Two photographers capture Edmonton’s changing landscape — then and now

Doug Cowan has been taking photographs of Edmonton’s changing cityscape since he was a kid.

“I had a View-Master for Christmas when I was a young boy — you know the ones you put those round reels in,” said Cowan, now 79. Stereoscopic View-Master images helped spark his interest in buildings.

As a high school student he got a job at Woodward’s department store downtown and took his camera with him when he worked. 

“In those days the Christmas decorations spanned the street from one side to the other, they were magnificent and I just kept going from there.”

Two brick buildings atop a grassy hill in summer.
A 1962 Doug Cowan photograph showing the Edmonton Journal building and McDougall United Church. (Submitted by Doug Cowan)

Cowan snapped streetscapes, trolley cars and buildings on Edmonton’s skyline — some going up, some coming down.

He kept the carefully labelled images tucked away, knowing each one was worth 1,000 words. 

“I think newcomers to our city really have an interest in our past,” he said.

A few years ago Cowan was strolling through the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market where another photographer, David Aaron, was selling his images of the city.

“I’ve been collecting in Edmonton for about 15 years now,” said Aaron, 60.

WATCH | Two Edmonton photographers share their common interests:

‘I’m recording change’

4 days ago

Duration 2:17

Meet Edmonton photographers David Aaron and Doug Cowan and learn how they’re documenting the changing cityscape.

You can see more on this week’s edition of Our Edmonton on Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV and CBC Gem. 

Aaron’s story is similar to Cowan’s when it comes to the passion for photography and Edmonton. 

After getting his first Kodak Instamatic 110 camera when he was 12, Aaron’s goal was to document our landscape.

“About the late 1990s I could see that the city was changing very quickly,” he said.

He realized if he wanted to preserve his memories he was going to have to snap them himself.

THEN AND NOW | Slide back and forth for two views of Jasper Avenue:

After the chat at the market, Cowan and Aaron met to swap stories and look at old photographs.

That’s when Aaron had the idea for a book.

In Edmonton: Then and Now he juxtaposes an image of a historic location with a more recent photo of what’s there now. 

He’s since followed up with two other books, Edmonton: Lost and Found and Edmonton Memories: Through the Lens of Others.

Aaron, who has his own website, plans to continue to offer photographs and make more books available about Edmonton’s past, showcasing “how beautiful it used to be and still is.”

As for Cowan, he intends to leave his collection of images to Aaron. He says he’s impressed with the stories he’s been able to tell through historic photos.

A streetcar rolling across the top of a steel bridge is silhouetted against an orange-yellow sky.
A 2012 view of Edmonton’s High Level Bridge by photographer David Aaron. (Submitted by David Aaron)

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