Subscribe to our newsletter

Raw photographs of 1970s Vancouver "before the money arrived"

Greg Girard, a Canadian photographer whose work has heavily focused on the social and physical transformation of some of the world’s largest cities, took to Vancouver between 1972 and 1982 “before the money arrived”.

What was predominantly a working-class port city with cheap motels and greasy restaraunts in the shadow of the bright neon lights, Girard arrived to picture the scene.

“When I started making these photographs, especially the pictures of people in the mid-1970s, I felt like I was photographing a world nobody knew anything about, apart from the people living it, of course,” Girard told Flashbak. “I was something of an interloper, but my youth protected me. It’s curious to consider these pictures now, practically unseen since they were made, in terms of a Vancouver they might have some potential to invent,” he added.

The city now, a bustling west coast seaport in Canada’s British Columbia, is among the countries densest and most ethnically diverse cities. With endless possibilities, Girard captured the location before the transformation occurred: “I did feel Vancouver was a sad town,” he added. “It maybe had something to do with the way the natural beauty surrounding the city was at odds with the more down-at-the-heel parts of town where I was spending time.”

Girard continued: “In those days, Vancouver was more obviously a port town, the last stop at the end of the rail line. ‘Terminal City’ as they say, a place where people ended up. Something that most port cities probably have in common. When Nina Simone did her rendition of ‘Baltimore,’ singing about a ‘hard town by the sea’ where it was ‘hard just to live,’ I felt she was singing about the place I was living. Which might sound odd, considering the Vancouver of today. It would be like a mournful song about Aspen or Honolulu. Though why not? The prettiest places can be the most ruthless.”

Here is what he found:

Title: Chinese Voice. 1982