Photography and Film in Saskatchewan 1900-1950

This is, by necessity, a sketch of some photographic stories from the era.

Photographs of the territory in which Saskatchewan now lies were taken many years before 1900 but it is my purpose here to talk about photographers who lived in Saskatchewan and were mentioned in the newspapers. Information about early photographs of Saskatchewan territory can be found in one of the many books written about the history of photography in Canada and on websites devoted to the topic of early Canadian photography.  For more information about early Saskatchewan photographers look for anything written by Brock V. Silversides, a Saskatchewan historian of photography.

Photographs taken by early photographers (professional or amateur) were rarely printed in the newspapers and the photographers themselves were not mentioned much at all.  However, one place you can find names of photographers year after year is in the prize lists of local fairs. Generally, photography competitions were confined to amateur photographers but in the early years of Saskatoon and Regina, professional photographers sometimes showed their work at the fair or even entered competitions. I have chosen some early examples to illustrate this but you could look at the prize lists for every year to compile a list of prominent amateur photographers in either centre. In the 1930s curated photography exhibitions were shown at the fairs and local clubs put on their own exhibitions there and at other venues.

The first mention I find of local photography appears in a report on the 1890 Regina fair in which the author comments upon the fine photographic work of W.F.B. Jackson, who then had a studio in Regina.  See: https://www.glenbow.org/media/Archival%20Photos_NWMP.pdf for an example of his portrait work.

The Territorial Exhibition of 1895 apparently had a photographic section for display in which the farm photographs of H.B. Spring-Rice are singled out for mention (scroll left from link).  A. Covington appears as a prize winner for Amateur Photography in the prize list. His name appears in the 1899 prize list too, along with a couple of other people.  In 1901 I see the first mention of a woman photographer showing a collection of “snapshots of the north west.” She was Mrs. N.F. Davin, the wife of the Leader’s former editor. According to Davin’s entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, his wife in 1901 was the former Eliza Jane Reid of Ottawa.

It is clear from this list that there were a lot of professional and amateur photographers at work in Saskatchewan from the earliest days and that they liked to show their work at the annual fair. In fact, in 1911 the prize lists differentiate between amateur and professional photography. J.R.C. Honeyman dominates the amateur prizes.  Honeyman was later known as a librarian at the Regina Public Library. The professional prize list is small and only two people are mentioned: Lewis Rice of Moose Jaw and Edgar C. Rossie of Regina, Rice being the first prize winner in the category.  Fortunately, there is an essay of art criticism written by William Trant, journalist and lawyer and Regina city magistrate, in which he mentions the two photographers (unnamed) so you can see what he thought of their work near the end of his thoughtful article on what constituted the art section of Saskatchewan’s only Dominion Agricultural Exhibition.

In later exhibitions the amateur photography exhibits become larger and more non-local people entered them, sometimes winning the majority of prizes. See for example: 1915. Sometimes art exhibitions didn’t appear at the fair, as in 1918 at Regina when there was no building to show them in because of a fire the year before.  There was a novel photographic exhibit in 1920 because the surveys division of the Saskatchewan Department of Highways provided the first aerial photographs ever taken of the province for display.

Exhibitions of art in Saskatoon fairs were hindered in the early years by inadequate facilities which really did not improve until 1928 when a new grandstand with larger display space was built. However, I have found some interesting tidbits about early photographers at the fair, despite the fact that many dates are missing from the early years of the Phoenix in the Google News Archive and many of the early winners in the competitions were from out of town.

In 1904 a Miss Dunn won a special prize for her amateur photographs. Intriguingly, in the 1908 prize list for artwork there are three ladies named in the photography section, Mrs. Burbeck, Mrs..J.J. Johnson and Mrs. J.J. Burbeck (the latter possibly a typo). In 1914 I find W. Lynwood Farnham and H.W. Hewitt winning first prizes for their photography in various categories and J.W. Stringer winning a special prize.  In the commentary on the art gallery that year there is further mention of W. Lynwood Farnham.  Years later, I found a news item on Lynwood Farnham in the Star Phoenix – Nov. 21, 1930.

W. Stringer appears in the prize list again in 1915, along with C.B. Rackstraw who also shows up in the following year, 1916, alongside Mrs. Charles Ramsey.  These two dominated the prize lists in 1917, too. These lists give names but commentary on the photographs is hard to find.  It is easier to find descriptions of professional photography companies who may have set up commercial booths at the fair.

