Historic Photographs


A selection of historic photographs dating from the late 19th century.

Ben Higgs, Fred Spalding, S.A. Smyth, the Notman Photographers as well as others, explored the mountains with their cameras. Like the paintings of many early artists, the "scenes" photographed by local as well as itinerant photographers served to promote greater travel in the Rocky Mountains. Similarly, the photographs also express a fascination with the spectacular landscape found between Banff, Yoho, Jasper, and Waterton National Parks.

Handtints are hand-colored black and white photographs, using either watercolor or oil based pigments. The process was an early and popular step in the concern about color and began almost as soon as photography itself.

In its heyday, hand-coloring was a major aspect of the livelihoods of thousands of photographers. Free-lance, itinerant photographers either did their own handtinting or had a relative (often their wife, daughter, mother, grandmother) colorize the print. Interestingly portrait painters, their careers threatened by the rise of the photographic portrait, quickly adapted to the process inorder to stay current. Some painters became photographers, while others colored photographs for established photographers.

Fred Spalding sent his images back to the Camera Products Company in Vancouver, a company he founded, in order to keep the process in-house. Spalding was a well-travelled photographer, since his works span Canada. Ben Higgs operated a summer branch of the Cardston Pharmacy in Waterton, he is probably the Ben Higgs of the lovely handtint of The International Boundary as his position would have given him good access to photograph the wonderful landscape in that part of southern Alberta. Earlier than these two photographers were the staff photographers hired by the Wm Notman & Son Photographic Studio in Montreal (principal period 1840-1935). A large aspect of the The Notman Studio business plan was the consideration of the needs of tourists, the Studio provided them with images of places visited, since visitors at that time did not necessarily own cameras. S.A. Smythe of Calgary was another frequent photographer in Banff. As a growing destination place Banff was a popular location for such photographers.

In the gallery we have historic handtint photographs from Banff National Park and Waterton Lakes International Peace Park by J. Fred Spalding. Spalding started off with his photography while living in Fernie, which probably explains his knowledge that Waterton even existed - his images of Cameron Lake and of Red Rock Canyon are wonderfully tinted.

The photographer for the gelatin silver photograph "Looking East from the Banff Springs" has yet to be pinned down. There were a great many pre 1900 photographers who worked in Banff, anywhere from staff photographers for Notman, CPR photographers, professional photographers from Vancouver, the Calgary photographer S.A. Smythe. The possibilities are vast. We have more closely established its dating from a general time of pre 1911 (before the creation of the golf course). Taking into account the orientation of the scene (from somewhere on the Banff Springs Hotel - constructed 1887-8), comparisons of tree growth and comparisons with other works housed at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies Archives, we suggest that the photograph dates between 14 October 1889 and 1895. Regardless it is a lovely image from an early period in Banff.