Rare photos show Louis Riel in 1869, and a 1874 traffic jam at Portage & Main

March 8th, 2013 · No Comments · Archives, History, Images, Media, News Release, Peace and Justice, Research, political studies

At a recent auction of civil war memorabilia halfway around the world from us in South Yarra, Australia, thirteen items known as cartes de visite were for sale. They were part of a collection that included a folding moustache comb and a Spenser repeating carbine machine gun.

But some of these cartes de visite at auction in Australia have a Winnipeg connection. Eight of them depict scenes from what is now Manitoba, dating from the 1860s and 1870s. One shows Louis Riel and a number of his councillors who joined him as part of the Métis Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia. It is likely the earliest print of this well-known image, dating somewhere around 1869 and quite possibly taken by photographer Ryder Larsen. This and the other seven Manitoba images are now in Archives & Special Collections at the University of Manitoba.

The cartes de visite were taken around the Red River settlement by photographers James Penrose and Simon Duffin, among others. They provide a glimpse into what the Red River settlement looked like at that time and provide a nice balance between civic life and the private life of citizens.

There’s a shot of Portage and Main that is so different from what it is today that it is unrecognizable. It seems to show a “traffic jam” on the dirt tracks that met near the forks of the Assiniboine and Red River, nearly 140 years before present-day skyscrapers would tower over the famous intersection.

Also among the eight cartes purchased by Archives is a photograph of Indigenous people, a copy of which was identified by Magnus Einarsson for the Canadian Centre for Folk Culture Studies in 1978 as Ojibwa mourners in a graveyard near Lake of the Woods, Manitoba. The way the graves are constructed are interesting, but what makes the image both startling and sad is the fact that everyone in the photo has obviously covered their faces to avoid being seen by the photographer.

Gordon Goldsborough, past-president of the Manitoba Historical Society and currently webmaster, secretary and Gazette Editor of Manitoba History journal, notes: “At this point we know nothing about the seller and how these photographs ended up halfway around the world-just that these photos must have made an incredible journey.”

The popular phenomenon known as carte de visite was patented in Paris, France, in 1854, but only became popular after Napoleon III’s photos were published in this format. They were thin paper photographs mounted on a thicker paper card and traded between friends and visitors, much like the way baseball or hockey cards are sold and traded today. These Red River themed cartes are albumen prints with a strangely yellowish cast, measuring a mere 2.125 inches (54.0 mm) × 3.5 inches (89 mm) mounted on a card sized 2.5″ (64 mm) × 4″ (100 mm).

“These eight cartes des visites are important acquisitions for the province, featuring early shots of life in the Red River area in the 1860s and 70s,” says Shelley Sweeney, head of Archives & Special Collections.

These historic Manitoba treasures were shown to the public for the first time at the University of Manitoba archives & Special Collections on Friday, March 8, 2013.

The eight cartes des visites are now available for viewing online at: http://www.umanitoba.ca/libraries/archives/digital/red_river_cartes_visite/

For more information, contact Shelley Sweeney, head, archives & special collections, at: 204-474-6350, or email: shelley.sweeney@ad.umanitoba.ca

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