There were quite a number of amateur and professional women photographers in the early days, the most famous of Saskatchewan’s pioneer female photographers now is Geraldine Moodie, wife of a Mountie, who set up studios in places like Battleford and Maple Creek before and around 1900.  She would qualify as a professional but she never seems to have been mentioned in the Regina or Saskatoon newspaper. You can read a short bio and see a bibliography at one of my favourite websites, Concordia University’s Canadian Women’s Art History Initiative:http://cwahi.concordia.ca/sources/artists/displayArtist.php?ID_artist=5611 There are a lot of images by her on various web sites as her practice was not confined to Saskatchewan.

In 1919 Steele’s Photo Studio had a display in the Industrial area, the first time I saw reference to professionals, although many photographers advertised businesses in Saskatoon prior to then. There is another brief report on their participation in the fair.  July 24, 1929

There is a 1950s article  in the Star-Phoenix that talks about the history of the Steele Studio in Saskatoon (opened c. 1918) on the occasion of its closing and I found a short advertisement for Charmbury’s studio in 1945 and a mention of prize winning photos in 1948.  Charmbury’s was another vintage studio, as was Henry Thams’ Studio in Saskatoon.

I’m including here some small clippings that feature ads for various photographers who had businesses in Regina and Saskatoon in the early days.

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1904 Dill ad Stoon  1903 Dill studio opens SSP

Interestingly enough, ads appeared in both the Regina and Saskatoon papers in 1927 featuring photography companies in both cities so you can see who lasted or who replaced the earlier photography companies.

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1929 R Dill ad  1929 Hillyard ad for special SSP

1918 Townsend photography full page ad

1930 Hollywood photo studio & WAA talk

1955 Dick Bird photo studio ad

Stories about these photographers are pretty much non-existent in the early newspapers. I have only found one brief one about Ralph Dill, for example, who was a photographer in Saskatoon for a very long time.  However, recently I found a substantial article on him on the occasion of his retirement.  Ads for his photography studio appear from 1903 on. Someone else who was in Saskatoon that year was William James, a photographer who is associated with the early days of Prince Albert. There  are a number of photographs by Dill on the Internet. See the Saskatoon Public Library’s digital collection at: http://spldatabase.saskatoonlibrary.ca/ics-wpd/exec/icswppro.dll?AC=QBE_QUERY&TN=LHR_RAD&NP=4&QB0=AND&QF0=CLASSIFICATION&QI0=BIOGRAPHY+D*&MR=20&RF=www_Canned%20Searches&QB1=AND&QF1=THUMBNAIL_IMAGE&QI1=*

There is a short biography of Ralph Dill of Ralph Dill (1876-1948) on Archives Canada website . The 1912 postcard by Dill I have on this blog was borrowed from Peel’s Prairie Province’s digital postcard collection. # PC002847 because I have not seen any Dill photos in the Saskatoon newspaper. It shows Nutana Collegiate and Victoria St. Bridge (no longer passable).

PC002847 Nutana 1912

The only Regina photographer who got a lot of press was Dill’s contemporary Edgar Charlotte Rossie.  I know that studies of the careers of Dill, James and Rossie have been done but since E.C. Rossie was a bit of a Regina celebrity and one of its earliest film makers, I’m going to focus on him because there are articles and newspaper photographs to look at, including a caricature of him which appeared in the 1913 Morning Leader, drawn by Regina’s John McNaughton. And what’s an essay about photography without some visual images? Fortunately, Peel’s Prairie Provinces has digitized some old postcards for capture which furnished examples of the work of some of these early photographers.

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I found the earliest of his newspaper photographs in 1907, a picture of a train wreck, and there was a little commentary indicating that the newspaper was very impressed with his ingenuity.

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In 1907 the Morning Leader reported that he had done a portrait group of the new city council. (Scroll to the left and down the column) That may relate to an incident referred to in my Odd Stories section.  And in 1908 he exhibited a large photograph of the Normal School staff surrounded by graduating students in Duncan’s drug store.  I found this  news item quite interesting as I just happen to own the 1908 year book for the Regina Normal School which has some lovely photos in it and I realize now he was probably the uncredited photographer for that booklet.  A family member also had a copy of the photograph mentioned in the news article so here’s a copy of a Rossie original: 1908 Normal school grads Colleen1cropped                                                                                               I found another photograph credited to him in the 1913 Leader, a fascinating view of a lost era.

