George Allen photographed in his studio. Photos courtesy of Linda Allen.


Aerial Photos Capture Campus Landscape & Photographer’s Legacy

February 25, 2016

By Michelle Curran

Behind every photograph, there’s a story.

Among the most frequently requested items in the Archives are George Allen’s aerial photos of SFU’s excavation and construction site. 

Aerial photography became a topographical surveying method that caught on early and quickly in Canada. According to Natural Resources Canada, “aerial photography provided the first true measure of the size and physical makeup of the surface of Canada.” It has also played a vital role in such major engineering developments as the Trans-Canada Highway. 

Last spring, Archives staff connected with George's wife, Hilda Allen, to learn more about the man behind the lens. Hilda explained that George joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941 and was assigned to the Western Air Command's photographic division. Prior to his enlistment, he had been introduced to photography by his grandmother, a photography pioneer. 

"He'd take the door off the airplane and hang out of it with his big, Air Force camera." –Linda Allen

George was stationed in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia before he was sent out west to Canada’s Pacific coast, and then subsequently to the Aleutian Islands during the Second World War. Eventually, he made his way to Vancouver and was transferred to RCAF Station Boundary Bay. 

George and Hilda married in 1942, after he first spotted her skating at Lost Lagoon in Vancouver. Hilda confirmed that George's legal name was "Lloyd George Kempton Allen" and that he was born on January 21, 1917.

"His father was very patriotic in those days and named him Lloyd George," Hilda recalled with a chuckle.

Hilda recounted their time spent in Halifax as newlyweds while George was still in service. She remembered the people fondly as well as the cold weather.

“My father kept phoning and asking when I was coming home,” she said. “I finally decided that Nova Scotia was too slow for me,” she jokingly added.

After the war ended, George was honourably discharged. He went on to form Allen Aerial Photos Ltd. For one of his assignments, he was hired to photograph the construction of the roller coaster at the Pacific National Exhibition, and while doing this, George asked a pilot to fly him over the Second Narrows Bridge that was being built at the time. After the bridge collapsed, The Province, SFU, and others became interested in hiring George to photograph excavation and construction sites.

“My mother had a friend who was an editor for The Province paper. I gave them an aerial shot of Vancouver, and then many requests came in for more photos,” Hilda noted. “And other companies wanted pictures of their buildings, mines, land, real estate, etc.”

As a commercial aerial and ground photographer, George began developing and printing film in his darkroom, which was originally in the basement of their apartment building on Main Street in Vancouver. Hilda also learned to process and print film in addition to learning about sales, bookkeeping, and other aspects of running the business. "I'm good on the phone," she commented.

Eventually, photography became an Allen family passion. Son Kenneth Allen took over the business in the mid 1970s after George suffered a stroke. Kenne, as he was known, became an accomplished photographer in his own right, performing commercial aerial and ground as well as newspaper photography. 

George and Hilda’s daughter Linda also had fond memories of the family photography business. She happily recalled accompanying her father on assignments as a child. "He used to fly out of the Skyways," she said. "He'd take the door off the airplane and hang out of it with his big, Air Force camera."

After George recovered and retired from the business, he and Hilda spent time traveling, often visiting their cabin near Yale, BC where he panned for gold as a hobby.

George and Hilda were also members of the Lion's Gate Camera Club (LGCC), which his Air Force friend, Leo Dery and another friend, Barry Jefferies, encouraged them to join.

After George fell ill, Hilda's interest in photography developed further. She became more involved in the LGCC, going on club outings and trips. Her fondest memories include traveling to Kenya and Tanzania and taking photos of the scenery and animals on black-and-white film.

At 97, Hilda's passion for life continues and so does the family's legacy of aerial and ground photography. 

From SFU AtoM, you can now access a selection of the George Allen aerial and ground photographs of the SFU site clearance, excavation and construction. The collection also includes photographs taken by George Allen of the Installation Ceremony of SFU's first Chancellor, Dr. Gordon Shrum.

Link to digitized records in SFU AtoM
In Series F-30-3 - George Allen Ltd. Photographs:
F-30-3-0-0-1 - Aerial Photographs - SFU site clearance, excavation, and construction (numbers 9292-11801)
F-30-3-0-0-2 - Aerial Photographs - SFU site clearance, excavation, and construction (numbers 12120-14794)
F-30-3-0-0-3 - Aerial Photographs - SFU site clearance, excavation, and construction (numbers 15392-27590)
F-30-3-0-0-4 - Installation Ceremony - Shrum; McTaggart-Cowan (numbers 3035-3047)
F-30-3-0-0-5 - Aerial photographs - colour

Recommended fonds/collections
In SFU AtoM:
Gordon Shrum fonds (F-32-1-0-0-10 - Aerial views).

At the UBC Geographic Information Centre:
Inquire about the Kenne Allen Collection and make an air photo request.

In the British Columbia Archives:
Collection PR-1044 - George Allen collection.

Recommended reading
Concepts of Aerial Photography by Natural Resources Canada