Freeze dryers at from The Beacon Herald, October 12, 2002


By Paul Cliff.

Photo by Scott Wishart



Picture Perfect (Restoring flood-damaged photos)

Restoration expert Mike McCabe, left, presents restored photo albums to Stratford resident Len Young Restoration expert Mike McCabe, left, presents restored photo albums to Stratford resident Len Young on Friday. Hundreds of Mr. Young's family photos, some dating back to the 1940s, were submerged in his basement during the July 28, 2002 floods.

Len Young's flood-damaged photos restored and returned.

Sure, a picture is worth a thousand words.

But there were no words to describe the feeling of relief running through 85-year-old Len Young Friday afternoon when a collection of family photos were returned to his McNab Street home. Hundreds of photos, some dating back to the 1940s, were heavily damaged when Mr. Young's home was flooded during July's rainstorm.

Upon the advice of his granddaughter, Mr. Young was able to have them restored and yesterday afternoon they were brought back– along with a lifetime of memories. "They look great," said Mr. Young. "I was going to try and dry them myself but it would have taken me forever. Then Shannon came up with the idea. I didn't expect them to look like this. They look just the same as before."

Mike McCabe, a master restorer with Kitchener-based Paul Davis Systems, brought the photos over in a dozen albums. Newspaper clippings, brag books, a calendar and souvenir programs were also restored. "A lot of these pictures are from well over 50 years ago," said Mr. Young as he flipped through photos chronicling his service overseas during World War II.

A few of the photos stood out above others. A picture of Queen Elizabeth, taken by Len's son Dennis, vividly brought back June 6, 1984. Mr. Young was in France attending the anniversary of the landing at Normandy. "She stopped by and talked to me and saw we had a camera, so we took a picture," he said. Mr. Young spent four years fighting for Canada, first as a signalman with the Calgary Highlanders and later with counter-intelligence as an aerial photograph interpreter.

There were black and white pictures of Connie and Jeanette, the first two of nine children. Connie and Jeanette were born before the war. Many of the photos are of his family and as his granddaughter pointed out, family means a lot to the Youngs. Shannon said they normally get together at their grandfather's house during the holiday season but they rent out the Legion Hall for Christmas dinner.

His daughter, Barb Young-Schulz, was one of the first people at the house when it flooded. "We opened the cabinet in the basement and there were the photos on the bottom shelf," she sighed. "A lot of things were damaged, but the photos made us emotional." "I went one way and Dad went the other. It was certainly a family affair. I think we both had our little cries."

Basements can be fixed but at the time the family thought the pictures were gone forever. It would have been tough for the entire clan with the memories of his children's weddings and a special picture of Len and his late wife Erma on their 50th wedding anniversary.

Mr. McCabe explained the restoration process. Young's photos were put in a freezer to prevent further deterioration and damage. Once frozen, a combination of vacuum and pressure pulled moisture off the photos and the pictures were able to dry out and retain their form over a fout-to-five day period. The vacuum freeze-dry process is often used in taxidermy and by pharmaceutical companies. The process was performed on a smaller level to work on the photographs.

"Anything in the past that was saturated or soaked would have been written off but now those things can be restored," said Mr. McCabe.

Mr. Young spends most of his days finishing up his basement and the rest of the house on a street that was damaged from the rainstorm. Once the basement is finished, hopefully in time for Christmas, Mr. Young says he will place the photo albums back in the basement, but this time on higher shelves.

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