Blog Archives

My Grandmother’s Vacation Photos

Before 1900, photography was the domain of the expert. Cameras were complicated, film was bulky. That year, the Eastman Kodak company introduced the Brownie camera, a simple box with a lens, loaded with a roll of film, and photography became available and affordable to the general public. My grandmother’s family were early adopters of this new technology, and my grandmother, Gwendolen Bagg (1887-1963), became an enthusiastic photographer.

One of her first subjects was her own house in Montreal’s Golden Square Mile. She photographed not only the exterior, but also the drawing room (living room), with its ornate mantelpiece and heavy drapes.

The majority of photos were taken during summer vacations with the family. Many Montrealers left the city in the summer, not only to escape the heat, but also to avoid the outbreaks of disease that plagued the city in those years. In the early 1900s, the Bagg family went to Cacouna, on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, and they also spent time at a lake near Ste. Agathe, in the Laurentians, north of Montreal.

Gwen photographed her father stretched out on the lawn at Cacouna, her mother in a wide-brimmed hat, and her older sister on horseback and in a canoe. Her little brother, Harold, was a favourite subject. In one picture, taken when he would have about five years old, he posed with his two girl cousins. According to the custom of the day, he had long hair and was dressed exactly like the girls in what appears to be a dress. The following year, his blonde hair remained long, but Harold wore a sailor suit.

Harold's sailor suit

Gwendolyn Bagg, “Harold Bagg, Cacouna, 1903”, McCord Museum, Bagg Family Fonds, P070, http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/collection/artefacts/M2013.59.1.62

In her late teens, Gwen photographed her friends, wearing elaborate bathing costumes on the beach near Kennebunk, Maine. On the porch at the hotel where they stayed, all the young women wore light dresses that reached the ground and covered their arms to their wrists. They must have been very hot.

In 1913, Gwen photographed her mother, by now a widow and dressed in black, leaning up against a big log at Kennebunk Beach, chatting with a friend. By this time, her sister Evelyn was married, and Gwen liked to photograph her little niece, Clare.

The camera must have been a good one, and whoever Gwen shared it with (probably her mother), was also a good photographer. All these photos were in focus, well exposed and tightly composed. Most importantly, Gwen put her photos into albums and identified most of the people, places and years they were taken. She got married in 1916, and after that, although she continued take family photos, the prints ended up in a box, loose and unidentified.

Gwen kept these albums and my mother inherited them and then passed them on to me. Several years ago, I asked the McCord Museum in Montreal whether they would like them. The McCord already had a collection of letters and business ledgers that had belonged to the Bagg family, so these photos shed light on another aspect of their past. The albums are now part of the Bagg Family Fonds, and a few of them have been digitized and can be viewed on the McCord’s website at http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/scripts/explore.php?Lang=1&tableid=18&tablename=fond&elementid=31__true (go to the very bottom of this page).

This article is also posted on http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca

Notes:

I cannot say for certain that my grandmother had a Brownie, but she certainly had some type of simple box camera. The square photos in her album are approximately 3 ½” x 3 ½”, corresponding to the Kodak film sizes 101 and 106.  This chart on the Brownie website describes the different sizes of film that Brownie cameras used over the years: http://www.brownie-camera.com/film.shtml. If she did have a Kodak, it was probably similar to the camera described on this website: http://www.historiccamera.com/cgibin/librarium/pm.cgi?action=display&login=no2bullet

 

 

 

 

Part of the Bagg Family Fonds Now Online

Many people have old family treasures such as letters and albums in the attic. In my family, a collection of 200-year-old business records made their way from the attic to a Montreal museum, and now some them have been digitized and placed online for everyone to explore. Part of the Bagg Family Fonds housed at the McCord Museum, these newly digitized images include records from the store where the workmen who built the Lachine Canal in the early 1820s bought their bread and rum.

The project to digitize these and other documents was financed by Library and Archives Canada to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation and Montreal’s 375th anniversary. The McCord Museum in Montreal is posting some 75 000 images from its collection of textual archives to its website (http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/keys/collections/).

The website provides an introduction to the Bagg family and to the scope of the Bagg Family Fonds (P70): http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/scripts/explore.php?Lang=1&tableid=18&tablename=fond&elementid=31__true.  At the bottom of this page are links to four sets of digitized documents: the Laprairie Brewery (1821-1832), the workmen’s store in Lachine (1822-1823), a child’s scrapbook and a young woman’s autograph book that probably dates from around the turn of the century.

My three-times great-grandfather Stanley Bagg was one of the four main contractors in charge of building the Lachine Canal in Montreal in the 1820s. He also ran the store that supplied the workers with bread, tea, sugar, pork and occasionally fish, eggs and butter, although rum and beer seem to have been the most popular items. Some pages list the names of the customers, the items they purchased and the prices they were charged.

Other images record cash payments related to the canal construction, including planks, nails, wheelbarrows, hay (probably for the horses), blasting powder and wages for day labourers.

Another set of records is related to the brewery owned by Stanley’s brother, Abner Bagg. The LaPrairie Brewery account books list expenses such as barley, charcoal, transportation costs and wages. Both the store and the brewery records contain many names of suppliers and customers.

Both of these collections provide a window into life in Montreal some 200 years ago. For example, Quebec historian Donald Fyson used these records as a basis for his thesis, “Eating in the city [electronic resource]: diet and provisioning in early nineteenth-century Montreal” Montréal: McGill University, 1989. http://www.collectionscanada.ca/obj/thesescanada/vol1/QMM/TC-QMM-55597.pdf

No one really knows who had the foresight to save these records, or how they ended up at the McCord. According to one of my cousins, these account books were found in the basement of the Redpath Museum at McGill University, but no one knows who put them there in the first place. Clare Fellowes, daughter of Evelyn (Bagg) Davis, gave an additional gift of textual documents to the museum in 2002 and 2003.

Documents in the Bagg Family Fonds that have not been digitized includes copies of letters that Stanley and Abner wrote to each other and to business colleagues, and a ledger belonging to butcher John Clark, Stanley Bagg’s father-in-law. Documents related to another generation of the family date from the final decades of the 19th century when the Baggs were property owners and real estate developers. This includes a ledger showing property sales, and letters between the Bagg siblings as they discussed and sometimes disagreed about business decisions. There are also personal documents such as a list of wedding presents, recipes and several albums of family photos, taken in the early 1900s by my grandmother, Gwendolyn Bagg. More recently, the late Joan Shackell, a descendant of Abner Bagg, donated a number of items related to her line of the family.

Members of the public can visit the archives at the McCord Museum to consult the Bagg Family Fonds and other collections, but they must make an appointment weeks in advance. It is encouraging to see that some of these documents are now available online.

(This article is also posted on http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca)

See also

Janice Hamilton, “Abner Bagg, Black Sheep of the Family?” Writing Up the Ancestors, April 9, 2015, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2015/04/abner-bagg-black-sheep-of-family.html

Janice Hamilton, “Stanley Bagg and the Lachine Canal, Part 2: Rocks and Water,” Writing Up the Ancestors, March 13, 2015, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2015/03/stanley-bagg-and-lachine-canal-part-2.html

%d bloggers like this: