Photographers in the Family: A Trip into the Past

My dad was an avid photographer. Black and white imagery and color slides were his main interest. An old album of black and white images captured in the 1930’s indicated that mom was also a pretty good photographer. She made a series of very interesting images while on a CPR coastal steamer trip to Alaska. They showed that she had a keen eye for creating interesting compositions.

Her brother, George Cotter, was also very interested in photography. Born in north central Saskatchewan, in a place called Cumberland House, he was a skilled woodsman, trapper and hunter … a rugged individualist. My grandfather ran the Hudson Bay Company trading post there.

Uncle George reveled in the beauty and vastness of the Canadian prairies. His love of nature was obvious to all who knew him. While he was an excellent hunter and trapper he eventually traded his rifle for a 16mm Bolex movie camera.

Under his company name, Cotter Wildlife Productions, he built a very successful wildlife film business in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He used his knowledge of nature and the woods to make such films as Wings of Summer (1961), A Trilogy of Manitoba Wildlife (1972) and The Great Grey Owl (1978). There were many others. The Discover Channel picked up his work and produced a series called Cotter’s Wilderness Trails. It was very popular.

Digging deeper into my family’s history I found another well-regarded photographer, James Cotter, my great grandfather. Like my grandfather he was employed by the HBC. In the mid 1800’s he managed a trading post in Moose Factory, Quebec. Prior to this posting he and his family lived at the very remote trading post at Little Whale River, Quebec.

James Cotter built his own camera which I believe held glass plate negatives. Direct contact prints were made on paper created by an albumen silver salt process. His images clearly reflect life in the arctic, the beauty of the landscape and its harsh realities.

The National Archives of Canada and the Hudson Bay Company archives as well as private galleries such as the McCord Museum are repositories for his prints.

James Cotter captured the images below about 1872. They show the construction of an Igloo, the building of a kayak and  view of the settlement of Little Whale River, where my grandfather, Martin Cotter, was born. While these images were primitive by todays standard they clearly show the reality of this very remote landscape.

 

Building an Igloo, Little Whale River 1872 Photograph by J.L. Cotter

Building an Igloo, Little Whale River 1872
Photograph by J.L. Cotter

Building a Kayak at Little Whale River, 1872.  Photograph by  J.L. Cotter

Building a Kayak at Little Whale River, 1872.
Photograph by J.L. Cotter

Hudson Bay Trading Post at Little Whale River 1872 Photograph by J.L Cotter

Hudson Bay Trading Post at Little Whale River 1872
Photograph by J.L Cotter

 

 

This entry was posted in Education.

2 Comments

  1. Brenda Larson January 10, 2015 at 5:39 am #

    So interesting – thanks for sharing! Must be fascinating for you to have these old photos!

    • Stu Dale January 10, 2015 at 9:04 am #

      Yes they are very interesting. Most of my great grandfather’s images are held in the National Archives, the HBC archives and so on. I’ve been able to rephotograph some that are in family albums. A wonderful record of times past.

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