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But more interesting are the reports of his film making which he undertook in 1913 after some sponsored training.  Films were then new to the Regina audience and it was very thrilling for them to see images of themselves or people they knew on the silver screen. (Judging by what’s on YouTube today, it’s still pretty thrilling.) There is this initial showing of his films at the Roseland Theatre in Regina to a private audience and then more information a week later when they were shown to the general public. This still image below advertising a film he took of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police at their Regina training depot shows multiple Mountie uniforms.

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Another tantalizing reference to his film making comes in 1914 when he was commissioned to make a film of foreign born children in Wroxton, Saskatchewan. He was also hired by the city to make a set of 24 slides of Regina and vicinity for publicity purposes that year.  One wonders whatever happened to these and other projects he undertook.  Curiously, there isn’t much of an archive although there are papers and material related to him in the Saskatchewn Archives in Regina.  In 1919 a profile of him with a photo he probably took of himself appears in the Morning Leader.  It is a supplement of the newspaper devoted to introducing Rotary Club members and it is likely that Rossie took many of the other photographic portraits on these pages. I cannot link to the page he appears on but if you scroll over to the next page from this link, you’ll find him.

Then of course there is his obituary. He died March 13, 1942 at the age of 66 and this basically tells you his story.

Rossie was very enthusiastic about the formation of a Regina Camera Club according to this 1909 article. But it seems that when the club was organized the following spring, he was not listed on the executive and may not have even been involved when it came together in Apr. 5, 1910

This latter article indicates the names of a number of amateur photographers in Regina and you can see that Woodrow Van Valkenberg was a member.  He was an early photographer who also made his own postcards, sold at his store. I was lucky enough to run across a photograph of this man in the newspaper when his death was announced so you can read what little there is known about him in this article. PC002765 Government house Regina

PC0002765 Peels’ Prairie Postcards

Frank Thompson, the  first president is briefly profiled in the 1910 Camera Club article and another member, William Lythe, is a man whose name is associated with being in charge of art exhibitions at the Regina fair and a member of the Camera Club in the 1930s.

The Regina Camera Club had quite an ambitious program although I am not sure how long it lasted. I found two reports, one in 1911 when it is mentioned as meeting at its new quarters in the YMCA building and as providing weekly photo talks and another in 1913 when the venue had changed to the Public Library. There are brief reports on their bi-weekly meetings until the end of May and then there is nothing that I could find.  Like many organizations, this one probably succumbed to the exigencies of World War I.

Although a new photo club was formed in Regina in 1925 called the YMCA Regina Camera Club. Like the earlier one, I didn’t find anything more until several years later in 1934 when an announcement appeared about the Camera club members sending photos to an International Photo Salon (Sep. 20, 1934). They held their own first salon later that year apparently occasioned by the fact that  a set of 12 photos from the club had won third prize at the International Photo Salon in Turin, Italy.  Duplicates of some of those photos and collections from the Winnipeg and Brandon Camera Clubs, as well as Victoria and Toronto were included in the three-day Regina salon.  The membership of the club and details about the winning photos are included in several articles (Nov. 28, Nov. 29, Nov. 30 1934) because the press gave this show extensive coverage and even featured this art photo in the newspaper.

1934 Regina YMCA Camera Club3 cropped

There may have been other shows mounted by the Camera Club prior to this but the only photography show I found announced was in 1926 when Leslie G. Saunders, Beatrice Brown and W.E. Knowles Middleton mounted a showing of their pictorial style photos at Regina’s Public Library in the middle of June, 1926. No mention was made of any relation to the Camera Club. Dr. (Les) Saunders was a biology professor at the University of Saskatoon and a very active exhibitor of his photos for decades in Saskatchewan.  Beatrice Brown was the daughter of Annie Barr Brown (wife of former Lieutenant-Governor G.W. Brown).  Beatrice was active with Regina art groups in the early 1920s before moving to California.  W.E. Knowles Middleton was then a student at the University of Saskatchewan who went on to become a prolific writer on the science of meteorology. In the late 1920s, however, he was an active exhibitor of photographs.  (http://www.science.ca/scientists/scientistprofile.php?pID=356&pg=0)

There is a brief mention of the work of Evelyn Spice in a very short article published in 1938.  Evelyn Spice Cherry figures in the history of the National Film Board as a film maker from Saskatchewan. Then there is this mention of a Regina photographer winning fame for a photo he took that appeared in Life Magazine.  And a surprise was finding an article announcing the formation of Prince Albert’s first Camera Club in 1938.

