Boys Will Be Boys: The Way It Used To Be

Following the memorial service for Ellen’s dad we headed to Qualicum Beach to visit with her sister, Diane and brother in law,  Pete. On the way we stopped in at Canvas Plus in Ladysmith, B.C. to pick up the prints that I will have on display at this year’s Art Walk in Lake Country. As with last year they did a great job.

While in Qualicum, I made an early morning visit to Rathtrevor Beach in Parksville. The tide was low and the beach seemed to stretch out forever. After making some images of beach textures and a few landscapes I drove to the government wharf at French Creek.

Fishing season is in full swing for commercial and recreational fisherman. It was very busy at the French Creek wharf. I love the colour and action as fishermen unload their catches while others clean their fish at the fish table. Gulls screech in frantic excitement as they clamour for castoff bits and pieces.

As I poked around the wharf I noticed a crowd gathering at the fish table so wandered over. A proud fisherman held up a 31 pound Chinook salmon. He was joined by another who sported a 19 pounder. As they cleaned their fish interest grew not only from other fishermen but from the gull population. Entrails and fins were washed down the sluice into the water below. In a screeching  frenzy gulls tried to snag  pieces  of the enticing smorgasbord.

But the basis of this story occurred on a return trip to the wharf two days later. Again, it centred on the fish table.

My focus was to capture action and colour around the fishing boats but the screeching and clamour of gulls near the fish table distracted me. Passing a fisherman carrying a huge salmon filet I headed in that direction.

Two boys, likely about 12 years old, were working at the fish table. Their bikes complete with backpacks and fishing rods were lying on the ground. They appeared to be cleaning a large salmon. Instead they were working on the remains of a fish left behind by a previous fisherman. I inquired about what they were up to. “Bait!” they exclaimed together. Obviously, they were on their way to their favourite fishing spot and needed bait for their hooks.

As we chatted they flung bits and pieces into the water to the great approval of the gulls and a lone otter who managed to grab a huge chunk before swimming to a safe haven under the wharf.

I was reminded of my childhood as I asked them a few questions. How wonderful it was to be able to ‘cruise’ my neighbourhood in Victoria when I was their age. Unsurpervised, me and my friends spent long summer days playing scrub softball, swimming at the old Crystal Pool or fishing off the end of the Breakwater. After a few daily chores and giving Mom a rough idea of where we would be we were off. The only stipulation, “Be on time for supper!”.

In today’s modern world with so many technical gadgets to grab our attention such stories seem few and far between. These boys on the wharf in French Creek in my opinion were living the dream.

Posted in My Work, The Creative Process, Travel

Moments in Time: The Henry Ford (Part 2)

In a previous article I wrote about Greenfield Village the outdoor museum associated with the Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. The indoor museum at the Henry Ford is just as captivating as Greenfield Village. It too, is a wonderful place to reminisce and of course to make photographs.

Beginning as Henry Ford’s personal collection of historic objects the indoor facility is housed in a building of over 500,000 square feet. Antique machinery, ordinary household utensils, pop culture items, automobiles, aircraft and locomotives are housed in this wonderful building. It opened in 1933. A careful examination of the images I’ve included below reveals that this building is absolutely stunning.

The Henry Ford complex is advertised as a museum of American history and innovation. I like to think of it as applying to both Canada and the United States. Old photographs of my grandfather’s farm in Saskatchewan show tools, machinery and modes of transportation that were commonly used in both countries and that are now on display at the Henry Ford Museum. In one of my first visits to the Henry Ford my mom accompanied us. She pointed out numerous appliances and utensils that were in use in her family’s home in the early 1900’s.

The Ford name is associated best with the automobile industry. Within the museum is a huge collection of beautifully restored vintage cars, representations of vintage fuel company signs and even early recreation vehicles.

The aviation display is also impressive and features a 1925 Fokker F VII triplane, a 1939 Sikorsky VS 300A helicopter and a Replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer. A 1939 Douglas DC-3 hangs from the ceiling.

