Flickr Commons

In our Historian’s Toolkit series, we look in depth at one online resource that history professors can use to teach Canadian history. You can view other posts in this series by clicking here.

Have you ever wondered where I get the awesome pictures that I use in the Roundups? One of my favourite places is Fickr Commons, so in this edition of the Historian’s Toolkit we will be taking a closer look!

It’s often a challenge for Canadian historians to find good visuals for lectures, blog posts, or publications. One factor is the tremendous prevalence of American images online, which makes searching for purely Canadian content something of a nightmare. The other problem, especially for blog posts or publications, is that of copyright (though lecturers should also be considering this problem!). Many images that are available, either though digitized archival collections or museums, are still under copyright or you need to ask permission to use them.

Archives have also taken notice of this problem, which prompted the creation of The Common on Flickr in January 2008. The project was initially launched as a way to increase access to photographs and images held in public collections as well as to provide the public with opportunities to contribute information about these images to archival collections. While the project started with the Library of Congress, it has since expanded to include around 110 participating institutions from around the world. While most of these institutions are American, there are nine Canadian contributors!

What makes these photographs special is that they are licensed under the Creative Commons. This means that archival collections have uploaded photographs that are designated “no known copyright restrictions.” Under the Creative Commons, you are free to copy, redistribute, share, adapt, or publish these images for any purpose, including commercial work. The only requirement is that you must give appropriate credit to each image, include a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if any changes have been made. That’s it!

Expert Tip: Flickr is owned by Yahoo. While you can join Yahoo, it’s not necessary in order to use most of these images.

You might think that participating archives would only upload very old material or just images of buildings, but that is not the case! While some collections are obviously better than others, most of them have given us access to wonderful images.


How Does it Work?

Step 1: Flickr Commons Starting Point

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There are two ways to use Flickr Commons. The first is to go to their home page, which can be found here, and use the search bar just underneath the images of the participating institutions.

The second way to use Flickr Commons is to search the collections of particular institutions. To do this, go to their home page again, and click on the link for Participating Institutions.

Warning: the site can be a bit glitchy, but if this happens, just reload the page.


Step 2: Select Your Participating Institution

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Next, you need to select the institution you would like to browse. Then, click on the image to the left of the name of the institution.

NB: For some reason, even though Library and Archives Canada does have a collection available, it’s not listed here (no clue why). I’ll post the link a bit further down.


Step 3: Chose Your Browsing Method

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Clicking on the image will bring you to a home page that looks like this. I’ve used Library and Archives Canada as an example here.

From here, you can go one of two ways to look for pictures.

The first is to scroll through the photostream, which is what appears when you go to the institution’s home page. The photostream contains every image in the collection, so you can take your time and browse through each image. Keep scrolling down to see more, or click “next page” at the bottom of the screen. You can also search for keywords in each individual institution’s collections by clicking on the magnifying loop to the right on the menu bar, as located below.

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Once you’ve found the image you want, click on it, and move on to Step 4.

The other way is to use the “Albums” feature. This is better if you have some idea of what you’re looking for or if you want to see things grouped together by categories. On the menu bar, click on “Albums,” which will bring you to a page that looks like this:

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From here, click on whichever album strikes your fancy. I’ve clicked on Alice Isaacson’s Photo Album, because it has a picture of a puppy on an ambulance. It’s my blog, and I can pick whatever album I want. 😛

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At the top of the page, you’ll see a short description of the album. You can scroll down to look at the individual images. Once you’ve selected the one you want, click on it.


Step 4: Downloading the Image

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The next page you will see is the image itself, with identifying information immediately underneath.

If you like what you see, you can choose to download the image. Click on the icon immediately to the right and underneath the image that looks like an arrow pointing down to a line (a common downloading symbol). You will be presented with a selection of sizes, but unless you have limited space or a poor internet connection, always download the original size. In most cases, this will download the image directly to your computer, but you might be required to log in in some rare cases.

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Anyways, the image will then download to your Downloads folder on your computer, but you can move it wherever you’d like.


Step 5: Attribution Information

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You will usually find the information for your attribution immediately underneath the photograph. The attribution for a photograph from the Commons should be something like this:

“Title.” Author [who owns the material]. Source [should include a link to the original material, though title can also be hyperlinked]. CC BY 2.0 [linked to the license, which is here.]