There were a number of lecturers visiting Regina to talk about photography.  And about 1943 several mentions of the Camera Club appear indicating it was active until at least the end of World War II. Other Regina Camera club articles I found: Aug. 1, 1939, Apr.18, 1940, Feb. 25, 1943, Apr. 1, 1943 and Oct. 4, 1945 and Jan. 9, 1946 when the Camera Club was part of the Regina Art Centre Group.

Marcell Seidler, a Jewish refugee from Vienna, Austria, spent a short sojourn in Regina. As a European trained photographer, Seidler gave a series of lectures to the Regina Camera Club in the early part of 1943 (above).  He also exhibited sculpture works in Regina College with Mrs. Basterfield. Marcell and his younger brother Harry spent some time in Canada, as Harry attended the University of Manitoba, studying architecture.  In 1945 he left Winnipeg and went to Harvard to continue his studies in architecture.  After graduating, he joined his wealthy parents and his brother Marcell in South Australia.  Marcell was known as a photographer in Australia but his brother became very famous there for introducing modern architectural principles into Australia.

Although mentions of film making in Regina are few and far between, I do wonder whatever happened to Rossie’s films and these other Saskatchewan made films I found reference to in the early newspapers:

July 18, 1921 – W.H. Bird of Pathoscope Co. filmed the Saskatoon fair, a Boy Scout Camp at Katepwa Beach and the investiture of Newlands as lieutenant governor in Regina  for the Government of Saskatchewan.  In 1923 W.H. Bird, now of Regina Films Ltd. filmed the Regina fair.

I don’t know if he was related to Dick Bird who had a  photo studio in Regina for many years and was known as a nature film maker. See bio at https://www.regina.ca/visitors/heritage-history/historical-biographies/biography-bird/   A well-known lecturer, Dick Bird gave a presentation to the Regina Arts and Crafts Society Feb. 1941

Aug. 8, 1933 – Two hour film Scenic and Industrial Saskatoon sponsored by the Cosmopolitan Club of Saskatoon and shown at the Summer Fair. No maker is mentioned.

In July of 1937 Ted Davis of Prince Albert’s Daily Herald made a colour film of activities at the Emma Lake Art Camp and then showed the film in Regina at a reunion dinner

Nov. 10, 1945 – Two Regina men were reported as involved in filming The True Glory, feature documentary film shown at the Metropolitan Theatre.

Fred Bard of the provincial Natural History Museum was an all round artist who made films and showed them to local audiences. Apr. 3, 1943

I also ran across an early item related to the Yorkton Short Film Festival, one of the oldest film festivals in Canada. Fred Bard won a prize that year.

Few professional photographers maintained their entire archive as they had to make room over the years for newer photos and photos made by newer technologies.This 1943 story from the Star-Phoenix tells what might have happened to a lot of old newspaper photo cuts during World War II when there was a need for zinc, the material the cuts were made from.  It is a sad story since newspapers often kept archives of old photo cuts long after the negatives or paper prints had been discarded by the photographer. There is a photo illustration that appears in the 1940 Star-Phoenix which has a short description about how cuts were made.

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While Ralph Dill is arguably the best-known photographer from the very early days of Saskatoon photography, there were others that I came across by accident, not referenced in the newspapers.  Archie D. Woods was a photographer in Saskatoon (active 1905) and his wife was the first Saskatonian to advertise her painting classes in the young town. He didn’t turn out to be much of a rival for Ralph Dill and moved to British Columbia where he took up farming.  His wife may have worked for him as a retoucher and colourist.  My great grandfather, a Moose Jaw dentist, was in Saskatoon in 1905 visiting his in-laws and while he was there he had his portrait taken by Archie Woods.  As you can tell by the photo, Woods didn’t even have pre-made signature cardboard mounts and wrote Woods Studio on the frame himself. My great grandfather was then 31 years old and he already had white hair, a family curse, but also sported what is now a cool hipster moustache.

