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L. B. FOOTE’S POSTCARDS

By Andrew Cunningham

Approaching early twentieth century photography from the (oblique) angle of postcards can sometimes twist the established hierarchy of photographers out of its usual shape. Many of the top photographers of the era did not sell much (or any) of their work in the form of postcards — while, conversely, the leading lights of postcard photography are often barely acknowledged outside postcard-collecting circles. So it was in the city of Winnipeg, where the iconic public photographer of the first half of the 20th century, Lewis B. Foote (1873-1957), would definitely be quite far down on anyone’s list of memorable postcard photographers. Indeed, the books that have been written on Foote’s work — including the most recent, Imagining Winnipeg (University of Manitoba Press, 2012) — mention Foote’s postcards only in passing, if at all. 

As a Manitoba-focused collector, I have nonetheless discovered Foote postcards here and there, every so often, unexpectedly and always with great excitement. For perspective, there might be two or three Foote postcards for every hundred published by his equally talented Winnipeg contemporary Maurice Lyall (1887-1966), who is unknown except to a few postcard collectors and about whom no books have been published. This blog post looks at some of the Foote cards in my collection — a bit of a ragtag and random set, with the important exception of the 1919 General Strike examples.

Lewis Foote

By way of biography, L. B. Foote was a native of Foote’s Cove, a tiny outport on an island off the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland. The standard biographical story is that he discovered a talent for photography in the 1890s, whilst on the staff of the Summerside (P.E.I.) Journal. By 1902, Foote had established himself in Winnipeg, where he was one of the busiest and best-known local photographers for nearly half a century. As noted above, he died in 1957.

Pre-Strike Postcards

Most of Foote’s postcards are real photos (RPPCs). One exception, shown in Figure 1 below, is a promotional card (one of several, I am sure) that depicts the Winnitoba. The Winnitoba was the grandest excursion vessel on the Red River between its launching in 1909 (which is possibly when this card would have been produced) and its demise in a fire at the docks of its owner, the Hyland Navigation Co., in the autumn of 1912. Its sister ship, the Bonnitoba, which one sees much less frequently in postcards, is said to have been crushed by the river ice the following season. Hyland Park, the company-owned destination of the ships, still exists as a small public park just off Henderson Highway a little to the north of Winnipeg.

Figure 1. Forward Saloon on Hurricane Deck (Lewis B. Foote photo, published by the Hyland Navigation Co., Winnipeg, c. 1909)

While undated, Figure 2 most likely also comes from the earliest stage of Foote’s career in Winnipeg. This rather curious image of an anonymous farm family posing in the midst of a row of tall cornstalks hints at some of the whimsicality that characterized Foote’s photography throughout his career. The farmer’s fist is raised in what one imagines to have been mock triumph. Why? Was the corn perhaps the product of a good deal more effort than it was worth? Was it the farm’s first success after a string of failures? Who can say — other than that the photo illustrates, in a small way, how Foote’s images, even when they were of conventional or hackneyed subjects, often departed in small details from what convention dictated.

 

Figure 2. Unknown Farm Family (Lewis B. Foote, no. 4300, n.d.)

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 3, a rather poorly focused but nonetheless interesting image of the 1913 Labour Day parade in the town of Stonewall, Man., is an early example of Foote as recorder of labour history, an interest which (as we will see below) would just a few years later generate perhaps his greatest legacy. The sender of the Stonewall card notes the “New Town Hall” — the building built from the limestone that gave the quarrying town its name. At left, townsfolk in search of the best view stand behind a rooftop sign for “C. M. Brown – Hardware, Tinware and Stoves”.

Figure 3. Stonewall Labor Day 1913 (Lewis B. Foote, 1913)

Continuing with the theme of labour, Figure 4 shows the early stages of construction of a building near St. Mary’s Academy, the Roman Catholic girls’  school that is visible in the background. It has been suggested that the building under construction might be the H. W. Hutchinson House, 603 Wellington Crescent, now First Unitarian Universalist Church. As construction on the Hutchinson House apparently began in 1912, that thesis fits with what would superficially appear to be the age of the image on the postcard. But, having said that, many other large houses in this elegant neighbourhood would also have been under construction at roughly the same time.

