A Found Photograph

Back when I was a kid I received a home darkroom developing kit. I remember the gift coming from a favourite aunt and uncle. I’ve been lugging that kit back and forth across the country, as I’ve moved from job to job, for probably 50 years. Last weekend, I decided to haul it up from the basement. I found a paper envelope in the kit. Inside, a black and white negative. Odd size. Definitely not 120, more like 116 or 616, film formats that Kodak manufactured for some models of Brownie cameras from 1899 to 1984. I plopped it on my scanner and pressed the button.

The image that emerged was of a scene that looked familiar, yet one I hadn’t seen for a long time.

The photograph must have been one from my parents, and it made me think about how it came to be.

Mom and dad moved to the West Kootenay region of British Columbia in 1952. Dad had just been offered a job at Cominco. The couple arrived in Trail by train on a Sunday in early May. They were lucky to get the last room at the Crown Point Hotel, because construction of Waneta Dam and modernization of the lead smelter brought in so many workers there was hardly any place to stay. Dad didn’t get his first car, a ’49 Ford 2-door, until a year later. Once they had a car, mom and dad spent a lot of time exploring the Kootenays.

British Columbia was a new and exciting adventure for my parents. Mom grew up in the Palliser Triangle north of Swift Current. The family moved to the Bjorkdale area during The Great Depression. Mom went to university in Ottawa and met dad while she was practising nursing in the army in Montreal. Dad was born in England, but when his home ended up under the flight paths of German bombers, his dad’s employer transferred the family to oil fields in the Caribbean and South America. The home survived the war (I found it on Google Street View), but dad never returned to England to live. After the war, he went to university in Montreal, where he met mom.

They probably took this photo on vacation. Post-war, Canada was experiencing a burst of population and prosperity, and the region around Trail was experiencing it like no other place on earth. New highways pushed into the BC interior. On the Kootenays’ north, construction of the Trans-Canada Highway was underway, but would not be completed for another 10 years; a provincial highway followed the Columbia River around the Big Bend. In the south, portions of the Crowsnest Highway opened up, mostly to the east. To the west, those routes could be connected by travelling narrow mountain roads, in some places carved out of sheer rock cliffs, or by travelling through the Okanagan valley and completing the journey through the USA. To the east, roads meandered from Creston, Yahk, Moyie and Cranbrook, through the Rocky Mountain Trench to Golden and Yoho National Park, providing an opportunity to visit world-famous hot springs pools. By the early ’50s it would have been possible to drive a long, dusty circuit around the region. I can’t see my parents passing up a chance to try that.

Every view that opened up on such a road trip would have been stunning for its unexpected newness. I remember this view, although I experienced it much later than my parents. North of Cranbrook, Highway 95 in those days would have passed through Kimberley, where Cominco operated the Sullivan Mine and tended a spectacular flower garden, through Skookumchuck, Fairmont Hot Springs, Windermere and Radium Hot Springs, every place name sounding so mysterious and mystical to a newcomer. North of Canal Flats, the view is one of a narrow road through stands of lodgepole pine. At one spot, the road curves toward, then away from, Columbia Lake, opening up a wide view of water and mountain. The sight of snow-covered peaks reflecting off a still lake surface on a warm summer day would make most people want to stop and snap a picture.

There’s a new highway and fast traffic that passes through that region now. But the old highway was still there the first time I went over it, feeling the independence of leaving home to work. It’s still possible to piece together the old route, if you know where to look, and experience a sense of discovery and awe at seeing something for the first time.

When might that black and white photograph have been taken?

I remember that dad had a couple of folding roll film cameras. He gave them to us kids to play with when he decided they were obsolete and he no longer needed them. I would not be surprised if at least one of those cameras was one of Kodak’s Folding Brownie models (most used 120 roll film but “A” variants used 116 or 616 film). Dad’s first 35mm camera was a Braun Super Paxette, first manufactured in 1956. The earliest 35mm family photos I can find are slides developed in 1957. That is probably the year that dad bought the camera. This photo would have been taken between 1953, when my parents had the mobility of an automobile and dad still used his old roll-film cameras, and 1957, when dad retired those cameras. However, it is unlikely that mom and dad did much travelling in 1956 and 1957. From the looks of the mountaintops, it looks like late summer or early fall of the year. There must have been more photos from that trip, but I have not found other negatives. By luck, I squirreled this one away with my old developing kit.

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