The inventions of Thomas Edison and the growth of the electric power grid are well displayed but to me the most dominant display can be found in the museum section devoted to railroad history. Foremost in this exhibit is the 600 ton Chesapeake & Ohio Railway’s massive Allegheny steam engine. It was introduced into service in 1941. It was one of the largest steam locomotives ever built and could pull 160 fully loaded cars each loaded with 60 tones of coal. By the early 1950’s diesel locomotives had replaced these steam giants but the romantic period of steam is indelible in our history.

It would take many visits to the Henry Ford Museum to really appreciate the scope and meaning of the artifacts that are on display. There is so much to see and to photograph. Certainly, I will be making a return visit the next time we are in Michigan. 

Posted in Education, My Work, Travel

Coastal Experience: Deep in the Forest

My first encounter with B.C.’s old growth forests occurred in the mid 1960’s. I was employed by John Motherwell, a B.C. land surveyor and engineer. We were working on a project in Holberg, B.C. a logging community on northern Vancouver Island.

I distinctly remember the size of the ‘off road’ logging trucks that plied the gravel roads we travelled to access our job site. They were huge. One morning a loaded logging truck approached us. It was carrying just one log, a section of an ancient old growth tree.

A few years later in the spring of 1968, Ellen and I packed our Volkswagen Beetle and headed off to Long Beach for a long weekend camping trip. Now, it is a very popular tourist destination located between Tofino and Ukuelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Back then the road to the coast was fairly new and rough. In poor weather conditions the trip was difficult. Now, it is part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and easily accessible.

Passing Kennedy Lake on our way to the coast we were stunned by a devastated forest. What had been an ancient old growth forest was gone. It had been clear cut. Stumps and logging rubble littered the landscape. Protests by indigenous and environmental groups eventually lead to an outright ban in some areas of cutting old growth trees and certainly a more sustainable forest practices code. But, the damage had been done.

Fifty years later, those clear cut areas look refreshed. Seedling that were planted to replace the old trees have grown into a vibrant ‘second growth’ forest. Interestingly, hikes through these renewed forests reveal the huge stumps left behind by the loggers who felled the old growth giants half a century or more ago. Today, they are just rotting relics but serve as a reminder of what had once been a magnificent ancient forest.

In the last year, I’ve made two trips to Port Renfrew, B.C. and to sections of the wild west coast that reflect the reality of today’s coastal forests. There are several areas where blocks of second growth forest have been logged. Even here, the stumps of the original ancient forest remain in start contrast the most recent cut.

For the most part though the forest, right down to the ocean edge, is thriving. Streams bubble through small valleys and cuts bringing the essence of life through the forest and down to the ocean.

It is interesting to witness how ‘Mother Nature’ heals the land after it had been reduced to rubble. Slowly, the old stumps are being returned to the earth. New growth finds small nooks and crannies even in the bark of an ‘ancient, to find life sustaining nourishment.

I remember the hike to Sombrio Beach where the second growth trees are flourishing. But just before the beach the path passes through a campsite and a grove of ancient trees. They seem to reach to the sky. Magnificent!

Avitar Grove, about a half hour’s drive from Port Renfrew is an example of an Ancient Old Growth forest that has been preserved. Huge ancient old trees, new trees, deciduous and evergreen as well as some that have fallen cover the landscape. Here the presence of the ‘Ancients’ is felt. Its almost mystical and to my eye, beautiful.

Posted in Education, My Work, Travel

Father’s Day…..some thoughts

Dad was a hard man. Stubborn, tough…at times, hard to like let alone love. I can find a few bumps to show where we often butted heads. But considering his era – World War I, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and World War II – he turned out pretty well. In reality he turned his grade 8 education into a pretty successful life.

Looking back I wonder what he passed on to my sisters and me. Certainly, in me there is a stubborn streak. Some won’t believe that I put that thought in print. (….fingers crossed behind my back.)

On another plain though, there are the values…. values of family, honesty, hard work and friendship. I see those same values in our sons and their families. And in my sisters and their families. He would be very proud.

In later life his love for music emerged when he joined the Arion Male Choir in Victoria, B.C. Singing became his real passion as photography has become mine. I know for sure that he didn’t pass his singing ability on to me. Even when Parkinson’s disease took hold of his body he still managed to take his place with his beloved choir.

As evidenced by the boxes of slides and black and whites in our basement he also loved photography. His camera traveled everywhere with him. I loved it when night fell. The window blinds were drawn, the doors were shut and the kitchen was turned into a darkroom. It was there that the magic of photography came to life for me. It was such a special time.

