Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Imagining Winnipeg shortlisted for On the Same Page Programme

Hey all! I know this blog has mostly gone dormant, but I thought I'd note that Imagining Winnipeg has been shortlisted for On the Same Page, Manitoba's Biggest Book Club.

The winner is selected via a vote, both in-person at WPL library branches, McNally Robinson’s, and on-line.

A reading from the four shortlisted titles will be held at McNally Robinson Booksellers (1120 Grant Avenue) on the evening of Thursday, September 11, just before the voting closes on Monday, September 15.




About Imagining Winnipeg
In an expanding and socially fractious early twentieth-century Winnipeg, Lewis Benjamin Foote (1873-1957) rose to become the city’s pre-eminent commercial photographer. Documenting everything from royal visits to deep poverty, from the building of the landmark Fort Garry Hotel to the turmoil of the 1919 General Strike, Foote’s photographs have come to be iconic representations of early Winnipeg life. They have been used to illustrate everything from academic histories to posters for rock concerts; they have influenced the work of visual artists, writers, and musicians; and they have represented Winnipeg to the world.

But in Imagining Winnipeg, historian Esyllt W. Jones takes us beyond the iconic to reveal the complex artist behind the lens and the conflicting ways in which his photographs have been used to give credence to diverse and sometimes irreconcilable views of Winnipeg’s past. Incorporating 150 stunning photographs from the more than 2,000 images in the Archives of Manitoba Foote Collection, Imagining Winnipeg challenges our understanding of visual history and the city we thought we knew.

About On the Same Page
On The Same Page was launched in 2008 and is a partnership between Winnipeg Public Library and The Winnipeg Foundation. Now in its seventh year, the program encourages participation throughout the province through a variety of author readings and special events, book giveaways, and promotions within libraries and bookstores. Previous titles featured have been: In Search of April Raintree by Beatrice Mosionier, Reading by Lightning by Joan Thomas, Juliana and the Medicine Fish by Jake MacDonald, Le soleil de lac qui se couche (The Setting Lake Sun) by J.R. Léveillé, Manitowapow, edited by Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair and Warren Cariou, and The Lucky Ones by Anne Mahon.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lost Foote Photos blog got an award!

THIS JUST IN: The Lost Foote Photos blog and Jock Lehr's Community and Frontier were among seven projects recognized by the Association for Manitoba Archives.

The Manitoba Day Award was established in 2007 to recognize users of archives who have completed an original work of excellence which contributes to the understanding and celebration of Manitoba history. 

The awards ceremony was last week at the Western Canadian Aviation Museum. 

Thanks to the AMA and to everyone who contributed to the blog!

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(clockwise from top left): Bruce Owen, Ariel Gordon, Jock Lehr, Matt Henderson, Martin Comeau, Barb Flemington, Bernard Bocquel, and one of Matt Henderson's SJR students; Jock Lehr at the mic; Chris Kotecki of the Manitoba Archives; and the very well wrapped award.

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The winners of the 7th annual Manitoba Day Awards include:
  • John C. Lehr for the publication Community and Frontier: A Ukrainian Settlement in the Canadian Parkland published by the University of Manitoba Press, 2011.
  • Shannon Stunden Bower for the publication Wet Prairie – People, Land and Water in Agricultural Manitoba published by the UBC, 2011.
  • Matt Henderson – teacher at St. John’s Ravenscourt School for the project conducted by his grade 11 students in which they created original works of short historical fiction about the development of the Red River settlement between 1738 and 1869 for inclusion in a published book Because of a Hat. These were done based on research done on a visit to the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives. The book was launched at McNally Robinson in Feb 2013.
  • Bernard Bocquel for the book « Les Fidèles à Riel 125 ans d’évolution de l’Union nationale métisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba Un récit journalistique (Matière à réflexion) » which was published at the Les Éditions de La Fourche in 2012.
  • Bruce Owen for his article “Mayhem Under Main” published in the Winnipeg Free Press Oct 6, 2012. See
  • University of Manitoba Press for the blog “Lost Foote Photos” created in support of the publication “Imagining Winnipeg: History Through the Photographs of L.B. Foote.
  • Barb Flemington for the art exhibit translate, executed upon 100 year old chalkboard slate paired with archival photographs from the S.J. McKee Archives and mounted at the Tommy McLeod Curve Gallery in the John E. Robbins Library, Brandon University. Available to view at

Monday, May 6, 2013

Imagining Winnipeg at the MBAs

Imagining Winnipeg was nominated for four awards at Manitoba Book Awards, held April 28 at the West End Cultural Centre.