Figure 4. Construction in Crescentwood (Lewis B. Foote, no. 4482, n.d.)

In Figure 5, we have a personal postcard of two soldiers — to all appearances not young men so perhaps veterans of the Boer War or another earlier conflict. The studio blindstamp, “Foote & James”, provides a clue to the date, as Foote entered into his long-lasting partnership with George James only in 1914. So perhaps these men, despite being a little older than average, were on their way to the First World War. Their uniforms appear to this highly untrained eye to be rather distinctive — perhaps someone familiar with military uniforms of the period will be able to tell us more.

Figure 5. Two Soldiers (Foote & James studio, after 1913)

 

General Strike Postcards

Finally, just as the soldiers were returning from the War — and definitely not unconnected with that fact — Winnipeg began to experience labour unrest. In the spring of 1919, that unrest blew up into a full-scale and at times violent General Strike. The General Strike is still arguably the most significant event in the history of Canadian labour, making headlines around the world (including the New York Times‘ famous “Bolshevism Invades Canada”) and shaped Winnipeg’s local politics for at least half a century. Foote produced photographs throughout the Strike, which lasted for a full month until called off on June 25, 1919, but the surviving photo postcards that I have seen seem to date exclusively from just two dates: June 10th and June 21st. The images below are all from the more commonly-found of the two, the 10th.

Figure 6 is one of the clearest and most interesting photo postcards of the strike, showing a large crowd at Portage & Main, with Portage Avenue East at right (in front of what is now the site of the Richardson Building). In Figure 7, a clipping from the evening edition of the Winnipeg Tribune, we learn that this melee took place at two in the afternoon — even the plight of the delivery vans that we see trapped in the crowd (including one belonging to Ringer’s, long a prominent pharmacy in the city) is noted! The timing is confirmed by Figure 8, which shows the mounted policemen in front of the McArthur Building (later the Childs Building) on the northwest corner, with a Dingwall’s Jewellers clock obligingly revealing the time to be 2:41 p.m. Between the two images, the photographer’s vantage point has shifted from an elevated position on the southwest corner to street level on Portage Avenue. If the activities in Figures 7 and 8 appear to be at least under a modicum of control, the final image (Figure 9) — taken from an elevated position above the crowd in Figure 8 — provides dramatic proof that “charge” really did mean “charge”.

Figure 6. Winnipeg Riots, June 10/19 (Lewis B. Foote, 1919)

Figure 7. “Mounted Policemen Charge Huge Crowd”, Winnipeg Tribune, p. 1 (June 10, 1919) CLICK TO ENLARGE

Why so rare?

Few of the Foote postcards in my collection — and none of the General Strike postcards — were postally used or written on in any way, indicating that they were probably purchased for personal albums (and as souvenirs, in the case of the strike cards). This fact may also suggest that Foote was not sufficiently invested in the postcard market to have created the necessary distribution channels for his “product” — relationships with shops, druggists and others would generally have been needed to get one’s photocards in front of the buying public. Even though more and more of the cards turn up with time, indicating that there must have been a fair number of them, I have not yet seen any single example — other than the General Strike cards and the Hyland Navigation Co. lithographs — on sale more than once. This might indicate that they were usually produced in small quantities, perhaps only at the request of individual customers for whom Foote had produced larger images. Any other examples in the collections of our members or visitors — particularly of subjects other than the General Strike — would definitely be of interest.

The only L. B. Foote postcard in the Peel Prairie Provinces collection, a group shot of the Salvation Army Citadel Silver Band, quite possibly c. 1910 as noted, may be seen here.

 

Figure 8. Winnipeg Riots, June 10/19 (Lewis B. Foote, 1919) Mounted policemen inspect onlookers outside the McArthur and Nanton Buildings.

 

Figure 9. Winnipeg Riots (Special “Mounties”) June 10/19 (Lewis B. Foote, 1919).

