Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

what do birds see?

"Picton, Ont. taken from an aeroplane"
A little known fact about Owen Sound native and World War I flying ace Billy Bishop (because after all with a record of 72 "victories" making him the top Canadian ace of that conflict, what more would you need to know?), is his somewhat less distinguished post-war career.

Seeking to bank his skills in a marketable direction, he established (with a fellow ace William Barker) a passenger airline and aerial photography service. This was 1919, folks, so I doubt they offered business class and in-flight movies.

Little is known of the enterprise, but legal and financial problems and a bad crash must have dampened enthusiasm as the company (and the partnership) were short-lived.

Billy Bishop might be surprised to learn what a legacy these photos are. They give us a glimpse (however tiny) of towns and cities across the province, townscapes now lost to expansion and modernization. Although few would express regret at the loss of the harbour-side coal-yards in the photo at top, the image is a window into a forgotten era. Imagine the life of a child growing up at the bottom of Picton's town hill, in an industrial slum. Imagine the life of a shipping magnate (oh yes, Picton had them) living discretely removed from the grime.

Just fly over these tiny townscapes (with the aid of Blogger's lightbox functionality). They're three dimensional, and so detailed, you can stroll down Main Street or along leafy sidestreets and into houses which stand today, explore kitchen gardens and small farms within town limits (which don't).

(Incidentally, I've just read that Billy Bishop had an important role in establishing and promoting the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, which I have been researching for my other blog. Link to follow)

The postcards are copyright Bishop Barker Co. Ltd.Toronto, 1919, and are in the collection of my generous brother, Eric Pierce.


  1. Love these shots. Spent time to reconcile these pics with my own modern recollections of Picton. North American Hotel, etc... I think aerial shots are so fascinating in an historical context...often used for archaeological purposes too. Both Fort Lawrence (c. 1750) and the old Acadian village of Beaubassin were rediscovered when aerial shots located terrestrial anomalies:

    Just found out the first aerial shot in Canada was over the Halifax Citadel, 1883, from a balloon.

    And though not aerial, I'm blown away by this 1856 panorama of Toronto:

  2. Thanks for these links Mark, glad to share them.