2013 is the 25th anniversary of the awards, which awards thirteen prizes in a variety of categories.

Here are share the judges’ comments for the four categories in which Imagining Winnipeg was nominated.

Best Illustrated Book of the Year Award – WINNER 
“Foote’s images of our city are clear and very well reproduced. The carefully selected photographs replicate the sensibility of a magnificently curated art-show.” – Brian Mlazgar, Natalie Olsen, Paul Tetrault.

The Best Illustrated Book of the Year Award is presented to a Manitoba publisher, designer and illustrator for the book deemed to have the best use of illustrations, including drawings, paintings, photographs, and other artwork. Entries are judged on artistic merit, innovation of form, quality of production values and appropriateness to the intended market.

Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award – NOMINEE 
“Winnipeg’s rich history would be lost without photographers like L.B. Foote, whose book gives evidence that this city is more than just concrete and steel. University of Manitoba history professor Esyllt W. Jones dove head first into over 2,500 photographs at the Manitoba Archives and brought together 150 images that capture the way Foote saw Winnipeg. They highlight the people, places, and events that shaped the city into becoming a prairie metropolis. History has a way of being forgotten, but books like Imagining Winnipeg give it a new life.” – Rick Brignall, Helen Norrie, Krista Strang.

The Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award was created to honour books written in English or French that contribute to the appreciation and understanding of life in Winnipeg. The award is sponsored by the City of Winnipeg.
Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher – NOMINEE
“No need to imagine Winnipeg with these fascinating and beautiful black-and-white photos! Esyllt W. Jones’ collection of L.B. Foote’s photography brings the boom years of Winnipeg to life, capturing subjects from all walks of life and covering major events in Manitoba and Canada’s history. The book’s design lets the photographs speak for themselves, with large glossy images that seem vivid without colour. Uncovering lost Foote images and sharing through social media brought this photographer to a wider audience, which he well deserves.” – Stephanie Furrow, Amber Goldie, David Lawrence.

Sponsored by Friesen, the Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher is presented to the best book published, in either English or French, for the trade, bookstore, educational, specialty, academic or scholarly market.

McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award – NOMINEE 
Imagining Winnipeg offers us a way of re-imagining not only Winnipeg the history of Canada in the first half of the twentieth century. Beautifully curated by Esyllt W. Jones, this collection presents the work of photographer L.B. Foote in all its mastery and idiosyncrasy. The eclectic subjects of the photographs – the social and political pressures of the 1930s, strikes and union issues, Native life and its representation, diverse cultural identity and relations – brings many aspects of Canadian history back into conversation in new ways. Jones’ insightful introduction establishes the cultural and aesthetic context for Foote’s photographs and asks us ‘to risk a move into unknown territory, beyond the firm ground of well-trod historical narratives,’ so as to look at the history presented within these pages, as well as – by extension – our own time period, in a new ligh
t.” – Jake MacDonald, Susan Musgrave, Johanna Skibsrud.

The McNally Robinson Book of the Year is the book judged as the best written in English by a Manitoba author.

For the rest of the winners and nominees, see the Manitoba Writers' Guild website.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

MBA banner!

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Here is the banner we worked up to celebrate Imagining Winnipeg's four nominations for the 2013 Manitoba Book Awards. Fun!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Imagining Winnipeg gets FOUR nominations!

The Manitoba Book Award shortlists were announced last week!

And Imagining Winnipeg: History Through the Photographs of L.B. Foote by Esyllt W. Jones was nominated for FOUR Manitoba Book Awards! CONGRATS to Esyllt!

Imagining Winnipeg was shortlisted in the McNally Robinson Book of the Year, Best Illustrated Book of the Year, Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award, and Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher categories.

The awards will be presented at the Manitoba Book Awards gala, on Sunday April 28th at the West End Cultural Centre and hosted by Ismaila Alfa. Doors open at 7:15 p.m., with the ceremony beginning at 8:00 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A year (and a bit) of L.B. Foote

A little more than a year ago, our press launched this blog dedicated to the photography of L.B. Foote. Over the last 14 months, guided, corralled, and inspired by the irreplaceable Ariel Gordon, nearly three dozen contributors have written about Foote and his photos. We’ve had contributions from journalists, visual artists, historians, archivists, musicians, film makers, collectors, and of course photographers, all riffing off whatever Foote inspired in them.