Now, watching our grandchildren grow, learn and develop I marvel at their world. Digital everything! Their interests and values are emerging. These are what will carry them through their lives as they have done for me.

Many years have passed since my dad left us. Age has given me a different perspective of his life and on fatherhood. There are no lessons, only experiences, values, hard work, honesty and integrity.

Ellen, our family and  friends who have come into my life are what is most important. I still have many challenges left on my bucket list. Photography is at the root of most of them. Thanks to my dad’s vision and his desire for us to have a better education than he had and the more than several head bumps that occurred between us I have a good chance of clearing some of those challenges from my list.

Posted in Uncategorized

Moments in Time: The Henry Ford

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Posted in My Work, Travel

Coastal Experience: Learning Continues

Port Renfrew, B.C. is a small coastal town on the west coast you of Vancouver Island located directly opposite Cape Flattery, the northern most point of the continental United States. It marks the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca which separates Vancouver Island from Washington State. In mid 1900’s Port Renfrew was central to the logging industry. Today, it is better known for ecotourism activities.

Recently, I participated in a four day workshop in the Port Renfrew area with professional photographer, Dave Hutchison and four other enthusiasts. He presented a similar workshop in September, also in Port Renfrew which I attended. .

On my most recent trip to Port Renfrew conditions were mild and relatively calm. In September it was stormy. Winds, waves and hanging mist along the foreshore and in the forest were ideal for making very interesting images. Regardless of the weather it is always beautiful.

I’ve participated in four workshops with Dave Hutchison. Two have been in Port Renfrew. The other two have been in the Tofino/Ukuelet area in the Pacific Rim National Park. His workshops are well organized and thoroughly researched. I have appreciated and benefitted from his hands on teaching style. The ease with which he helps his students solve problems reflects his wide photographic base of knowledge.

Pristine beaches and ancient old growth forests are easily accessible from Port Renfrew. Dave designed this workshop to take advantage of the best light for making effective landscape photographs in these beautiful locations.

The Vancouver Island photography workshops have been wonderful learning experiences for me. I’ve learned a lot about photography, my camera and about the effective use of ‘light’ in making landscape compositions. But I’ve also learned a lot about myself.

We hiked into some pretty tough (for me) locations. The willingness of the mind was certainly overshadowed by the reluctance of the body. Fortunately, the mind prevailed.  I’m sure that when an opportunity arises for me to again spend time on the west coast of Vancouver Island with my camera, I’ll take a very close look. But fitness will have to remain a priority.

The collection of images I’ve included with this article were made in close proximity to or along the various beaches we hiked during the May and the September workshops. I so much enjoyed the variety lighting conditions, the textures of the beaches and rocky cliffs  and the beautiful vistas as I hiked along such beautiful west coast beaches.  

Posted in My Work, The Creative Process, Travel

Family Photos: A Life Documented

The Canadian Journey for both sides of my family began in the mid to late 1800’s. J.L. Cotter came to Sault St. Marie at the age of 18 to begin a long career with the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Dales were drawn to Canada from England by slick government and CPR advertising that promised free land and a better way life.

Like many settlers, their expectations were likely tempered by much uncertainty. Over time the Dales learned to farm and did eke out a living. But extreme winters, drought conditions, plagues of grasshoppers and the blowing dust storms that affected most of central North America in the 1930’s must have at times, made life unbearable.

The Cotter’s were “Hudson Bay People”. They were assigned to remote trading posts along the Labrador Coast, the northern and central regions of Quebec, Ontario around James Bay and in Saskatchewan where housing was supplied. Their stories were more about the friends and the relationships they developed not of the obvious hardships they had to deal with.

The articles I’ve previously posted about my family photos were focused on the history and development of photography. The story of glass plate negatives, large heavy cameras, Kodak’s first Brownie camera and the emergence of transparent plastic negatives and much smaller cameras is remarkable.

But there is another aspect of photography that is also very important. The use of the camera to tell stories: documentary photography.

