Mahon Memorial Hall, seen here in more modern times, is still a hub for the Saltspring Island community. (Submitted)

Sarah Simpson Column: Social media mobilized to identify found film photo

Over the course of the day, the post generated a couple of hundred responses.

Social media gets blamed for a lot of things but it’s not all bad. Here’s a little story about people helping people via social media.

It was a bit of Sunday fun for Victoria’s John Carlow, recently. Well, I guess the story has a longer history than that. A few years ago Carlow bought an old Brownie Target 620 camera from a shop in Cowichan Bay. Carlow, a photographer, had initially intended to use it merely as a mantle decoration but recently he opted to prepare it for use again. He opened the body of the camera to discover a roll of 620 black and white film, shot, rolled and ready for processing.

What could possibly be on that film? Was the film even viable to process? How long had the camera been sitting in that store anyway? Where did it come from? Carlow had so many questions.

The Cowichan Bay thrift store he bought it from is long gone so that lead ended in a dead end.

“This shot film could be 40-plus-years-old for all I know,” he said. “I sourced a lab in Vancouver that still processes 620 film. I got the negatives back and could tell the exposed film had suffered considerably… years..heat..etc… I had a local store process five of the eight frames on the roll that showed any exposure at all.”

Luckily for Carlow, one image survived.

The photo, though battered and of poor resolution, showed an old building. Carlow’s goal: to identify that structure.

Carlow posted it on his personal Facebook and Facebook and Instagram photography pages to no avail. It was suggested he pop on over to the Old Victoria Facebook page given members of that group love history.

“I posted first thing in the morning on the weekend and reaction was immediate,” he said. “People thought [the camera] was a great story itself , and then the sleuthing and suggestions started.”

Over the course of the day, the post generated a couple of hundred responses. Some guesses seemed close, some were off the mark completely, Carlow said.

“There were lots of guesses for the Cowichan Valley and rest of the Island, as Cow Bay is where the camera was purchased,” he explained. “Some people just wanted to talk about the cars in the photo. Some people wanted to talk my last name and family history!”

Carlow said it wasn’t until around dinner time that a Facebook user named Douglas Lewis was able to identify the structure in the fuzzy photo.

“He presented compelling and well documented evidence,” Carlow explained. “Everything seemed very clear to me from that point on. There are one or two folks who aren’t convinced, but they present no evidence to back up what they are saying.”

The building? Mahon Community Hall on Saltspring Island.

The Island’s Agricultural and Fruit Growers Association’s agricultural hall was built in 1902 thanks to a loan from a man named Ross Mahon and, after his tragic drowning death in 1903, the Association named the new hall “Mahon Memorial Hall”.

School District 64 bought the property in 1942 and a community supported restoration project took place in the early 1980s to upgrade the roof among other improvements. It’s still used by the community to this day for concerts, theatrical performances, art exhibitions, craft sales and the like.

“I was very pleased and forwarded the information to the Islands Historical Society,” Carlow said. “I’d like to present the photo for the archives.”

The photo captivated Carlow so much, he even went to Saltspring Island to look at the building in person.

“We have walked past this area many times, but now it means so much more,” he said. “I’m sure we would have figured it out eventually. I’m impressed by the amount of people that took to the story. It was a positive experience overall.”

There you have it, a positive outcome all thanks to social media.



sarah.simpson@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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To see the photo in question, go to our website: www.cowichanvalleycitizen.com. We will post this column Saturday.

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