DD Ross 1905

The Saskatoon Public Library’s Local History Room has a wonderful digital archive of early photos of Saskatoon and it is searchable by many access points, including the category “Photographers.” Here you will find photos filed under the names of Ralph Dill, Benjamin Skewis, Peter McKenzie and other early Saskatoon photographers and studios, although few files contain biographies.  Several of these names also appear in the digital archive of Prairie Postcards created by the Peel’s Prairie Provinces digital project.

Undoubtedly, there were others but I haven’t found their ads yet. They didn’t figure in any articles before 1920 that are accessible on the Google News Archive.

I am providing a direct link to the Saskatoon public Library’s digital biography of Len Hillyard and exhibition of 24 photographs here.  http://spldatabase.saskatoonlibrary.ca/ics-wpd/exec/icswppro.dll?AC=MENU_QUERY&XC=/ics-wpd/exec/icswppro.dll&TN=LH_SHOWS&SN=gs+1988+all+photos&RF=www_STTA+YCW&EF=&DF=&MR=20&RL=0&EL=0&DL=0&NP=255

Hillyard had a studio in Saskatoon from 1913 to 1974 and is arguably the city’s most well known professional photographer from the 1920s until into the 1960s.  He also seems to have had a relationship with the Star-Phoenix because he photographed events for them at different times.

Since there are some interesting photos by him in the newspaper, I have included a couple of them. This unusual photograph of the Bessborough Hotel first appeared in the Star Phoenix in 1936 and then I found it again in 1955 in the special Jubilee edition, an example of how a photo cut was reused many years later.

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An article explaining how Hillyard captured this image of Saskatoon’s now iconic Bessborough Hotel can be found here.  And below, a more typical photograph shot from the top of the Bessborough Hotel, I assume.

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In the summer months of 1932 and 1933 the Regina Leader-Post held a photo contest for amateurs, printing the photos of the winners of several categories in a series of weekly articles throughout the summer. Aug. 2, 1932Sep. 2, 1932,  Jul. 21, 1933Sept. 16, 1933 are the ones I selected but winner photographs were published in every Friday’s (sometimes Saturday’s) paper during the contest . It is interesting, not only to see how the photographers tackled local subject matter, but also because the winners’ lists name a lot of talented amateurs living in the vicinity of Regina.

It was also personally fascinating for me because one of the consistent winners was Henry Schroyen, who married my mother’s aunt. I had little idea of his life but in 1933 he rated a full scale article in the Regina Leader Post. Oct. 19, 1933 Snapshot Wizard.  In the images I saw my mother’s uncle Clifton Heglin, Henry’s brother-in-law – he is the little boy facing the legislative buildings in “Sunset.” Clifton moved to Victoria, B.C. with his parents in 1943 and later operated a professional photo studio there called Chevron Studios and Henry apparently worked in photo studios for a while in Victoria, too, as he was still winning photo contests in the early 1950s. No wonder all the photos from that side of the family are superior to the usual snaps.

However, surely the most talented and best known amateur (in the sense that he made his living as a biologist) in Saskatchewan during this time was Saskatoon’s Dr. Leslie G. Saunders. Very active in the Saskatoon arts community from the 1930s on, he was a member of the Saskatoon Camera Club and the Saskatoon Art Association, even serving as president on occasion. As an associate of the Royal Photographic Society, he was a regular exhibitor of his photographs, locally and abroad, and he was also known for his watercolour painting.

Despite Saunders having exhibited in Regina in 1926, I haven’t found an earlier reference to his exhibiting photographs in Saskatoon other than in 1927 and Apr. 7, 1931, and 1932 with the Saskatoon Art Association. In Aug. 1935 he showed both his photographs and watercolours in Tyrie’s Art Shop in Saskatoon. From then on his shows are frequently announced. Dec. 14. During this period Saskatoon audiences were viewing large photographic collections sent from Britain (May 12, 14, 16, 1934), the National Gallery of Canada in 1935 at the Summer Fair and in 1937 at Convocation Hall.  Soon after the 1937 Third Salon of Photography moved out of Convo Hall to occupy a space in a downtown building for a while, Leslie Saunders’ 65 photos were hung in their place. Mar. 11, 1937. Saunders’ show appears to have moved over to the Saskatoon Normal School in late April where it was probably shown during teacher meetings.