So for example, here is the citation for the photograph at the top of the page:

“The motor ambulance. A-1 Girls!” Éditions Arnault. Library and Archives Canada. e007150703, MIKAN 1965681. CC BY 2.0.

N.B.: You can hyperlink the image instead of the source or title if you know what you’re doing.

Expert Tip: A hyperlink is a highlighted or underlined word, phrase, or image that, when clicked, takes you to another location (as a URL) or a computer file. This saves you the time of having to type out the entire URL or having to search for the URL yourself. In Word, you just select the text you want to hyperlink, go to Insert, then Hyperlink, and paste the URL in the box at the top. You can also press Command-K to do the same thing.


Now you’re ready to use your image!


How Can I Use It?

These images can be useful for your research, but I think their value lies in their teaching potential.

I always think that every lecture should include a significant number of images. I find that they are great for breaking up large amounts of text in Powerpoint slides. We also live in a very visual culture – for example, tweets with images get more clicks that those without. So using images in lectures makes it easier for students to understand the material while also keeping their interest engaged.

The photographs could also be used in discussion groups, in several different ways. Here are some suggestions:

  • Photographs are not passive – they don’t just happen. Rather, a photographer actively chooses a particular place and time, camera angle, subject, and lighting, in order to convey a particular thought. You could ask students to write down the thoughts that go through their head when they are taking a photograph.
  • Photographs are a great opportunity to learn about engaging with primary sources. One way to do this would be to give groups of students a photograph (you can use one for the whole class, or several different ones). Ask the students to determine why the photograph was taken, and what kind of message it was intended to portray. To answer this, students can consider the creator of the photograph, the technology that they used, the setting, the subjects, the framing, etc…
  • Photographs can also be used to talk about perspective and the ethical dimensions of history. One exercise I’ve had great success with involved showing students images of Indigenous peoples by Edward Curtis. I ask them to compare an original photograph with the edited published version. I talk about how Curtis used props, physically manipulating the subjects, and early photo editing techniques in order to communicate his vision of what “authentic” Indigeneity meant. This is a great opportunity to talk about issues of representation and power.
  • A fun activity for the adventurous involves giving students historical images of local areas and asking them to go out into the real environment and photograph the same area as it appears now. Then students can compare the two images, see what has changed, and talk about why these changes happened. I live in Richmond, BC, and it’s amazing to see photographs from just 20  years ago; the pace of change is amazing.
  • You could also use photographs to have your students create a timeline! The Age of Revolutions blog has a great post about this, with detailed instructions.



Participating Canadian Institutions (As of Late June 2016)

**It took me all of one Saturday evening to get the code right to display the list of institutions. See what I do for you? Take a moment to glory in it’s beauty. ;)**

Please note that these albums are current as of the publication of this blog post. However, most institutions update on a regular basis, so this list is likely to change.