Over the year, as we worked with Esyllt Jones on her book Imagining Winnipeg, these different voices became a kind of running commentary on the book. I want to thank all of the blog writers for their contributions — it’s been a delight to discover what new side road or even back alley each of you would take us down. Now, as a new year begins, it is time for us to bring this regular blog to an end as well.

How to explain the persistent appeal of Foote’s photographs to so many different people? Photographers admire his art, and I think many also respect his stamina – it’s hard work being a freelance photographer, always on move to the next job. I suspect historians and archivists are fans because they don’t often have such beautifully composed and arresting photographs to work with. And for the rest of us, I think, it has something to do with what Guy Maddin calls Foote’s “peculiar and ennobling eye.” How is it possible that one photographer could record in one place such an abundance of the odd, the majestic, the ridiculous, and the painful?

To be honest, nostalgia of a sort also plays a part in our fascination with the world Foote chronicles. Those of us who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s (and were lucky enough to be introduced to Foote by the likes of Bob Lower and Doug Smith) discovered in Foote’s photographs the big, bustling prairie metropolis whose traces and ghosts we could still glimpse. His was the city for which those magnificently overblown public and commercial buildings were built, like the Legislature building and the banks with Roman columns. Foote’s city seemed to be a “live wire city,” its streets jammed with people, like the crowd watching Houdini or the 1919 strikers, in which a dynamic downtown was the hub of civic life. It seemed like a vanished place worth missing. At the same time, Foote’s photos also made that Winnipeg a place hard to take seriously — how else to react to his many portraits of the city’s powerful decked out in beanies, fezzes, and grass skirts, or dining at the bottom of sewers? Even through the filter of this nostalgia, though, there are still many parts of Foote’s world that remain far too familiar in the city we live in today, especially his images of inequality and smugness.

Since we’re coming to the end of the regular Lost Foote Photos blog, it seems appropriate to end with a photo of the Foote family also celebrating the end of a year—in this case New Year’s Day dinner 1940 (reproduced on page 149 of Imagining Winnipeg).

Here the Footes are gathered for a festive dinner, in the same cramped dining room that L.B.’s son Eric and his jazz band hammed it up in thirteen years earlier (page 109). Eric (with glasses) is now a husband and father, and his wife and two little daughters are at the table, along with Mary Foote, L.B.’s wife. We think the man with the moustache may be L.B.’s other son, who had moved to Detroit in the 1930s and was perhaps home for a visit.

I like all of the little traces of everyday life in this photo. Although the Christmas tree is gone, there are still paper holiday ornaments throughout the room — the tin foil stars twirling down from the light fixture are an especially nice touch. The sheet music on the piano includes what seems to be a simple arrangement of Christmas music on the piano (perhaps for one of the granddaughters to play?). If you look closely, you’ll see that the other music on the piano is “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Walt Disney’s great Pinocchio, which is curious because that film won’t be released until a month after this photo is taken. At the centre of the table is a smallish fowl – its hard to tell if it’s a turkey, chicken, or goose — and not too far away seems to be a bottle of HP sauce, that once ubiquitous part of many WASP meals. There’s no sign of wine or beer or other alcoholic libations, so presumably this was a teetotal household (it looks to me, though, that the older, visiting son at the end of the table looks like he could use a drink about now). Those of us who still live in drafty old Winnipeg frame houses like the Foote home on Gertrude Avenue will appreciate the heavy curtains around the window and covering the doorway — anything to keep those Manitoba winter winds out.

All and all, this seems like a modest but comfortable household, with nothing remarkable going on. And yet that this was likely not an easy time for the Foote household. Thanks to Mary Horodyski’s recent discovery in theCity of Winnipeg archives we know that just a few years before Foote was desperate for work. In early 1933, he had lost his long-time downtown studio to fire. We don’t know what exactly was lost in that fire, but it must have included much of what he needed to make a living. As Mary found, nearly two years later Foote wrote to the city waterworks department, asking (actually pleading) for work. This was the photographer who had famously photographed royalty and visiting celebrities just a few years before, but who now had to come cap in hand to ask for the chance to photograph a municipal construction site.

