Histories of Lacombe’s photographers

Fortunate indeed are those communities with pioneer photographers who recorded and preserved pictures of historic events in their history.


Fortunate indeed are those communities with pioneer photographers who recorded and preserved pictures of historic events in their history.

Lacombe was one such community.

First was Mark Hannah in the pre-1900 era. He, in common with many in his profession, photographed everything and everyone with one lamentable exception.

They left no pictures of themselves apart from occasions when they happened to be part of a group. Such was the case for Hannah.

He was a member of Lacombe’s hockey team, a forward to be precise, and he appears in the two extant portraits of the team.

The last photograph attributed to Hannah was of the G.G. Mobley family in 1903, a photograph that is not among those in the Michener House archives but was recorded in the history of the Mobley family which was compiled by Doug Mobley.

Hannah sold his business to John Scales, the man who was truly the pioneer photographer of Lacombe.

The images that he left us provide the earliest pictorial records of Lacombe and the surrounding communities of Bentley, Blackfalds and Lamerton, the latter the precursor to Mirror.

In those early days of photography there was no such convenience as roll film. That would not be invented until 1889 (by George Eastman). Images were captured on glass plates coated (one side) with a dried emulsion, using cameras that were both bulky and heavy.

The glass plates came in several sizes with 4×5 and 5×7 (inches that is) being the popular sizes, but larger plates were also available for cameras of appropriate size.

This era preceded the automobile so Scales and his contemporaries would have transported equipment and boxes of glass plates (the latter constructed to minimize breakage of the fragile contents) to and from location over prairie trails by buggy or saddlebag.

Scales sold his business to Ben Cameron in 1910 and moved to Kamloops.

Here he once again pioneered the art of photography and left a legacy of remarkable historical photographs. Cameron has been widely acclaimed as the pioneer photographer of Central Alberta and his name does appear on many images captured during the pioneer era.

However, all images of Lacombe scenes or of people that predate 1910, although they may bear the name Cameron or the caption “taken in the studio of Ben Cameron” were in fact taken by Scales.

The studio and images did not become Cameron property until 1910 and Styles was the true pioneer photographer for events prior to this year. Glass plate photography had disappeared altogether by the mid-1920s.

Harvey and Del MacIntyre purchased the Cameron studio in the late 1940s and Harvey’s photographic skill is evident in the pages of ‘Lacombe the First Century’.

He provided original photographs for this particular history, restored the historic pictures which were donated by individuals, and developed negatives found on the decades-old glass plates that remained in the studio. When he left the studio to teach at the Lacombe Composite High School he donated and personally delivered the entire collection of glass plates to the Glenbow Foundation in Calgary.

The weight of the consignment taxed his station wagon to its very limits. At Glenbow the photographs can be accessed as the Ben Cameron collection.

What Harvey did not know was that the walls of the old studio held a treasure trove of glass plate negatives.

These did not com e to light until the building was being renovated for use as a radio and television repair shop.

The renovation crew, unaware of the treasure exposed between the studs of the wall, was using shovels to transfer glass shards – and a few intact plates — to the garbage barrel at the alley when Bill Marquhart chanced on the scene.

He managed to salvage a few of the larger pieces, some of harvest scenes showing threshing machines and bundle crews in the full glory of harvest during the era of steam power.