The First Canadian Army Air Photo collection was brought to the Laurier Center for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies (LCMSDS) in 1985. Originally being used for the Air Photo Interpretation Section of the First Canadian Army during the Normandy Campaign and Northwest Europe in 1944-45, it was transported after the war to the air photo interpretation school at Rivers in Manitoba. In 1971 the base closed and the collection was sent to the Canadian War Museum. Due to insufficient storage space, the collection found its way to Wilfrid Laurier University, where the collection encompasses over 130,000 photographs in its entirety.
Thanks to private donors and a largely volunteer workforce, in 2011 LCMSDS was able to start the process of cataloguing and digitalizing the photographs. After thousands of hours of work, the project was completed in August 2013 and now may be accessed by the public either online or physically through the center.
Thanks to the efforts of those involved, the Laurier Military History Archive has one of the largest collections of aerial photos in the country and has been used in a variety of different ways. For example, during one of my first weeks working for the LCMSDS, I was charged with scanning and sending air photos to a bomb disposal group in the Netherlands. Frequent requests such as this are made monthly and the air photos help companies such as these to see where ordinance was dropped, and where they may not have exploded.
Requests have also been made for aerial photos that have not already been identified. These queries usually use recent Google images of an area of interest. The Center’s job is to find an air photo that matched the respective area. It was described to me as being a detective process. Sometimes areas can be matched quite easily due to similar ground features, other times it is requires long hours of comparison. Yet, it is all very interesting to be researching these photos and trying to match to one of the 130,000 photographs we have in our collection.
The Aerial Photos can be found at the LMH website. The Browse Our Collection tab allows you to search by country, and then by province for specific air photos. The corresponding box and photo numbers match up to the individual photo in the archives and can be accessed through the front desk of the center.
Newman, Kevin. Declassified WWII aerial recon photos made public on the web today: [GLOBAL NATIONAL Edition]. Toronto: Infomart, 2004.