Aerial photos of London and surrounding counties give glimpse into city's history

A new database of more than 10,000 photos from around London and surrounding counties shows what the region looked like from the air in the last 100 years.

More than 10,000 photos are available to look through on a Western University-based app

A young woman sits in front of a computer screen which shows a map that has more than 10,000 purple dots on it. The dots represent historical photos.
Fourth-year student Eunice Chu designed the app, which allows people to search a map for photos from the past 100 years. Each purple dot represents one of the historical photos. (Kate Dubinski/CBC)

A new app featuring more than 10,000 aerial photos from London and surrounding counties shows what the region looked like from the air in the last 100 years. 

Developed by Eunice Chu, a fourth-year geographic information systems (GIS) student who works as a student library assistant at the Map and Data Centre at Western University's Weldon Library, the air photo collection app allows anyone to look up pictures of their corner of southwestern Ontario. 

The app is for researchers, students, and anyone curious about what London, or the counties of Perth, Elgin, Oxford, and Middlesex, looked like since the 1920s. 

"I would say, start with where you live. I think many people would be interested in seeing how different their current house looks, see what was there before," Chu said. "You can scroll through the image carousel on the app to see different photos around the area." 

Consider the following numbers: 

  • 10,229: number of photos in the app database 
  • 2: years it took grad students to digitize all of the photos
  • 6: months it took to develop the air photo collection app 

"It took two graduate students from the faculty of information and media studies two years of work to scan all 10,000 photos and update all the metadata so that the photos could be discoverable, first in the database and then once we moved them into the GIS as well," said Zack MacDonald, Weldon's map librarian. 

A man and woman stand near a computer screen that displays and old phot.
Zack MacDonald and Liz Sutherland work at Weldon Library at Western University and helped bring the app project to life. (Kate Dubinski/CBC)

GIS brings the spacial elements of our world into perspective, said Liz Sutherland, a GIS specialist whose idea it was to map all of the aerial photos and who was instrumental in getting the project off the ground. "It's all about bringing geography to life in a way that you can use in your everyday existence," she said. 

"I love looking at how our landscape has changed. The Thames River cuts right through downtown London but it hasn't stayed the same over time. Seeing how river boundaries have eroded, banks created, new meanders created, it's really cool to see." 

An air shot of Fanshawe Park Road and Richmond Street from 1950. Black and white photo.
An air shot of Fanshawe Park Road and Richmond Street from 1950, one of more than 10,000 photos available on a new app. (Supplied by Western Libraries)

Many of the pictures were donated by the Upper Thames Conservation Authority, she added. 

It's one of the largest air photo collections in Canada. The oldest photos are from 1922.


Kate Dubinski


Kate Dubinski is a radio and digital reporter with CBC News in London, Ont. You can email her at