 

CANADIAN WORLD WAR I POSTCARDS

By Andrew Cunningham

The First World War, the “war to end all wars”, got underway just as the shine was coming off the Golden Age of postcards. While wartime demand extended the postcard’s lease on life, it also changed the nature of the medium. In Canada, at least, postcards after 1913 were less apt than previously to show off the growth of the country’s towns, infrastructure and agriculture. Instead, and not unexpectedly, they dwelt more frequently on the war and its associated sentiments. Those sentiments encompassed both the public emotions of patriotism and more private feelings of estrangement and sadness — in addition to simple curiosity about what the soldier’s lives looked like. Because Great War postcards were so popular, postcard collections are often significant repositories of images of the War, including many that are unusual or unique, as well as of accounts (brief ones, of course) of the experiences of soldiers, recruits, families and friends during and after the long conflict. We were recently contacted by a representative of the Imperial War Museum, the London-based institution, which is currently attempting to record accounts of the conflict that are found on postcards. TPC members and friends who wish to contribute should see their website for details. 

As Remembrance Day is approaching, I’ve assembled a number of postcards from my own collection. They reveal the war years as they appeared to the ordinary men and women of the time and cover some — but by no means all — of the range of what is available to today’s “Great War” collector:

field-ambulance-depot-lines-sewell-camp-1915

Field Ambulance Depot Lines, Sewell Camp, 1915. — Advance Photo Co.

There are countless Canadian postcards depicting life at the camps at which Canadian soldiers received their pre-departure training. Among the largest of these was Camp Sewell — renamed Camp Hughes in 1915. A century later, remnants of its trenches and fixtures are discernible in farmers’ fields along the Trans-Canada Highway east of Brandon, Manitoba. As thousands of recruits passed through Camp Sewell/Camp Hughes, the Advance Photo Co. of Winnipeg was on hand to produce and sell real photo postcards depicting camp life. The number of real photo postcards produced of the camp by Advance (and a handful of other photographers) is unknown, but it is likely in the many hundreds. Despite its momentary prominence in the field of Canadian military photography, almost nothing is known about the Advance Photo Co. It had a brief existence around 1915 and 1916 and produced dozens of real photo postcards of a major flood in Winnipeg in the spring of 1916, but otherwise (it seems) almost nothing else. The company’s unidentified principals are quite possibly the gentlemen in the image below, which (more generally) illustrates how postcard photographers would have operated in such a setting.

souvenir-of-sewell-camp-advance-photo-co-hq-and-staff

Advance Photo Co. office (or, more likely, darkroom) at the Sewell Camp (halftone image from a view book of Camp Hughes produced by the company)

Scenes of departure are another frequently encountered World War I genre. Such postcards are usually real photos, which could be produced virtually on the spot for sale to participants in the event. But they were sometimes considered of sufficiently enduring interest to warrant production as lithographed cards. The following example — depicting the soldiers’ send-off at the Intercolonial Railway station in Truro, Nova Scotia — is by Valentine & Sons, the most prolific producers of picture postcards in Canada (and likely worldwide as well).

troops-leaving-truro-n-s

Valentine & Sons card no. 111,920 adds colour to a scene that we normally see only in monochromatic real photo cards.

Postcards showing such scenes only occasionally include related messages. This, fortunately, is one of the minority that does. The card turns out to have been used by a departing soldier to thank a woman who had prepared a gift packet for him. As part of the war effort, ordinary people were asked to send “care packages” to soldiers, who would then be given their names and would write them to express their appreciation. The package in this case was received by Pte. R. Grant, “C” Company of the 40th Battalion, Valcartier, Quebec, who wrote his benefactor, Mrs. Appleton P. Anderson of Sydney, C.B., as follows: “Mrs. A. P. Anderson:- I, Pte. R. Grant was the recipient of your gift on Friday night to the 40th Battalion. The boys were pleased to see the interest the women of Sydney have taken in providing for their comfort. Yours truly, Pte. R. Grant.” The rather stilted first sentence was likely dictated but the second might represent more of a personal effort. 

The next thing you would have done as a soldier is to board a ship for England, and there are many postcards that depict such departures. Below is a particularly fine example – a real photo – showing soldiers waving goodbye at Saint John, N.B., as they begin the long voyage across the Atlantic. Many of them must have been imagining this moment as the beginning of a great adventure. Whether they continued to be of that view on their return (if they returned) is another matter. The ship is the Caledonia:

transport-caledonia-leaving-st-john-n-b-with-26th-battalion-and-r-column

Transport Caledonia, leaving Saint John with the 26th Battalion and “A” Column (undated) — photo by D. Smith Reid of Saint John.

While in England, solders of the Canadian Expeditionary Force underwent additional training. Postcards were naturally a hot seller; messages to friends and family in Canada were dispatched by the thousands each day. Many of Canada’s soldiers ended up at Shorncliffe Camp in Kent (a dangerous place in its own right as it predictably attracted enemy aircraft bombardment). The postcard below shows Canadian soldiers awaiting a visit from George V:

waiting-for-the-king-at-shorncliffe-c-e-f

“For Cecilie. Cecilie this is the camp where Frank Berry hung out all summer. This is the oldest camp in England. It’s the old original camp from the Beginning of history of war. The King’s favorite camp and where the burying ground [is] of all his fancy horses that die. DAD”

This was published by Upton Publishers of Folkestone, the town adjacent to Shorncliffe camp. “Dad” was correct about the historic nature of the location, as this recent BBC story about Shorncliffe’s uncertain future makes clear.

Once the soldiers had made their way across the channel, the most distinctive form of postcard they sent back was the “silk”, as we’ve recently discussed. This example, though showing signs of age now, is typical inasmuch as it incorporates flags and the current year into an attractive design:

1917-souvenir-from-france

These postcards, known as “silks”, were manufactured by the millions in France and Belgium for sale to soldiers.

This is only a sampling of the types of Great War postcards that can be collected — there are also countless examples associated with individual regiments, real photos of soldiers, images of postwar destruction, anti-Kaiser (and pro-German) propaganda cards and many other types. The final cards, chronologically at least, are those depicting the troops’ return home and the memorials that were erected to the dead. The example below, showing the interior of Montreal’s Windsor Station, nicely combines those two elements. We see a soldier in military dress, nearly alone in the cavernous hall, overwhelmed in the image by the names of the battles in which the C.E.F. fought. Those names were already etched in the country’s consciousness when the postcard was mailed on 24 July 1919 — even though many of those who had fought in the battles were only just then making their way home.

c-p-r-windsor-station-montreal

Ypres. Festubert. The Somme. Vimy. Hill 70. Passchendaele. Amiens. Cambrai. Drocourt-Quéant. Mons.

As the Great War is now passing out of the realm of direct human memory, postcards offer us a tangible connection to the people, events and ideas that defined it.

 

EMBROIDERED SILK POSTCARDS

By Andrew Cunningham

Among the most beautiful collectible postcards are embroidered “silk” cards, the vast majority of which were made in France and Belgium during the First World War and sold mainly to British Empire and U.S. troops. The cards featured colourful imagery, such as the butterfly in the example below. Most of the designs — although by no means all of them — incorporated militaristic or patriotic elements, such as the four national symbols embroidered into the butterfly’s wings in our example. Because so many “silks” were produced, and because they were usually retained as keepsakes, they are more common than one might expect (and not always quite as valuable as those who find one or two in “Grandma’s album” tend to hope).

As the website of the Imperial War Museum in London notes, the most sought-after cards tend to be rarities with imagery specific to particular regiments (including many Canadian examples, as TPC member Mike Smith recently discussed in the Wayback Times). Also worth checking out is this site featuring choice examples from the collection of a British deltiologist. World War I silk postcards, including those with Canadian themes, are a terrific collecting area that, with a little time and effort, could produce a beautiful and historically informative collection at a relatively modest cost.

[WW I butterfly silk]

Butterflies were one common motif on World War I silk postcards, typically with flag elements worked into the stitching of the wings.