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.

This entry was posted in My Work.


  1. jim and cathy March 7, 2019 at 6:29 pm #

    Amazing photogrpahic treasures and history, Stu!

    • Stu Dale March 8, 2019 at 11:20 am #

      This is a very interesting venture. I’ve heard the stories told my my parents and in some cases their parents but to put those conversations together with my research almost brings life to these old photographs.

  2. John Bradley March 7, 2019 at 10:37 pm #

    Absolutely brilliant Stu!

    • Stu Dale March 8, 2019 at 11:17 am #

      Thanks John! It has been a very interesting project. The images and the story behind them is amazing. I’m really enjoying the research to enable me to write my articles.

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