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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Earliest photographs of the Canadian West

Humphrey Lloyd Hime (1833-1903) was a photographer and surveyor with the firm Armstrong, Beere, and Hime, Civil Engineers, Draughtsmen and Photographists in Toronto, Ontario. At the age of 25, Hime was hired as the photographer for the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Exploring Expedition of 1858. He was also instructed to assist with the surveying where possible. Under the leadership of Professor Henry Youle Hind, a geologist and naturalist at Trinity College in Toronto, expedition members obtained comprehensive geographic information through careful surveying, which helped in the creation of illustrative maps depicting the natural history of the land between the rivers Saskatchewan and Assiniboine.

Commissioned by the Canadian Government, the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Exploring Expedition of 1858 endeavored to establish a reliable trade route between Lake Superior and the Red River. With an exclusive permit for interior trade due to expire in 1859, The Hudson’s Bay Company requested an extension to its monopoly. To achieve this goal, a thorough investigation of the area was necessary; carefully documenting topography, vegetation, native life, and agricultural stability to assess the potential for future settlements.

Hime took a series of photographs during the arduous journey through the Canadian Interior. Conditions proved difficult for the creation of quality photographs, which involved the complicated wet-plate process. Hime had much better luck when the expedition stopped at Lord Selkirk’s settlement at the Red River of the North, however only forty-eight of these photographs are known to survive. The images in this series exemplify the character of the river and the level ground through which it flows. In addition, photographs portray a variety of buildings at the settlement, as well as Chippewa Indian people, camps, canoes, and graves.









The National Anthropological Archives (NAA) holds thirty-four of the 48 known Hime photographs, which were published in Henry Youle Hind’s Photographs taken at Lord Selkirk's Settlement on the Red River of the North, to illustrate a narrative of the Canadian Exploring Expeditions in Ruperts Land. (London: J. Hogarth, 1860). The publication is now extremely rare, making NAA’s collection of original albumen prints all the more significant as the earliest photographs of the Canadian West and its inhabitants. Access the catalog record for this collection.

Jennifer Handley, Archives Intern, and Gina Rappaport, Photo Archivist, National Anthropological Archives.

All photographs shown here are from MS 4285, the Humhrey Lloyd Hime photographs of the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan exploring expedition at the National Anthropological Archives.

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