St. Catharines university archive has over 10,000 aerial photos of Niagara from 1921 to 2020

Published August 2, 2023 at 3:08 pm

Sharon Janzen, Map Library Associate and Geospatial Data Co-ordinator, and David Sharron, Head of Archives and Special Collections, stand in front of an enlarged aerial map of St. Catharines from 1934. This is one of more than 10,000 digitized artifacts found in Brock’s Niagara Air Photo Index from 1921 to 2020.

Want to see what Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, or any of Niagara looked like from high overhead 100 years ago?

The Brock University “Niagara Air Photo Index” can hook curious historians up as the collection contains more than 10,000 images dating from 1921 to 2000.

Viewed by professionals and hobbyists alike, the air index is often used by researchers and environmental consultants in Niagara and around the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

“Previously, to access the collection, an individual would have had to come into the library and look at each photo artifact one at a time,” says Sharon Janzen, Map Library Associate and Geospatial Data Co-ordinator.

“Now, individuals can look at surrounding and adjacent areas all online, and they can do so without us worrying about damage to these fragile collections.”

To capture the original images, an airplane would have flown over the entire region in a prescribed linear pattern.

Scheduled near the same day roughly every three years, each air photo was taken sequentially and overlaps with the next by 60 per cent. From line to line in the flight pattern there is a 20 per cent overlap.

“I’m often asked if we have older images before the 1920s,” says Janzen. “I remind people these images were dependant on the technology — the aviation and camera equipment — available at the time.”

Viewers can watch history unfold as, say, the flight paths in 1921 and 1932 covered the historical construction of the third and fourth Welland Canals respectively.

In the classroom, Associate Professor of Geography and Tourism Studies David T. Brown incorporates the index into the curriculum of his second-year course, Human Dominated Ecosystems.

Examining landscape changes in the Niagara region, students in the course are tasked with creating a “Local Landscape Report” that describes how their chosen area has changed and evolved as a result of natural processes and human intervention.

“Brock’s Air Photo Index collection provides an invaluable resource for tracking and understanding these changes over the past century,” says Brown.

“Each year, Sharon and her colleagues in the Brock Maps, Data and GIS Library provide students with an excellent overview of how to use this tool, providing a skill set they can revisit time and time again in their academic careers.”

Janzen acknowledged that due to copyright law, there is a gap of publicly available photos between 1972 and 1995. However, if select images in that time span are required, they can be provided on a case-by-case basis.

Here’s a quick YouTube where Janzen explains the Niagara Air Photo Index.

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