Fredericton Marks Its 150th Anniversary
by Wesley Waye, 1998If you are considering travel plans for this summer you might choose to visit New Brunswick where a number of events are taking place this year. Fredericton, in particular, is mounting exhibits to celebrate its 150th anniversary as an incorporated city. A number of photo historical displays will be on view at the museums and malls.
A lot has happened along the Saint John River in 150 years and the proper tribute begins with a journey through the archives, museums and libraries of the city, and through trunks full of memories in search of the threads of community that connected the people to their surroundings. In such a search every bit of heritage, lovingly preserved, owes much to the visual impact of photographs which have outlasted their subjects and their makers.
Although always a thriving capital city, Frederictons population remained small throughout its first 100 years of incorporation. There was usually no more than two or three active photographic studios in business at any one time, as compared to the 23 professional photographers currently listed in Frederictons Yellow Pages.
The photographers who have graced this riverside settlement, however, have left us a visual lesson of "what life was like...". A visit to the New Brunswick Provincial Archives, makes one aware of how well the story of Fredericton had been documented with photography. The highlight is the George Thomas Taylor Collection, from Frederictons first established photographer. His detailed work includes aerial panoramics from atop the church spires, action on the pioneer streets and the stillness of a land untamed.
George Thomas Taylor, born September 6, 1838, was recognized for his exceptional artistic ability at an early age. He supplemented his schooling with diligent home studies, showing particular interest in the "science" of photography. In 1860 at the age of 22, he had developed a thorough knowledge of the collodion (or wet) process and was building his own rudimentary cameras by hand. His first studio began at the corner of Queen and Carleton Streets, where the Royal Bank now stands, launching a career and passion that would last roughly half a century.
During the 1860s, Taylor performed most of his work as portraiture, being commissioned by the Governor and the officers of the Imperial Regiments stationed in Fredericton most of whom were fascinated with his skill in the "new science" of photography. In fact, when the forces were withdrawn to Halifax, the "Colonel", as he was fondly nicknamed, was urged to join them.
After 1869, Taylor, chose to remain in Fredericton, focusing on landscape photography and was frequently employed by the government and local companies to capture images of New Brunswick, particularly of areas yet to be completely explored. For example, before the tracks were laid west of Fredericton, he was commissioned by the New Brunswick Railway Company to photograph various sites along the route to Edmunston.
One of his sons, Ted Taylor, used to say, "...my dad was certainly motivated with the belief he was photographing scenes no white man had ever seen before". And although the Saint John River area had been home to several temporary settlements before his time, his belief was correct. Taylors pictorial displays of seemingly "untouched" New Brunswick are a breathtaking compliment to his coverage of "activity" in the capital city.
When the Kodak was invented, with roll film and hand held cameras, amateur photography became more prevalent. As more people undertook their own photos, the demand for Taylors work declined. He eased out of landscape photography, turning his attention to oil and watercolour painting, at which he excelled, though his painting received very little recognition in comparison to the relative fame of his photography.
Taylor died April 5, 1913 having resided the major portion of his life in Fredericton at 232 Northumberland Street from the age of nine. The house still stands as a heritage site in the citys historic downtown and bears a plaque in his memory. He left behind a legacy of 1200 B&W photographs dating 1860 to 1910, available for viewing or reprinting at the New Brunswick Provincial Archives.
The Taylor Collection, impressive even by todays technologically-advanced standards, provides a remarkable visual representation of 19th century pioneer days in New Brunswick. Thanks to his creative ingenuity, professional attention to detail and his exceptionally perceptive eye for capturing the "feel" of his times, Frederictonians can experience an intimate journey through the early days of their citys history.
For more information on the George Thomas Taylor Collection, contact the New Brunswick Provincial Archives at telephone: (506) 453-2122.Of the other 19th Century Fredericton photographers, noteworthy are W.H. Wilson, William Vincent Segee, G.A. Burkhart, W.A. Walsh, a Mr. Tuck and David Lawrence who worked with George T. Taylor.
Probably the best known name in Fredericton for photography has been the Harvey Studio founded by John Harvey in 1883, following his two years of related studies in New York. The studio has been in operation on Queen Street, in the citys downtown, for 115 years and is still going strong today.
John Harvey ran the business until his death in 1901. His widow, Martha, carried on for another 16 years, with techical assistants Walter Lister, and later Jack DeMille. She installed a negative printing machine a wonder of the day, and prospered until 1917. At that time the business was sold to photographer Frank Pridham who chose to keep the reputable Harvey name for his sole proprietorship for the next 40 years.
Frank Pridham was not only an excellent portrait photographer but also an accomplished teacher of photography. During his 60 years or more as an active photographer he instructed dozens of fledgling photographers, 80 100 sales and technical staff, as well a dozen negative retouchers and hand tinting specialists. Among the photographers to be trained by Pridham were his own son, Harry Pridham, and three Atkinsons: Hubert, Bruce and Ted.
Pridham eventually incorporated the business as Harvey Studio Ltd. Not long after, it was taken over by the Atkinson brothers, along with Teds wife Marjorie the daughter of Frank Pridham. In following this tradition of a "family business", the studio is currently run by Andy Atkinson son of Marjorie and Ted.
The Atkinsons did well as each was capable of all aspect of the business. They divided the labour as Ted Atkinson recalls, "Hubert worked mainly as a portrait photographer plus copy and restoration work. Bruce was a portrait, commercial and aerial photographer, in addition to operating their first colour laboratory. I was President and business manager, and did portrait and commercial photography. Marjorie was the studios office manager. She also did hand tinting for many years before the advent of colour photography."
The 20th Century has seen many talented photographers at work in Fredericton. Two in particular were Joe Stone Sr and Joe Stone Jr. This father and son team ran a successful portrait and commercial studio with a related camera shop for over 25 years throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Both Joe Stone Sr. and Ted Atkinson became President of the Professional Photographers of Canada Inc., the only two New Brunswick photographers to hold that office.
Currently on display in Kings Place Mall are many gems donated by the Harvey Studio from their own collection to the FREDERICTON 150 Photo Exhibit. Photos from Frederictons past, collected from both public and private archives, will be exhibited in buildings throughout Frederictons Cultural Compound during the summer months of 1998. Many have never before been seen by the public. For more information pertaining to FREDERICTONs 150th Anniversary Celebration, phone (506) 454-1848.