Glimpse into different time at Courtneay and District Museum

Upstairs at Wah Lee’s provides a glimpse into a different time and place.

Const. Dave Anderson on left (upper right) in front of Wah Lee Store

Const. Dave Anderson on left (upper right) in front of Wah Lee Store

Upstairs at Wah Lee’s provides a glimpse into a different time and place.

Wearing everything from sheepskin chaps to bearskin wraps and jackets and ties, the black and white prints present the multicultural milieu of Quesnel in the early 20th century.

Curated by Faith Moosang and organized by the Quesnel and District Museum and Archives, Upstairs at Wah Lee’s, Portraits from the C.S. Wing Studio, is on display at the Courtenay and District Museum until Sept. 29.

“The images are a beautiful example of the clarity of glass plate negatives and of the diversity of British Columbia communities at the turn of the 20th century,” says Deborah Griffiths, curator of the Courtenay Museum. “It is an exceptional exhibit.”

Chow Shong Wing was born in Quesnel around 1890. His family ran the Wah Lee Store.

When he was 17, Wing set up a darkroom and photographic studio upstairs. As the first professional photographer in the area, he documented the lives of the Caucasian, Chinese and First Nations residents.

Through primarily formal poses, the images capture the accomplishments, dreams, work and leisure time of the era. There is a stern-looking, or perhaps terrified, young bride, a mother and child and a young man on one knee holding a rifle. Then there are the cowboys relaxing in the Occidental Bar and two young men dressed in jackets, ties and fedoras smoking and drinking.

As well as being home to many cultures, it’s obvious that Quesnel also possessed a variety of socio-economic levels.

It’s also interesting to note that although there are numerous horses and dogs in the photographs, few children appear. And no one is smiling. Obviously having a photograph taken was a special occasion that required a solemn countenance.

The 30 images come from a larger glass plate negative collection belonging to the Quesnel and District. Over time, emulsion from glass plate negatives degrades, altering the image in various ways. The fact that the photographs in the exhibit have largely been reproduced as is, adds to the feeling of authenticity.

Wing’s studio had wide plank floors and rough finished wood walls. At times his backdrop curtain looks like an old wool blanket tacked up at the end of a hallway. Most of the settings are sparse but the details of dress and demeanor tell a thousand stories.

Summer hours at the Courtenay Museum are Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4. Admission is by donation.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cumberland Brewery is looking to expand its patio space temporarily for the summer. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Cumberland Brewery looks for temporary patio expansion

Move would allow business to spread customers outside in summer months

School District 71’s final budget for this school year showed more revenue from distance learning students but less from traditional classroom registration. Record file photo
Comox Valley Schools’ budget grant almost $5.5 million higher than planned

Increase came from a boost in distributed learning rather traditional registration

A&W on Ryan Road confirmed a positive case of COVID-19 at their restaurant and temporarily shut its doors. Google Maps photo
Courtenay restaurant temporarily closed due to COVID-19 exposure

It’s the latest business in the Valley to be affected by the virus

The CSRHD board moved closer to passing a budget with a $4.4 million cut to the tax requisition. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Comox Strathcona hospital district moves on budget with tax cut

At $12.6 million, budget requisition represents drop of $4.4 million for current year

Courtenay councillor Will Cole-Hamilton, standing at right, sits on steering committees of two organizations that are tackling the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. File photo
Courtenay councillor leads campaign to reduce building-sector GHG emissions

Courtenay councillor Will Cole-Hamilton wants local governments to carry a little more… Continue reading

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)
Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Kara Sorensen, diagnosed with lung cancer in July, says it’s important for people to view her as healthy and vibrant, rather than sick. (Photo courtesy of Karen Sorensen)
B.C. woman must seek treatment overseas for inoperable lung cancer

Fundraising page launched on Karen Sorensen’s behalf, with a goal of $250,000

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Most Read