Saunders’ name can also be found in the exhibition lists I have compiled and you can read what reviews of his work appeared in the papers by looking for the year’s exhibition dates on the Saskatoon Art Association exhibition List.

Saunders gave a slide show and talk to the Lion’s Club in Mar. 1938, the Kiwanis club in Mar. 1939

In the Regina paper  it was announced that one of Saunders’ photographs was hung in Ottawa at the International Canadian Photo Salon in Oct of 1939 RLP and that the show was scheduled to come to Regina.

This artist has been written about in exhibition catalogues which you can probably find yourself. I’m pretty sure he was the inspiration for the formation of the Saskatoon Camera Club.  So it would seem that three city camera clubs can be found to be most active in the late 1930s, Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert. The Mendel gallery website has a history of the Saskatoon Camera Club at http://www.mendel.ca/saskatoon-camera-club/, written on the occasion of its 75th anniversary.

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The Star-Phoenix printed Saunders’ photographs as often as they could.

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One of the earliest references I have seen in the newspapers to the Saskatoon Camera Club is this report of a meeting in 1936. The Camera Club mounted a show at the Bessborough Hotel in July 1937 and the Club had a showing of their members’ work in Feb. 1938 at Nutana Collegiate where mention was made of their previous year’s show. The next reports came in May 7, 1938 about a talk on colour film  & Dec. of  1938 when Dr. Saunders was addressing the club on technical matters.  Although there may have been a club in Saskatoon prior to this time, its activities were not well covered by the Star-Phoenix.  They are often mentioned in the newspaper after 1938.  Nov. 16, 1939 Dec. 21, 1939Dec. 3, 1940, Jan. 23, 1941Dec. 16, 1941

The Saskatoon Camera Club was housed in the new Saskatoon Art Centre in 1944 where they had a dark room and their shows were usually mounted in the Art Centre after that. Check Art Gum columns and reviews of annual fall and spring shows of the Saskatoon Art Association to find more mention of photographers from the late 1940s. I did find a rather amusing description of one of the Camera Club’s annual events in the Star-Phoenix on Nov. 13, 1947.

While the Star-Phoenix started slightly earlier, featuring art photos by their staff and others on the pages of the newspaper, by the end of the 1940s, the Leader-Post had caught up.  T. E. Melville-Ness is a name that appears on many of the best photos reproduced in the Leader-Post. He was a member of the Regina Camera Club in the 1940s.

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In Saskatoon the newspaper featured prints of the month on occasion by amateurs in 1948. Here are a couple I came across.

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Since this is my visual technology section, I thought I would include a surprising item I ran across in the newspapers. It concerns a Saskatoon man who read a paper to a club in 1916 in which he predicted inventions that sound very like today’s cellphones and flat screen TVs.  However, I’m kind of glad his prediction about radio-active wall paint being used for home heating didn’t come to pass because it’s cold enough in a Saskatchewan winter to make people try anything to keep warm.

Another two items have to do with Saskatchewan’s first exposure to the novel invention of television in 1934. Both the Saskatoon and Regina summer fairs featured demonstrations of television for amazed audiences. It would be another twenty years at least before many Saskatchewanians were able to buy televisions and receive local broadcasts in their home.

Some prognostications of the future were concerned with agency in the new medium of film appeared in 1926 and TV in  1940. Hope springs eternal for women.

© Lisa G. Henderson, 2014

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2 thoughts on “Photography and Film in Saskatchewan 1900-1950

  1. Ross Barclay

    My grandfather, Royal Barclay, opened a studio in Dubuc in 1909-10 called Royal Studio. I have a number of his photos from that time, including a photo of the building of the Dubuc School in 1910-11. I was wondering if you might have any information about him and his photography business.

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    1. lisa g. henderson Post author

      Hi. You can see that I only indexed newspaper articles from Regina/Saskatoon. I don’t know where Dubuc is. If you do, there is a website on Saskatchewan Historical Newspapers digitized 1914-1915. I would look for a newspaper that would cover Dubuc news and see if there is any mention of your grandfather or possibly an ad for his studio. I just googled Dubuc and apparently there is a history of the town floating around somewhere. Best of luck in your research..

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