Library and Archives Canada

Link: Library and Archives Canada


  • Fore-Edge Paintings
  • The Carignan-Salières Regiment
  • College and Universities
  • Jean-Joseph Girouard [artist involved in the Lower Canadian Rebellion, sketches of fellow prisoners.]
  • Charles William Jeffreys [artist who sought to create a visual history and national mythology for Canada.]
  • Patents of Invention
  • Upper and Lower Towns, Ottawa
  • La Bolduc, Queen of Canadian Folksingers
  • John Boyd [railway worker who photographed everyday life as he travelled in Ontario in the late 19th and early 20th centuries]
  • Bicycles
  • Storms
  • Sugar Shacks
  • The Metis Nation
  • Centre Block: Rising from Ashes
  • Parliament Hill Fire and Reconstructions
  • Women’s Suffrage
  • Peter Rindisbacher [Swiss artist who drew Red River and Rupert’s Land in the 1820s]
  • Forts
  • Curling in Canada
  • Canoes
  • Fire Insurance Plans
  • Central Technical School, Toronto
  • Flowers
  • George Philas Vanier [Former GG]
  • Daguerreotypes
  • Brides of Karsh
  • Beer
  • Mirrors with Memory: Daguerreotypes
  • Harvest Time
  • Dogs
  • Road Trip: Summer ‘54
  • Second World War Propaganda Posters
  • Photography of Yousuf Karsh
  • Images of National Parks
  • Images of Cottages, Cabins, and Camps
  • Images of the Somme
  • Early 20th Century Railway Images
  • North West Mounted Police in Yukon
  • Canada in the Netherlands
  • Nursing Images
  • Children of Topley [well known portrait photographer]
  • “In Flanders Fields: A Century of Poppies”
  • Canada at Ypres
  • Immigration Images
  • Images of Active and Healthy Living
  • Early Canadian Travel Photography
  • Winter Carnivals
  • 1st Canadian Division
  • Kingston Penitentiary Inmates, 1913-1916
  • Empire Marketing Board Posters
  • Canada’s Flag: The Maple Leaf Forever
  • Central Experimental Farm
  • Conservation of Books and Visual Material
  • The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
  • Hockey Life
  • Canadian Contributors to the Murmansk Run
  • Photos of Residential Schools – Quebec and Atlantic Regions
  • William Hind [sketches from the artist’s trip with gold seekers crossing the Prairie in 1862.]
  • Photos of Ontario Residential Schools
  • Photos of Northern Residential Schools
  • Celia Franca [Canadian ballet dancer]
  • Sir George Back [records his expeditions in the arctic from 1818 to 1837.]
  • 22nd (French Canadian) Battalion, CEF
  • Photos of BC Residential Schools
  • Canadian Libraries
  • First World War Posters
  • Photos of MB and SK Residential Schools
  • Panoramas
  • George-Etienne Cartier
  • Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry
  • Cats
  • William Redver Stark [sketches of Canada and Western Europe during WW1]
  • Heraldry
  • Fancy Dress Balls
  • Sheet Music
  • Mary Riter Hamilton [WW2 war artist]
  • Grafton Galleries’ Exhibition [WW1 images]
  • Newfoundland Images
  • Children in Aboriginal Culture
  • Kodachrome Colour Images of D-Day and Normandy
  • Underwater Canadian Shipwrecks
  • Canadian Workers and Dangerous Jobs
  • K. Page’s Creative Space [BC poet]
  • Sir J.C. Sherbrooke Fonds and Images [images from the conservation process]
  • Rare Books
  • Early Canadian Sound Recordings
  • Fort Howe
  • Photos of Alberta Residential Schools
  • Canadian Screens
  • Winter Sports and Leisure
  • Pulp Magazines
  • Battle of Ortona, 1943
  • Odd and Interesting Portraits at LAC
  • Anonymous Portraiture
  • Mountain Legacy Project
  • The Prince of Wales, Royal Visit, 1919
  • Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • Louisbourg
  • Canada in Sicily, 1943
  • Calgary Stampede
  • Korean War
  • Canadian Arctic Expedition
  • Battle of the Atlantic
  • Canadian Books from the Early 20th Century
  • Canadian Theatre
  • Franklin Expedition
  • Home Children
  • Toys and Games in Canada
  • Louis Keonig: French Shore [illustrations from landscapes and military installations and daily activities on board the ship that brought artist to Newfoundland and Labrador, Cape Breton, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon in 1885.]
  • Halifax Explosion, 1917
  • Dance in Canada
  • Canadian Football
  • War Animals (1914-1918)
  • Movember
  • Costumes and Halloween
  • Canadian Coast Guard
  • Selkirk and Red River Settlements
  • 1972 Summit Series
  • Canadian Women and the Peace Movement
  • Military Tanks
  • Pirates and Privateers
  • Labour Day
  • Back to School
  • Trans-Canada Highway
  • Sumer Sports and Leisure Activities
  • Sinking of Titanic – April 14, 1912
  • War of 1812
  • Sir John A. Macdonald’s Canadian Patriot Statesman
  • Prime Minister Charles Tupper, 1896
  • Prime Minister Alexander McKenzie, 1873-1878
  • Prime Minister John Joseph Caldwell Abbott, 1891-1892
  • Prime Minister Sir John Sparrow David Thompson, 1892-1894
  • Prime Minister Sir Mackenzie Bowell, 1894-196
  • Prime Minister Arthur Meighen, 1920-1921
  • Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier, 1896-1911
  • Prime Minister Robert Laird Border, 1911-1920
  • Prime Minister Richard Bedford Bennett, 1930-1935
  • Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, 1921-1926, 1929-1930, 1935-1948
  • Prime Minister Louis Stephen St. Laurent, 1948-1957
  • Prime John George Diefenbaker, 1957-1963
  • Prime Minister Lester Bowles Pearson, 1963-1968
  • Acadians
  • V. Roe Canadian Ltd. (Avro)
  • National Film Board of Canada – National Aboriginal Days
  • Pride and Dignity [images from Aboriginal Portraits exhibition from 1996]
  • Rosemary Gilliat Fonds [taken during a trip to Northern Canada, 1956-1951, part of Project Naming]
  • Louis David Riel, 1844-1885
  • Canada and the First World War
  • Alice Isaacson’s Photo Album [from a nursing sister who served in WW1.]
  • Vimy Ridge April 9, 1917
  • Canada and the Second World War
  • Hong Kong, 1941-1945
  • Dieppe Raid
  • Victory in Europe Day (VE Day)
  • D-Day
  • Early Images of Canada: Illustrations from Rare Books
  • The Beaver, Canada’s National Symbol
  • Real Stories: A Past in Miniatures
  • National Flag of Canada Day, February 15
  • The Early Chinese Canadians, 1858-1947
  • The Shamrock and the Maple Leaf
  • Grosse Ile, 1832-1937
  • Framing Canada [sampling of the photo collections at LAC]
  • Opening of New Nitrate Film Preservations Facility
  • May Day
  • Queen Victoria, 1819-1901
  • Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II
  • Twitter Pictures
  • NB: LAC adds new albums on a regular basis!
Law Society of Upper Canada Archives

