I was small!'' said David Schlosser, territorial archivist with the Yukon government. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

"I definitely get overwhelmed," admits David Schlosser, territorial archivist for the Yukon government.

This week, staff from the Yukon Archives will be trying to fill in some blanks when it comes to identifying people and places in hundreds of old photos. They're asking the public for help.

Starting Saturday, they'll have a booth set at the Adaka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse, with binders full of photos in need of info.

The images are part of a massive, 40,000-photo collection donated to the archives by the Whitehorse Star newspaper in the 1980s. Yukon Archives staff picked out about 600 images, all taken in the 1960s and 70s, that they're anxious to learn more about.

"We're expecting that people will be able to come by and say, 'Oh, I recognize that person,' or, 'That was someone I knew,' or, 'That was my grandmother,' said Schlosser.

"Hopefully, we'll even get a few people come by and say, 'That was me when I was small!'"

Are you in this photo? The Yukon women's 'Tourist Services' softball team, 1971-1972. (Yukon Archives/Whitehorse Star)

Schlosser says most of the 600 chosen images show Indigenous people and communities. He says that was a conscious choice.

"First Nations, generally, are often under-represented in the photographs and the records up at Yukon Archives," he said.

Past success

The project is not a new idea. The Yukon Archives did something similar about a decade ago, when staff invited First Nations elders to look at some photos and try to identify people. Schlosser says about 1,500 photos were successfully identified.

A rocking trio, circa 1970. Who are these three musicians, and what did they call their band? (Yukon Archives/Whitehorse Star)

Other people and organizations have done similar things online.

Libraries and Archives Canada launched its "Project Naming" in 2002, which has seen about 10,000 historical images digitized, so Indigenous people to find and help identify them.

And on Twitter, Saskatchewan author Paul Seesequasis has gained a large following by posting old photos of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people and communities. Often, he'll hear from followers who recognize people or places, and his efforts have earned him a book deal.

Schlosser calls the Yukon Archives' approach a little more "low-tech."

"We hope that people will appreciate that," he said.

In many ways, it's a modest offshoot of what Yukon Archives staff do almost every day. Many photos in the collection have little or no identifying information, so it's not uncommon for a visitor to offer some needed details.

No social media component here. Just some 'low-tech' binders for Yukoners to leaf through this week. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

"Whenever someone knew anything about them, we would always be recording them," he said.

Setting up this week at Adaka, where passers-by can stop and leaf through some binders, is just being "a little bit more proactive, so to speak."

​The Adaka Festival runs until July 5 at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Festival. The Yukon Archives' booth will be open afternoons on the weekend, and then from 11:30 to 2:30 p.m. daily through the week.

With files from Max Leighton


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