The stories of grasshoppers devouring crops of wheat on the Dale Family farm near Qu’appelle or my mom’s experience of traveling to and from boarding school in Prince Albert via dog sled in winter and canoe in the spring and fall months are so different from daily life today. But to see how and where they lived in the photographs they collected evokes a completely different emotion. It’s visual and very real.

There are a great many photographs from both sides of the family. From them I have developed a fairly accurate understanding of the environment in which they lived. But it’s my mother’s albums that have really captured my interest. They document her life from her early years through to a short time before she passed away in 2000.

This first set of images documents the 1907 wedding of my grandparents, H.M.S. Cotter and Beatrice Wilson in Longueuil, P.Q. The remaining images were made in and around the HBC post, Fort Chimo on Ungava Bay.

Most of the images in the second group of images were made in Cumberland House, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s first inland post. It was Saskatchewan’s oldest permanent settlement, founded in 1774 by Samuel Hearn.

The last group of images are about life after the Hudson’s Bay Company. Most were made in Victoria, B.C. while the last two were made in Vernon, B.C.

It occurred to me as I studied my family’s photographs that social media is nothing new. The mode of making and storing images has changed dramatically. But even in photography’s infancy images were shared, discussed at family gatherings, sent in the mail and collected in albums. I’m sure that if my mom had the use of an iPhone camera her images would be numerous and well organized. Instead of being stored in plastic tubs they would probably fill the ‘Cloud’.

Posted in My Work

Family Photos: Photographic History (Part 3)

In a previous article I described how my great grand father, A.A Dale, brought his family to Canada. They left what seemed to be a safe and secure in search way of life in England in search of a better life in Canada. They settled on a quarter section of land near Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan. Stories told by my dad indicate that they were totally unprepared for conditions they had to endure.

My mom’s side of the family, the Cotter’s, arrived in North America and ultimately Saskatchewan via a very different route and purpose than that of my Dad’s family. James Laurence Cotter (J.L. in short), my great grandfather, was born in Madras, India. His father, George Sackville Cotter was a colonel in the Royal Madras Artillary.

J.L. left India for Edinburgh, Scotland at an early age. There he went to school and was raised by his grandmother. In 1857 at the age of 18 he joined the Hudson’s Bay Company as an apprentice clerk and was send to Sault St. Marie to begin his career. In 1868 he married Frances Ironsides. They had 11 children one of them being my grandfather, Henry Martin Stuart Cotter. Over the course of his career J.L. rose to be in charge of the Hudson Bay Company’s Southern Trading District based in Moose factory.

My grandfather was born at Little Whale River. He also joined the HBC. He was posted to Fort Chimo, on Ungava Bay in the north eastern part of Quebec where my Aunt Francis was born. He and his family were transferred to Cumberland House in Saskatchewan where he was the chief trader.

In the mid to late 1930’s both sets of grand parents, the Cotters and the Dales, moved to Victoria to live out the rest of their lives in retirement.

My great grandfather, J.L. Cotter while well travelled in the wilds of Ontario and Quebec is said to have been better known as a photographer.

He made his own camera. I sometimes wonder whether he had purchased a kit from which a camera could be assembled. My research showed that in the 19th century these were available. His photographs were some of the first ever taken around Hudson’s Bay. They are sharp, clear images of life in the wildness in the 1870’s. Historians and anthropologists have shown particular interest in his artistically composed images. His photographs captured a view of life that had changed very little since the establishment of Moose Factory, Ontario at the southern end of James Bay in 1673. Nine drawing in the June 7, 1879 edition of Harper’s Weekly in New York feature drawing based on his photographs.

Travel in the Ontario wilderness in my great grandfather’s era was by canoe on the rivers and under sail on the waters of Hudson’s Bay. That makes this story even more remarkable.

Negative were made on thin glass plates coated with a light-sensitive emulsion of silver salts. Contact prints were made from his 4 x 6 inch glass plates using a ‘silver salts on paper mounted on card – albumen’ process. Certainly, the supply of glass plates and chemicals was heavy, awkward to pack and cumbersome to carry.

The images I’ve included with this post were all made between 1870 and 1880. They are a remarkable view of life in the northern regions of Ontario and Quebec at the time and very likely for decades previous. While many of my great grandfather’s images are housed in the Hudson Bay Company’s archives in Winnipeg and in the National Archives in Ottawa I found these on line at the private McCord Gallery which is located in Montreal.