This New Year’s Day dinner comes less than five years after that letter. Foote did get the contract to shoot the water treatment building. But the photos he took after that are of increasingly smaller and more modest. He’s no longer asked to record the homes and formal dinners of the city’s rich and powerful. By the late 1930s, his photographs are more likely in smaller middle-class homes or apartments, much like his own. When he photographs businesses, they are now small as well, like a hatchery on Logan Avenue (page 145). On New Year’s Day in 1940, L.B. Foote would have been 67 years old. He would have gone through all types of travails, including all of the usual indignities of someone who works freelance. And he would have to keep working well into his seventies — in the 1950s he would persuade the Free Press to carry an irregular column highlighting some of his “olden days” photos.

L.B. Foote didn’t take many photos of his family. In the over 2,000 photos at the Manitoba Archives, there are no more than a dozen Foote family photos. These include the wonderful shot of the Footes swimming atthe original YMCA on Portage Avenue (in what later became the Birks Building) and a mysterious one of the Foote family camping on a southern California beach around 1912 (what were they doing there?).

Because he took so few photographs of his family, it does make you wonder why he decided to record this particular family dinner at this particular time? Its hard to think that this might have been a time to celebrate — age and finances being what they were, not to mention with the Second World War just beginning in the background. But despite all that we can conjecture about his circumstances that day, Foote still has that slightly cocky half-smile that shows up in his other self-portraits. In spite of everything, he’s still willing to document his family and their progress into a new year, and seems to be doing it with some élan.

We are likely never going to know very much about the man behind the camera in these thousands of photos, but that spirit and that face—energetic, optimistic, with a twist of either irony or mischief—seems to persist each time we catch a glimpse of him. And it’s that spirit, I think, that keeps us coming back to his fascinating and baffling treasure trove of photographs.

- David Carr

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David Carr is the director of the University of Manitoba Press.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Book chat / Slide show

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I've literally taken a page from the Winnipeg Public Library's latest newsletter so that I can share details around Esyllt W. Jones' upcoming events at the Henderson and Louis Riel libraries.

If you haven't heard Esyllt speak on L.B. Foote's photographs and their place in Winnipeg's history - and you really should - here's your chance!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Found Foote Photo #14: Labour Day, Part Two

"Late last August, just in time for Labour Day, I shared what is called a 'real photo' postcard by L. B. Foote.

The image shows some Stonewall residents, back in 1913, apparently preparing for their annual Labour Day parade. As an avid collector of Manitoba postcards, I have only occasionally come across any by Foote. While he did occasionally produce postcards, Foote was by no means prolific.

We postcard collectors, more officially known as 'deltiologists,' scour our worlds in search of items to add to our collections. Admittedly an odd lot, you’ll find us poking around garage sales, flea markets, auctions and antique shops. Nowadays we’ll often spend our evenings scouring internet sources like eBay. Egged on by the occasional thrill of acquiring a rare card, we likely have a lot in common with folks who play the slots. That Labour Day card by Foote was a “payday” for me – a rare treat.

Those of us who specialize in historic Manitoba postcards quickly become amateur detectives and 'accidental' historians. As is true of the Foote photographs of Winnipeg, the cards we acquire teach us about the past and many challenge us to discover even more. As an example; after I submitted Stonewall postcard to this blog, I noticed that the license plate on one of the automobiles was visible amidst its decorations – number 2828. I contacted a friend who has catalogued automobile license plates and vehicle owners from 1912. I learned that this vehicle was owned by William A. Williamson, born in Manitoba. In 1912, he was 26 years old, single, and employed as a clerk in a hardware store at Stonewall. That is likely William behind the wheel.

While Foote postcards are rare, lightning sometimes strikes twice. About a month ago, I encountered and acquired yet another one! Very surprisingly, it was taken in Stonewall on the same day as my earlier postcard – and shows the actual parade in progress. The parade is being led by two of the largest floats. The first, a horse-drawn canopied float is identified (by a banner in front of the lead horses) as “Presbyterian S.S.” (Sunday School?). Directly behind it is a self-propelled float in the shape of a boat, likely constructed over an automobile. Also shown in this image, on the left side, is Stonewall’s Canadian Pacific Hotel which was constructed in 1880.

Once again, a thankful salute to L. B. – for a lifetime of work that now enables us to retrace and reconstruct our own 'forgotten' history."
- Rob McInnes, Postcard Accumulator and Purveyor

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Though this blog is shutting down, we thought we'd share one last 'found' Foote, again from Rob McInnes.

