What Was There?

What Was ThereLately I’ve been having way too much fun on a new website called What Was There. The idea is simple: take GoogleMaps street view and layer it with old photographs. In the site’s own words, it’s like a “virtual time machine of sorts that allows users to navigate familiar streets as they appeared in the past.”

The coolest part is the fade slider, which lets you slowly fade from the old image to the new and back again. Somewhere in the middle, you get this ghostly image of people from 100 years ago walking down today’s streets. It’s enough to give a history buff goosebumps.

The content is entirely crowdsourced so it relies on people like you and me to scrounge through old family photo albums and antique postcard collections, and upload them to the site. Uploading, tagging and placing a photo is really easy and takes only a few minutes.

I’ve been adding Toronto street views ca 1900 – 1915 from my postcard collection, like this view of Massey Hall around 1905 or this peek down a tree-lined Carlton Street around 1908.

I’ve also been exploring the images other people have uploaded. I think this one of horse-mounted hunters riding down a muddy single-lane Bathurst Street is my favourite. The contrast with today’s view is phenomenal.

What are some of your favourite street scenes?

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The Mystery of the Beautiful Wooden Church

I frequently buy up box lots at auction and it’s not until later that I actually know what I have. It’s always such a thrill digging down into a pile and not knowing what I’ll find. Yeah, there’s usually a lot of junk that’s not worth keeping, but almost always I’ll uncover some interesting treasure too.

Take this photo.

Wooden church interior, ca 1890

Wooden church interior, ca 1890

It shows the interior of a small wooden church. Apart from the caption, St. John the Baptist, there’s no other identifying information. I’m guessing it was taken between 1880 and 1900.

It was tucked into a big lot of photos that I bought at an estate sale in Nova Scotia a few years ago. I don’t know what town it’s from, but it’s a pretty good guess that it’s in Nova Scotia somewhere. I tried some searches on the name of the church, digging especially around places close to the town I bought it. Nothing turned up.

I just love this photo. I think it’s the incredible detail: the wood panelling, the tiny stove with the long pipe, the chandelier, the stained glass window.

Who went to church here? Why did they take this picture of the inside of their church? We’ll never know. But at least we get to admire it all these years later.

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