Fonds IH 2011.30 - J. Lewis Sangster fonds

Title and statement of responsibility area

Title proper

J. Lewis Sangster fonds

General material designation

  • Graphic material
  • Textual record

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on content of the fonds.

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Reference code

NWMA IH 2011.30

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Edition statement of responsibility

Class of material specific details area

Statement of scale (cartographic)

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Statement of scale (architectural)

Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


  • 1904-1950 (Creation)
    Sangster, J. Lewis

Physical description area

Physical description

1512 photographs
105 postcards
1 cm of textual records

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Archival description area

Name of creator


Biographical history

James Lewis Sangster was born on October 29, 1891, in Victoria, British Columbia. The Sangster family, consisting of parents Alexander and Elizabeth, along with children Alice, Walker, Rufus, Helen (Nellie), non-identical twins Lewis and Philip, and George, arrived in New Westminster from Victoria in 1895 on the paddlewheeler Yosemite. Around age 7, Lewis, who was called by his friends, "Lewie", began earning some money selling newspapers, delivering telegrams and shining shoes. In 1904, he had saved enough money to buy a Kodak postcard camera, and began to document his years growing up in New Westminster.

Lewis Sangster was an outstanding local athlete. He and his four brothers were Regional Champions in basketball, and Sangster was a member of the New Westminster Salmonbellies field lacrosse team for several years in the early 1910s, including being a part of the 1913 and 1914 Minto Cup wins. He was also a medal-winning local sprinter.

Lewis Sangster held a job as a clerk in the City Treasurer’s office in New Westminster until late 1915. On April 7, 1915, Lewis Sangster at age 23, married Naomi Appleton in a ceremony in Sacramento, California followed by a honeymoon at the Panama-Pacific World’s Fair in San Francisco. The young couple moved to New Westminster followed shortly thereafter by her family. The newlyweds were only able to spend seven months together before Lewis Sangster enlisted in the 131st Battalion in New Westminster, B.C. in October of 1915.

The 131st Battalion trained at camp in Vernon, B.C. until October 31st, 1916 when they were deployed overseas as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). The 131st Battalion was absorbed by the 30th Reserve Battalion in England on November 14, 1916. In France, because of his running skills, Lewis was appointed to the dangerous job of Scout for the 47th Battalion of the new Canadian Corps. He represented his battalion at the Canadian Corps Sports held behind the lines in France. He ran the short sprints and came second to later Olympian Tom Longboat. After returning to the trenches he was invalided to England with double pneumonia. His medical papers were signed by Major John McCrae of “In Flanders Fields” fame.

Upon his return from overseas service in 1919, Lewis returned to find his job as clerk for the City had been given to another in his absence overseas. However, he was employed by the city in another position until March 1920. Lewis then became a successful insurance underwriter for the Mutual Life of Canada for the next 40 years. Lewis and Naomi began a family immediately after his return from the war. Son Ross in 1919, daughters Norma Sangster and Evelyn Sangster were born in 1928 and 1934 respectively.

Lewis Sangster became one of New Westminster’s most colourful public figures over the last fifty years of his life. He served on the New Westminster city council for most years beginning in 1931 until 1960. Sangster was mayor of New Westminster for 1949 and 1950. To Mayor Sangster belongs the credit in acquiring Irving House for the city in 1950 which then became a museum. Lewis Sangster was also a prominent member in many service organizations in the Royal City, including the Native Sons, Masonic Order, Knights Templar, Kiwanis Club, Westminster Regiment Association, Westminster Club, Legion, Odd Fellows, Elks and YMCA. Sangster was also known as New Westminster’s unofficial beekeeper, as he was passionate about his hobby of beekeeping.

James Lewis Sangster died on May 11th, 1968, at the age of 76.

Custodial history

Materials were donated to the New Westminster Museum and Archives on behalf of J. Lewis Sangster by his daughter, Evelyn Benson, who was in possession of the materials following Sangster's passing in 1968.

Scope and content

This fonds consists of photographs and postcards taken or collected by J. Lewis Sangster during his time spent in New Westminster, during his time traveling and during his time spent overseas during World War I. Sangster developed a large number of the photographs himself, in a small cellar in his home that was converted into a darkroom. The fonds has been divided into three series based on content: Sangster Family, Military, and New Westminster Subjects. Included in the Military series, there is a collection of Canadian Official postcards published by the British newspaper The Daily Mirror, which Sangster collected during his time serving in World War I. The family series consists of photographs taken by Sangster of his family members, as well as pictures that Sangster received from extended family members.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition


Photographs were arranged into series based on the subject-content of the photograph, and the original order was maintained as best as possible within the subject-based series.

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      General note

      Financial support for processing this fonds was provided by the Government of Canada through the Young Canada Works summer program.

      Alternative identifier(s)

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      Description record identifier

      Institution identifier

      New Westminster Museum and Archives

      Rules or conventions

      Rules for Archival Description (RAD)



      Level of detail


      Dates of creation, revision and deletion

      Created October 25, 2013.

      Language of description

      • English

      Script of description


        Accession area