I will miss being able to share the contents of Rob's emails. But am consoled by things like the Manitoba Historical Maps flickr site, the Vintage Winnipeg page on Facebook, and even the sales of Imagining Winnipeg.

But do try to come out to the two final library visits, won't you? If you haven't heard Esyllt speak yet on this book and these photos, you've missed something...

Monday, January 21, 2013

MORE Library Events!

By special request Esyllt W. Jones will be doing two more events at Winnipeg’s public libraries this winter:

February 5, 6:30 pm
Henderson Library, 1-1050 Henderson Highway.
Book Chat and Slide Show from Imagining Winnipeg: History through the Photographs of L.B. Foote.

February 28, 6:30 pm
Louis Riel Library, 1168 Dakota Street.
Book Chat and Slide Show

As you'll recall, we did two events this fall, at the Millennium Library and Westwood Library. They were great fun in addition to being well-attended, so the WPL asked us if we could consider doing a few more...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Interviewing Esyllt: part three

6) Was it difficult to select 150 images from the thousands in the Archives of Manitoba?

Yes! David and Glenn Bergen from the press and I spent hours down there. We looked at literally EVERY photograph in the provincial collection, which is not even all the Foote photographs in existence. Many of them are simply extraordinary. Everyone should go down there and look at them.

7) What’s your favourite image in the book?

My favourite is a photograph I write about in the introduction. It appears on page 32 of the book. It is a woman in Aboriginal dress, her hair in braids, smoking a pipe. Many of Foote’s images are technically almost perfect. This one is partly hazy and has a ghost-like blur on one side, and a little girl in a white party dress. The woman is a mystery to me, and I like that. I don’t think history should be about definitive answers. Sometimes the questions are far more interesting.

8) What's next for you? What are you working on now, beyond the collections?

I’ve been working on a book about the men and women who designed Saskatchewan’s first medicare policies, after Tommy Douglas was elected in 1944. There are two Winnipeggers in it, actually. It is called Red Medicine: Transnational Lives and the Birth of Medicare.

After it is finished, I want to write a book about my father. He was a music teacher, a Welshman. His family members were Welsh nationalists. He taught me a lot about curiosity and independence of thought, but also tolerance. We lived in rural Saskatchewan, where he built rock gardens, took me bird watching, drove a turquoise Peugeot, and wore a Sherlock Holmes-style hat and a British overcoat to work. As you can imagine, he was considered a total weirdo. This never bothered him. He developed Alzheimer’s Disease when he was in his fifties. Last year, I inherited his old records, which he often played in the house when I was young. My plan is to write my memories of him one record at a time. My partner Todd and I are building a cottage on the beautiful Whitemouth River, and I plan to listen to my dad’s records and write a sort of biography, which will also be a history of an immigrant life. I am going to start with Peter Ustinov’s classic recording of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.”

That record used to scare me to death.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Favourite Foote Photos: PJ Burton

My father was born in 1927 into the sepia and grey-toned world that Foote's photos captured like a bug in a mason jar. So many interesting things going on in there. It was a small commercial miracle, notewothy and slightly impossible. In the forties, mini-entrepreneurs stalked the streets of every city of any size and offered to "take your picture", then hand you a fancy calling card announcing where the results could be purchased. Say, at a near by department store where you may become inclined to browse. Well, not everyone had cameras and the alchemy that is photography gave one existential pause.

"I was over there, but now I'm here, yet I can see myself as I have recently been." Or, more astonishingly, I can see them as they were; a handy portable piece of witchcraft on paper where even the deceased live in permanent evidence of what we did that day.

My grandfather was born in 1892 and fully inhabited the world Foote knew. He was a full-share partner in the development of that world. They were kids in Brandon which, at the time, had a population of maybe seven or eight thousand primarily Britishers who took pride in their sense of organization, and for the most part, always wore a specific kind of hat. He went off to war in one, he and my great uncle, lying about their age (they were only 16) but that didn't prevent him from being capture by the Germans and spending many months in an unexpectedly accommodating P.O.W. camp. There were amenities: musical instruments and some guy from a nearby village who, like Foote, would take the band's photo so you could send it home to the missus.

So Foote and the people like him, had a new gadget of fascination and anything was a reasonable target from the mundane to the most cunning of stunts. Some of Foote's works clearly predates "Everyone say 'cheese'" and its subjects appear to just mildly tolerate the invasive box while others are clearly posed, amused and ready to have even more great fun!

