Who was western Canada’s first female professional photographer? Geraldine did her most notable work about the time Saskatchewan and Alberta were being created so you won’t have met her. But if you drop in to the Glenbow Museum you can see the photographs of Geraldine Moodie and her husband Douglas in an exhibit North of Ordinary.
But there is nothing ordinary about this photography.
Geraldine established her first photo studio in 1890 in Battleford, Saskatchewan created a new one in Maple Creek when Douglas was transferred in 1896, and eventually set up a branch in Medicine Hat.
Douglas Moodie joined the North-west Mounted Police in 1885 and was sent north in 1903 on the Neptune Expedition to Hudson Bay to establish a police presence.
In 1904 when Douglas was put in charge of a follow-up Arctic expedition, Geraldine wasn’t staying home. Their six children were grown and she was determined to take her cameras north. Their adult son Alex went with them to help establish the police post. Geraldine trained Douglas in photography although he favoured smaller cameras he could carry onto the land.Did you know Geraldine Moodie was western Canada's first female professional photographer? #tmaccaClick To Tweet
Great grandchildren Elizabeth Ard and Don Perceval donated the combined photographic collection of Douglas and Geraldine’s years in the Arctic (1903 – 1909) to Calgary’s Glenbow Museum in 2015 and now several of the photos and notes are on display.
The Moodie collection includes negatives, notes and photographs I’m not a huge fan of museums but I loved this exhibit! It provides a window into traditional Inuit cultures and revealed the importance of good travel writing.
North of Ordinary exhibit at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum with photos of Geraldine and Douglas MoodieAs a senior Mountie, I’m sure Douglas was trained in report writing yet there are vivid differences between the diary entries of Douglas and Geraldine. On one occasion where their son Alex travelled to a remote community, suffering frostbite and receiving help from an Inuit named Atungelah, Geraldine described in detail over several sentences how the event unfolded and the bond built with Atungelah who later came to visit them.Good travel writing brings history alive at #Glenbow North of OrdinaryClick To Tweet
Douglas’s comments on the same incident were brief. “Atungelah & party left to return to Baker Lake, gave them some grub.”
Suffice to say, if modern day travelogues were written in Douglas’s style versus Geraldine’s fewer people would leave home!
Geraldine took many portraits using large cameras and glass plates, and spent evenings developing them. One of her portraits would eventually be used on a Canadian stamp.
Geraldine’s diaries and Douglas’s notes paint a picture of a cold environment. “Photos came out pretty well. Ice is 53 inches thick.” On February 4, 1905 “the mail party left with mail for Churchill this a.m. with 2 sleds & 24 dogs, 30 days rations and forage.”
Imagine getting mail once a year, not every few minutes! On April 10, 1905 Alex returned with eight new dogs (some were lost in the journey) but “got no mail except that of 1903 which arrived there a year ago.”
Geraldine summed up the ordeal “On the very day Douglas said would be the shortest time they could do it in,…..they slipped in all well but looking like men who had been who had been through such days and nights as they had never known before.”
It sounds even worse than a red-eye flight in the last-row seat next to the latrine!
Geraldine and Douglas created a lantern show of images – the fashion of the day – to share their experiences. The Moodie’s first audiences included the Inuit they had photographed and the Glenbow Museum has recreated a magic lantern show with 47 of the still-existing images – my favourite part of the exhibit.
I left North of Ordinary with a new appreciation for my craft of travel writing and realized that sometimes the greatest opportunities come when we seize out-of-the ordinary experiences!
North of Ordinary exhibit will be on display until September 10. http://www.glenbow.org/exhibitions/moodie-photograghs/
Thank you to the Glenbow Museum for letting me browse their collection.
Also published on Medium.