Posted in My Work

Back at It: Finding a Reason

Six weeks into 2019 and I’ve finally felt like getting some meaningful photography accomplished. Making photographs has not been top of mind since Christmas. I’ve been working on  part 3 of my blog project about  the history of photography as it relates to my family’s photographs. That has taken a lot of research time. What I thought would be fairly straight forward is not. Stay tuned. It’s coming.  

A ‘polar vortex’ has had an icy grip on most of Western Canada. It’s been cold. Not so cold when I think about when we moved to Quesnel, B.C. in 1968 but certainly cold for the Okanagan Valley. 

We’ve been blessed with wind, lots of snow as well as some bright, clear, cold days. Minus 15 celsius or lower  have been common night time temperatures. All this has resulted in an landscape with many interesting photographic opportunities.

Kelowna is situated at about the mid point of Okanagan Lake, a body of water roughly 135Km in length and 4-5 Km at its widest. At its coldest this week it was calm. No wind meant that parts of the lake froze out from shore for several hundred metres.  

The natural movement of the water beneath the ice cause cracks to form. Patterns made by these cracks I find interesting to view and photograph.

As the wind rose the ice broke and was driven towards the shore. Large pans were incorporated into a frozen mush of ice. This created an beautiful foreground effect for some of the landscape images I made.

On Tuesday it snowed heavily. I had been waiting for such a day. Falling snow meant an almost invisible background, ideal for a composition I imagined at Kinsman Park. There, I thought, the solitude of an isolated park bench under the spreading branches of an old weeping willow tree would tell an interesting story.

Recently, I spotted an 1950’s vintage pickup truck nestled under a huge tree. In its box were three large wine barrels. I made a mental note to return when it next snowed.

When I returned during Tuesday’s storm snow hung on the surrounding foliage and seemed to flow off the barrels and the upper surfaces of the truck. To me, it was a perfect candidate for some extra attention with my software plugins.  

On Friday, the temperatures had warmed considerably. They were still below freezing but the change was noticeable. After dropping Ellen off for her appointment I headed over to the Fascieux Creek Wetland. Not much had changed there except that the snow had pushed the dead reeds and bullrushes down almost to water level.  

Noticeable also, was a beautiful noise. Red Winged Black Birds had arrived and were in full throated song. Perhaps it’s a sign that Spring is not so far away.

Posted in My Work

The Wonders of Nature: In an Urban Setting

It’s interesting over time how body and mind begin to run on opposing tracks. The mind, invincible. The body, less than enthusiastic.

I love to get out with my camera especially to places that are off the grid such as my trip to Port Renfrew in September. Lots of hiking to remote beaches and forest setting was involved. I handled most of this well but when I landed upside down on slippery sharp rocks I knew it was time for a reset.

Obviously, safety is a concern as well as a desire not to spoil the trip for other participants. And there is a need to evaluate photography excursions on the basis of suitability for my fitness level. While trips like those I have made to Tofino and Port Renfrew are still on my radar  there are many places close to home or to places we have traveled to that exhibit great opportunities for photographing nature.

Here in Kelowna, B.C. I spend a lot of time at the Fascieux Creek Wetland. Other locations such as Munson Pond, the Mission Creek Greenway, Okanagan Lake and the Kettle Valley Railroad are places I have been able  to make interesting photographs of birds, small mammals and beautiful landscapes.

Whether we are visiting family in Michigan, Victoria and other places on Vancouver Island I have found locations that are  easy to get to and depending on the time of day, weather and light have allowed me to make some of my favourite images.

Locations that I visit regularly allow me to build the knowledge necessary to plan effective photo outings. These scouting trips help me determine the best time of day and best equipment for the situation.

Most images I am presenting with this article were made with an older Nikon 70-300mm lens. When I use my full frame camera the maximum focal length is 300mm but if I use my cropped sensor camera the focal length increase by half, effectively extending to 450mm, ideal for bird photography.

All of these images were made in an urban environment. Street noise, passing vehicles, close proximity to walkers and their pets are common features to these locations. It almost seems as though the critters are used to their urban surroundings and feel that they are relatively safe from potential dangers.

Posted in My Work