The Surrey heritage community is mourning one of their own this week, after local historian and photographer Jack Berry passed away on Sunday, Feb. 4. He was 99 years old.
Jack Berry’s family immigrated to Canada in 1925 at the invitation of his aunt Bessie Williams, who owned and operated the Crescent Beach Hotel with her husband, Watkin. The Berry family settled at the beach and worked at the hotel, providing entertainment for hotel guests and assisting with hotel operations.
Bessie allowed young Berry to borrow her Brownie box camera to finish off a roll of film every once in a while. This was Berry’s first venture into photography — a passion that he would continue to pursue for the rest of his life. The photographs that Berry would go on to take would capture life around Surrey, preserving the city’s history.
When the Crescent Hotel closed in 1932, the Berry family moved to New Westminster and operated a corner store. Berry bought a Kodak camera and set up a darkroom in the storage shed. After turning 20, he left the store to work as an assistant gardener to Frank Dwyer, and took pictures of prize-winning floral displays.
In 1939, Berry joined the 2nd Battalion Westminster Regiment for basic training and he found many opportunities to take pictures during exercises. When Berry enlisted in the permanent forces in 1942, he became a unit photographer on top of his regular duties.
In England, he took a course at Bramshott military hospital in clinical photography and X-ray darkroom procedures. There was plenty of work to be done — Bramshott Hospital admitted casualties directly from the Dieppe Raid, among many other battles.
Berry was transferred to a field medical unit in the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division sometime before D-Day in 1944. He was not allowed to take his camera with him, and so left it behind.
But when hostilities ended, Berry traded half a carton of cigarettes for a small 35 mm camera. He picked up a 50 ft roll of 35 mm film, a film tank and chemicals during a 48 hour leave to Brussels and then used a closet to reload his film cassettes and film tank at night. He either mailed or brought the rolls of film home with him for processing, not trusting the local developers to do a good job with the scant resources available to them in war-torn Europe.
Berry was discharged in 1946 and returned home to where his parents had moved back to Crescent Beach. He found a job working at Neville Curtis’ grocery store. Curtis was a newspaper correspondent for Vancouver publications, and a reporter for the Surrey Leader, but didn’t own a camera himself. Berry fixed him up with a camera and talked him into setting up his own darkroom. Decades later, when Curtis passed away, he would leave hundreds of photographs and thousands of negatives documenting mid-century Surrey to the Surrey Archives.
Berry settled in Cloverdale with his wife Gladys, and they raised two sons, John Edward and Robert David.
Berry joined the Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club as a founding member and became secretary of the organization. At the request of editor Stan McKinnon, Berry began to write a column for the Surrey Leader and covered for the newspaper’s photographer when he was away.
When the Surrey Museum opened, Berry joined the newly formed Surrey Historical Society and offered his photography services to record artifacts, for both insurance and promotional purposes. He then went on to assist Surrey historians Margaret Hastings, Richard Whiteside and Fern Treleaven, providing photos for their history books.
Berry eventually returned to the family home on Crescent Beach in 1972, retiring from his government job the following year. He began working at Peace Arch Hospital, first part-time as a security guard and then later full-time as a maintenance worker. There, he set up slide shows for patients on pre-op and post-op procedures and home care.
He retired from the hospital in 1983, and soon after retired his darkroom as well. Berry packed up his equipment and stored it.
The advent of the household computer and digital photography later provided Berry a second chance to preserve Surrey’s history by giving him the opportunity to scan his old photographs and negatives into digital files — a monumental task. Jack Brown, a fellow history enthusiast, provided a space to publish Berry’s photographs on his History of the City of Surrey website. A selection of Berry’s photographs are preserved there today, and can be viewed at surreyhistory.ca.
—With files from Jack Brown