My father's great chum in Brandon was a lad named John Robertson. Together, they would run around the back lanes and streets of the west side of Brandon. Don't expect that they were up to mischief; they were just running around unfettered by the constraints of the mantle of responsibility that came with being an older boy of, say, fifteen. Since they were only nine and ten the worldly cosmos of encroaching maturity had yet to grab them by the coveralls and shake the dreamy dust of boyhood out of them. So, they just ran around and did things. They did, however, have pigeons and would get together to discuss different breeds and their qualities. One quality my father found particularly disturbing was that they tasted pretty good and grandmother (his mum) would occasionally prepare squab. Knowing each of his feathered charges personally, my father railled against the black fates that he was unable to control and the unfairness of it all let alone the barbaric horror of having to eat his friend.

But this idyllic garden can never last and just assuredly as spring will melt into summer, both John and George were growing up. It was time to get a hat.

But look at the hats! Look at Foote's photo of, say, the Winnipeg General Strike. By golly, you don't get that many men together in their sharp fedoras, slouches and bowlers without a serious commitment to common purpose. Don't tell me they didn't mean business. And just look at the hats!

- PJ Burton

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PJ Burton was born in Winnipeg in 1952 and received his teaching degree at the University of Alberta in 1979. During a brief stopover in Edmonton, he appeared on SCTV as a drummer in an Earl Camembert sketch, and again in Mel's Rock Pile. When he moved back to Winnipeg in 1980, he formed the band The Smarties. Soon after he put together Winnipeg's legendary showband The Chocolate Bunnies From Hell. He currently teaches at West Kildonan Collegiate and performs regularly with his band.

Interviewing Esyllt, part two

3) What is it like researching and writing about a city/province that you didn’t grow up in? (You were born/raised in Saskatchewan, correct?)

Historians are trained to glean some sense of the past in its own right, and while personal connection has something special about it, a lot of great history is written without that.

William Eakin's mug shot, 2004-6, Subconscious City exhibit.
I was born in the UK, and moved around the prairies a lot as a child after we emigrated when I was three. I have lived in Winnipeg for over 25 years, and so it is home to me, and I value that. I am very attached to the place. I love its perception of itself as a failed project, although I also argue with it in my work. Winnipeg is a city where people are very aware of local history, and their place in it. I think we take this awareness a bit for granted. It’s a great town to be a historian.

4) What drew you to working on a book about the photographs of L.B. Foote in particular?

David Carr asked me to do it! I took it as a compliment, so I said yes. I have been looking at Foote photos for twenty-odd years, mostly as illustrations. A few years ago, David Churchill from the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Manitoba asked me to be on a panel associated with the show “Subconscious City” at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, curated by Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan. I called my contribution “Getting Lost in the North End,” and I used some Foote images, along with others, to illustrate how historical photographs of poor families in the North End have generated these extremely persistent and negative stereotypes. My talk was about the possibilities of ‘getting lost’ in that part of the city, to see it with fresh eyes – to actually go there! The things I thought about for that talk formed my way in to the Foote archive; how certain images carry so much weight in a city’s history, and how we should sometimes re-assess what we think photos tell us.

5) What was your goal for the project?

I don’t think I had a goal. I started writing without knowing for sure what I had to say, because I am not a historian of photography. I looked at the records. I read Foote’s odd little half-memoir, and tried to figure him out.

I would like people who read my essay to think about the stories we tell ourselves about the past. Especially, I would like us to re-think the story of decline, which says nothing great happened in Winnipeg after 1919. I agree with what Guy Maddin says on the back of the book – Foote’s collection gives this impression of Winnipeg as a frenetic place full of people who get up to all kinds of stuff all the time. His photographs have this intensity, this enthusiasm. It’s a selective impression, of course, but all does not all end after the war and the general strike. Some historians have written about Winnipeg as if that was an endpoint, a rupture. I think this sensibility is too pervasive.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reprint: Winnipeg Bestsellers (again!)

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Thanks to everyone who helped Imagining Winnipeg get back on the bestseller list! Yay!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Interviewing Esyllt, part one

As the Lost Foote Photos blog winds down, we thought we'd share author Esyllt W. Jones' thoughts and impressions around working on a project like Imagining Winnipeg:

1) In the last two years, you’ve co-edited three texts:

Epidemic Encounters: Influenza, Society, and Culture in Canada, 1918-1920 (with Magda Fahrni),

People's Citizenship Guide: a response to conservative Canada (w/Adele Perry), and 

Place and Replace: Essays on Western Canada (w/Adele Perry & Leah Morton). 