Link: Law Society of Upper Canada Archives


  • Osgoode Hall Law School Class
    • Individual albums of years 1893-1894, 1899-1905, 1907-1948
  • Early Women Lawyers in Ontario
  • Osgoode Hall Law School Sports Teams
  • Postcards
  • Views of Osgoode Hall, 1920
  • Tilley and Carson Trans-Atlantic Crossing, 1924,
  • Unidentified [photographs with individuals that need identifying, includes a wide range of men, women, and children from the 19th and 20th centuries]
  • British Judges
  • Ontario Lawyers, Judges, Law Students
  • Osgood Hall
McCord Museum, Montreal

Link: McCord Museum [Montreal]


  • Urban Museum MTL [photographs from the Urban Museum MTL App, for walking tours in downtown Montreal]
  • Alexander Henderson – Living Landscapes [across Canada, 19th century]
  • Edward Curtis – Beyond Measure
  • Pieces of Pictures – Morceaux choisis [details from photographs from the museum’s Notman Photographic Archives.]
  • Ships
  • Sports
  • Trains
  • Toys
  • After Notman [outdoor exhibition featuring historic photographs from 1860 to 1935 placed outside of the same buildings]
  • Being Irish O’Quebec
  • International Women’s Day [assorted photographs of women from the 19th and 20th centuries]
  • Remembrance Day
  • Views of Canada (1858-1935)
  • Views of Montreal (1863-1925)
University of Victoria Libraries

Link: University of Victoria Libraries


  • Herbert Geddes, Life in Japan, ca. 1910
  • JM’s World War One Sketchbooks
  • O.H. Dodds World War One Photographs
  • World War One Photographs by J.A. Millar
  • Charter of Hubert de Burgh
  • Codex Pollick (Book of Hours)
  • De Proprietatibus Rerum (On the Properties of Things)
  • Elizabeth I, Privy Council Letter
  • Fall of Princes
  • Grant by Petrus Veremundi
  • James I, Document
  • Leaf from a Medieval Book of Hours, Fragment [2 albums, same name]
  • Lead from a Medieval Gradual, Fragment
  • Letter of Thomas Jermy to William Paston
  • Medicinal and Culinary Miscellany
  • Medieval Folia Collection
  • Medieval Fragments: 13th Century Collection
  • Medieval Paleography Collection
  • Philip II of Spain, Letter
  • Receipt with Seal
  • Rent and Tenancy Grant of Simon and Johanna Bonde
  • Sacrifice of Abraham
  • Sixtus IV, Papal Bull
  • Wax Seal of Edward VI
Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada

Link: Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada

Albums: [Mostly of various missions]

  • Peterborough Sisters – Brazil
  • London Sisters – Western Canada
  • London Sisters – Ontario
  • London Sisters – Peru
  • London Sisters – Education
  • London Motherhouses
  • London Sisters – Concert Band
  • London Sisters – Healthcare
  • London Neighbourhood Sites
UBC Library Digitization Centre

Link: UBC Library Digitization Centre


  • Tairiku Nippo (Continental Daily News)
  • RBSC [Rare Books and Special Collections] Bookplates
  • Epigraphic Squeezes [of Greek inscriptions]
  • One Hundred Poets
  • Ancient Artefacts [Greek Papyri, Cuneiform Tablets]
  • Japanese Canadian Photograph Collection
  • Fisherman Publishing Society Collection
  • Uno Langmann BC Historical Photograph Collection [photographs and documents from 1850s to 1950s’ BC]
  • World War I British Press Photograph Collection
  • Japanese Maps and Prints of the Tokugawa Era
  • Spanish Chant Manuscript
  • Tremaine Arkley Croquet Collection
  • Charles Darwin Letters
  • Traité général des pesches [General Treatise on Fishing, published in the mid to late 18th century]
  • Andrew McCormick Maps and Prints
  • Chung Collection [photographs and ephemera on BC history, immigration and settlement, and CPR.]
  • Bullock-Webster Fonds [illustrations from HBC clerk in Western Canada in the 1870s and 1880s.]
  • Peter Anderson Fonds [early logging and forestry industry in BC]
  • Rosetti Studios – Stanley Park Collection
  • Capilano Timber Company Fonds
  • Mathison Printing Collection [business cards, ads, signs]
  • UBC Library Framed Works
  • WW1 Posters
Provincial Archives of Alberta

Link: Provincial Archives of Alberta


  • What Alberta Makes Alberta
  • Alberta Royalty [Beauty Queens]
  • Alberta Department of Public Health Posters
  • Baseball in Alberta
  • Spring in Alberta
  • Bob Hoare Fonds [homesteading and portraits, early 20th century]
  • Alberta at Night
  • Charles Lee Fonds [family photographs of Allan Godby, late 19th and early 20th centuries]
  • Winter in Alberta
  • Harry Pollard Fonds [Klondike gold Rush and Alberta First Nations, late 19th and early 20th centuries]
  • Halloween in Alberta
  • Prohibition in Alberta
  • Harvest in Alberta
  • Hockey in Alberta
  • Alberta Provincial Police
  • Alberta’s National Parks
  • Calgary Stampede
  • Summer in Alberta
  • Portraits
  • Paul Coze Fonds [portraits, mostly of Alberta First Nations]
  • Film, Theatres, and Entertainment
  • Charles Camsell Hospital [centre for treatment of Aboriginal individuals from outlying communities]
  • Karl Clark Fonds [early mining]
  • Glady Reeves [female professional photographer, early 20th century]
  • Bowen Family [socialites]
  • Christmas in Alberta
  • Blue Quills Residential School
  • Edmonton Commercial Graduates Basketball
  • Gwen Collip [random collection from Alberta woman involved in the medical field.]
  • Alberta and the Great War
  • Aviation in the First World War
  • William Copeland McCalla Family Fonds [hand-coloured slides of flora]
  • Autochromes [by a German immigration to Alberta, 1913-1914]
  • Godby Family Fonds [family photographs, early 20th century]
  • Robert McKay Brebner Fonds [homesteading, late 19th century]
  • Donald Carson Fonds [WW2]
  • Charles Eymundson Fonds [homesteading, hunting, trapping, guiding in late 19th to early 20th century]
  • Aviation in Alberta
Vancouver Public Library Historical Photographs

Link: Vancouver Public Library Historical Photographs


  • Philip Timms Photographs [Lower Mainland in early 20th century]
  • PNE
  • Summertime
  • BC First Nations
  • Chinese Canadians in British Columbia
  • Mining History in British Columbia
  • Komagata Maru Incident
  • WW1
  • V-E Day in Vancouver
  • Stanley Park
  • Hockey in Vancouver
  • Football in Vancouver
  • Photos by Mattie Gunterman [everyday settler life in West Kootenays in the 1890s.]
  • The News [portraits of reporters and journalists from the Province]
  • Vancouver Neon
Cloyne and District Historical Society, Ontario

