It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. So, it is with From The Vault: A Photo-History of London 1950-1975, the follow-up to Volume I (2017) which covered the years up to 1950. Featuring over 1250 images drawn from the archives of the London Free Press held at Western University’s Archives, the second volume documents the people, places, and events of the post-World War II period.
It should appeal to all Londoners interested in their city’s recent history, but especially to those who self-identify as Baby Boomers, who will recognize many of the images – and may even see themselves in some of them.
Jennifer Grainger, local historian and author and past president of the London and Middlesex Historical Society and the London branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, returns to head up the project. Once again, she is joined by Western University Archivist Emeritus, Robin Keirstead, and London Free Press Editor-in-Chief, Joe Ruscitti, in bringing this ambitious publication to fruition.
In her Introduction, Grainger outlines the tremendous changes London experienced after 1950, including its population growth from 94,647 to 243,928 in 1975, the expansion of the city’s boundaries and growth of suburbs, and its transition from a predominantly Anglo-Saxon population to a more ethnically diverse and multicultural one.
The book is organized into 26 self-contained Chapters, each focussing on some aspect of post-war London life. Topics covered include hospitals and health care, schools, transportation, cultural life, the Thames River, sports and leisure, the Western Fair and Canada’s 1967 Centennial. Local contributors like James Stewart Reaney, Bill Brady, and Tom Dalby lend their expertise and wealth of knowledge in Introductions to several of the chapters.
An excellent Table of Contents and Index allows readers to quickly locate items of personal interest, making From The Vault the penultimate “Coffee Table Book.” In this writer’s opinion, it is not the type of publication that can or should be read in one sitting. I suggest that you place it in a prominent area like a coffee or bedside table where it can be read at leisure.
As someone who has been involved in London’s arts and culture community for over 50 years – first as a musician, then as the publisher of the independent arts magazine The Beat Magazine from 2009-2014, and now as an arts and culture freelance writer – I was immediately drawn to the chapters on Cultural Life and Rock ‘N’ Roll.
Photographs of the former cavernous Loew’s Theatre, where I saw numerous movies, the old Kiwanis Memorial Bandshell in Victoria Park, and local celebrities like Tommy Hunter, Greg Curnoe, Guy Lombardo, Gordie Tapp, Clare Bice, Johnny Noubarian, Victor Garber and James Reaney brought back many fond memories, as did ones of the inaugural Home County Folk Festival in 1974 and various parades down London’s streets.
Of particular interest to me is the Rock “N’ Roll chapter which is prefaced by an excellent Introduction by retired Free Press arts and entertainment reporter, James Stewart Reaney, who draws reference to the infamous April 26, 1965 Rolling Stones concert at Treasure Island Gardens that was cut short by a “riot” after only 15 minutes.
I was at that concert and remember the screaming and rush to the stage when the Stones began their set. When the music abruptly halted in the middle of the song “Off The Hook,” all hell broke loose, and people began overturning chairs. Seeing the photos of the Stones in their dressing room, fans being carted off by police, and the pile of chairs left behind by the “riot” makes me feel like it was only yesterday. (As an afterword, the Stones promised to return to London to finish the concert at some point in the future. As of 2020, fans are still waiting for their return.)
A photo of a young Bev Camp, London’s “Dancing Cowboy,” twisting at Wellington Square Mall in 1962 captured my eye, as did one of The Dave Clark Five in concert in 1964 (another concert I attended).
To be sure, photographs of the Western Fair in its heyday and the opening of Storybook Gardens and the escape of its most famous occupant, Slippery the Seal, will bring back many memories for London Boomers, as will those of local haunts like the Richmond Café, Three Little Pigs Pantry, the Latin Quarter, and Hotel London.
In short, there is something for everyone in this amazing work of photo-history. It would make an ideal belated Christmas gift for Londoners, old and young.
From The Vault: A Photo-History of London, 1950-1975 is available at all major book stores and online at www.biblioasis.com. Cost is $44.95
Rick Young is a retired high school History teacher (1978-2008). He played drums in numerous local bands and was the Publisher of The Beat Magazine, an independent arts magazine from 2009 to 2014.