And now Imagining Winnipeg.

Is this breakneck pace normal for you? What has it taught you, in terms of managing your workload as a prof, parent, and community member?

I like to be busy! Editorial work is different from writing. Editing is collaborative work, and the collections you mention are things I’ve done with others. This book, too, belongs as much to the press as it does to me. It’s a cliché to say that academic work is solitary, but there is truth to it. I need projects that bring me into connection with other people, and sometimes this means I work on several at once. Finding time to write is more difficult. I’ve never really mastered that Alice Munro ability to write in between everything else going on in life.

I don’t know about managing workload. Our family always has a lot on the go, and it usually works out. A lot of opportunities come your way when you are a university professor, and there are obligations, too – to your students, to your community. Ultimately, I appreciate commitment more than its absence.

2) How did you come to working on social history and the history of health and disease? Did you have a particular mentor who piqued your interest?

I was a labour historian first, and for that I owe Doug Smith, who sent me to the archives, and also my employers at the union where I worked, for letting me help to write its official history.

I became interested in disease when reading documents from the Brandon and Selkirk mental hospitals. I had no idea how compelling these fragments of evidence from people’s past lives would be for me. I wanted to know how ordinary people lived with and through illness, and how it shaped their lives. I once read an interview with the novelist Ian McEwan, in which he talks about the influence on his writing of listening to the women in his working class family talk endlessly, without boredom or irony, about every gruesome detail of their own illnesses and those of their friends, neighbours, or mere acquaintances. I laughed when I read that, it was so deliciously familiar to me. That is my mother’s family. I grew up hearing stories of diphtheria, tuberculosis, pleurisy…it was sad, but also carried a certain meaning. It was a vocabulary for shared experience.

I had many good teachers when I did graduate work; Manitoba is fortunate to have such talented historians in our universities. I was inspired by gender historians like Ellen Ross, whose book Love and Toil about working class motherhood in England is still a model of humane scholarship to me.

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Stay tuned for the next two sections from UMP's interview with Esyllt W. Jones, which will be posted December 17 and 24th.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Favourite Foote Photos: Mary Horodyski

I first came across Foote about twenty-five years ago in the basement of the Manitoba Archives.

I was an undergraduate history student searching for evidence of women’s role in the Winnipeg General Strike.

It seemed strange to me that women had made up one-quarter of the workforce in 1919 yet had never made it into any of the history books about the strike.

Foote’s photographs helped me prove that women attended public meetings and were on the street alongside the male strikers.

After this first Foote encounter, and over the next quarter century, Foote became intertwined with the city in my mind. Iconic, like the Golden Boy or the Arlington Bridge. So I felt surprised this summer to come across a letter from Foote – I had practically forgotten he was human, so mixed into the cement and metal of the city had he become.

I found the letter at the City of Winnipeg Archives where I had been working on the records surrounding the building of the aqueduct from Shoal Lake (how we still get our water, by the way, almost a hundred years later).

The letter is dated July 23, 1935 and in it Foote offers his photography services to the Greater Winnipeg Sanitary District. He needs the work, he says, because a “fire cleaned me out” and “my taxes are long overdue.” In fact, he says, “I am finding it very difficult to get along.” At the time of his letter, Foote would have been 62 years old—a pretty cruddy time, if you ask me, to be stuck hustling for money.

Esyllt Jones, in her Imagining Winnipeg essay, tells us that in 1948, when Foote was 75, both his legs were broken in a car accident.

So, my favourite Foote photo, now that I’ve learned a bit more about his life, and gotten a bit older myself, is the very last photo in Imagining Winnipeg: tough Mr. Foote, standing upright on the corner of Portage and Main, 77 years old, cane dangling from his overcoat pocket, and with his camera raised.

- Mary Horodyski

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Mary Horodyski is in the middle of her third degree in history – an M.A. in Archival Studies at the University of Manitoba. She also has an M.A. in History from Concordia University and a B.A. in History from the University of Manitoba. In between (and sometimes during) history degrees, she works as a writer and researcher. She recently completed her archival internship at the City of Winnipeg Archives. Her Manitoba History article on women and the Winnipeg General Strike can be found here.