Link: Cloyne and District Historical Society


  • 68 different albums of local residents from the 19th, 20th, and 21st 
Huron County Museum and Historic Gaol, Ontario

Link: Huron County Museum and Historic Gaol


  • Reuben R. Sallows (1855-1937), Photographer [collection of images of the area and its residents.]
  • Henderson Digitization Project [images of WW11 air training]
Local History and Archives Hamilton Public Library

Link: Local History and Archives Hamilton Public Library

N.B. Most of this collection’s photos are not in albums, so the images must be searched manually.


  • James Street North
  • 2014 Anniversary Calendar
Deseronto Archives, Ontario

Link: Deseronto Archives

N.B.: Most of this archive’s photographs are organized into albums that are labelled with the year they were uploaded and the album number. Many of these albums have one or two photographs, but they all seem to depict life in Deseronto from the 19th to the 20th centuries, or were taken by residents on vacation. There are around 100 of these albums. So I’m not going to describe them all, simply list the ones that are labelled with a description. I’m nice, but I’m not sadistic. 😛


  • Sheet Music
  • Herbert’s ‘Burt’ Rathbun Glass Negatives [family photographs]
  • Estella Burkett Fonds [random, by donation]
  • The D.H.S. Pointer 1920 [publication of the Deseronto High School]
  • 1929 Loyalist Celebration Programme
  • Deseronto Public Library
  • Kenneth Brown Collection [a barn and a postcard – do you see what I mean?]
  • 1896 Library Catalogue
  • Hall Family Fonds
  • Allan Smith [Royal Flying Corps training camps, WW1]
  • Clifton Reynolds’ Photographs [Royal Flying Corps training camps, WW1]
  • Marion Green Baseball Photos
  • Naylor’s Theatre Plans
  • Rainbow Protex
  • Buildings of Note
  • Objects
  • War Memorial Unveiling
  • Harold McMurrich Rathbun Negatives [family photographs]
  • 1976 Town Property Photographs
  • ‘The Lumberman’ Images
  • Deseronto Community Centre Opening
  • Aerial Photograph
  • Other Maps and Plans
  • Other Records
  • Town Council Records
  • Local People
  • Military Training
  • Floyd Marlin Collection [collection by a resident]
  • Shipping
  • Bay of Quinte Railway
  • Rathbun Company Industries
  • 1895 Plan of Deseronto
  • 1912 Plan of Deseronto
  • Deseronto Illustrated
  • Deseronto Town Council
  • Deseronto Businesses
  • Built Environment
  • Other Publications
  • Good Bread Book
  • Denis Nealon’s Diary and Account Book
  • P. Devos Photographs [WW1]
  • N. Goodfellow Postcards
  • Mary Hird’s Hockey Photos
Galt Museum and Archives on the Commons, Lethbridge, Alberta

Link: Galt Museum and Archives on the Commons


  • Fort Macleod’s Anonymous
  • Henderson Lake: 100 Years of History
  • Agriculture
  • Business
  • Canada Women’s Army Corps
  • Coffee and Tea
  • Education
  • Ethnic Groups
  • Fire
  • First People
  • Funny!
  • Galt Hospital
  • Greatest Years: In Memoriam
  • Greatest Years: Lethbridge Firsts
  • Greatest Years: Postcards
  • Horses
  • Irrigation
  • Mining
  • NWMP
  • New People, New Opportunities
  • Oldertimers’ Challenge
  • On the Button [curling]
  • Postcards
  • Rafton-Canning
  • Railway
  • Sports and Leisure
  • Studio Portraits
  • The Beat of the Bands
  • Toys and Games
  • Transportation
  • Unidentified
  • William Fruet
  • World War I
  • World War II
  • Anine’s Favourites
  • Belinda’s Favourites
  • Greg’s Favourites
  • Lea-Ann’s Favourites
  • Wendy’s Favourites

So that’s a basic introduction to the Canadian content available on Flickr Commons. I think it’s absolutely amazing to have a resource for photographs like this, especially the ones that depict everyday life. Do you have any experience using Flickr Commons or using photographs your courses? Let me know in the comments below!

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