Matilda and Deni: subject & photographer

Mrs. Matilda Boynton poses for the camera in February 1960 just prior to her 103rd birthday. Photo: Deni Eagland, CoV Archives, Port P1622

This striking photograph of Mrs. Matilda Boynton was found in the City of Vancouver Archives. This compelling portrait has a definite Karsh-like quality to it – something I wasn’t expecting to find in the holdings of the Vancouver Archives.

Immediately I was intrigued by the subject (the person in front of the camera) –  a 102-year-old black woman, smoking a cigar. As well as, I was curious about the person who created this portrait, the man behind the camera, Sun newspaper photographer, Deni Eagland.

A note in the online catalogue record of this image indicated that there were notes on the reverse of the image, so I requested to see the orginal print:

Reverse of print. Photo: Deni Eagland, CoV Archives, Port P1622

This photograph was presented to Major Matthews at the CoV Archives by Reuben Hamiliton. In addition to some biographical information, Hamiliton reported that Mrs. Edward Boynton “still use no glasses, no hearing aid, does her own house work” she also “smokes the odd cigar and likes a drink of rum”. At a time when people rarely lived to 100 years of age (let alone 7 years over that) Boynton would have been a very noteworthy person indeed.

Intrigued, I wanted to know more about this rum drinking, cigar smoking, centenarian and more about the newspaper photographer that took this facinating image, Deni Eagland – both living and working in mid-century Vancouver.

First, the Subject – Matilda Boynton: Achieving the status of a centenarian is still considered a pretty big deal these days (even with more people than ever making it past 100 years), but in 1960, it was considered a really big deal!  Which would explain why Mrs. Boynton was being photographed in the first place.

Since Boyton was a bit of a local celeberity, I was able to find some newspaper clippings about her – including the newspaper feature that was the final result of her February 1960 Deni Eagland photo shoot:

The actual version of the Deni Eagland photo that appeared in the Vancouver Sun in 1962. Caption reads: Definitely unimpressed by Swedish campaign against smoking is 103-year-old Mrs. Matilda Boynton, 4135 Fraser. She still smokes four cigars every day, does her own housework. “Cancer?” she says, “if I got it I don’t know about it'”, her ambition is to better family age record of 110. “She will.” says 84-year-old husband, “as long as she gets odd tot of rum.”

Though the pose is similar in both photos – head tossed back, smoking a cigar – the published photo, in my opinion, is not as striking as the first, unpublished image. The rich tonal qualities and fine detail of the photographic print do not translate to the image that appeared in the newspaper. In addition, Matilda Boynton’s forward gaze, reminicient of Manet’s “Olympia”, in the original is directed towards the viewer making the first (unpublished) image more compelling than the published image. Furthermore, when I look at the Eagland print from the Archives I am reminded of the late singer, Cesària Évora, who was often photographed with a cigarette in hand, and those iconic “smoking glamour” hollywood headshots of the past.

Marlene Dietrich in a sultry “smoking glamour” portrait.

In addition to the newspaper clippings I found in the CoV Archives (see below), I was able to locate the following Canadian Press newspaper reference of Matilda Boyton from the Brandon Sun, Feb 15 1965:

Matilda Felt Snake Bite VANCOUVER (CP) – Matilda Boynton remembers being “snake bit” 103 years ago. A rattler bit her left thumb as she was gathering tree bark and she didn’t see or hear it “Felt it, though,” she said Monday in an interview. “They took a chicken, she recounted, beheaded it, gave her intoxicating liquor and put her arm inside the bird “I was ‘out’ for eight days “Guess it saved me,” she said.  – It did. For next Saturday Mrs. Matilda Boynton will be 107 ” least they tell me.” A Tennessee girl, born to slaves in Marion County, she, says her parents died when she was a child. Grandparents took on the chore of her. “Before 1910” she thinks, she came to Vancouver with money saved from picking cotton “Good money but hard, on you.” “I had travelling in my mind, so I came here”

 

Article from 1963 written by Aileen Campbell about Matilda Boynton.

Two newspaper clippings about Matilda Boynton from 1964 and 1965, on the event of her death.

These accounts reveal that, prior to her arrival on the West Coast of Canada, Matilda had lived a very different life compared to the average Vancouverite of the 1960s.  Her “matter-of-fact” account of her early life makes me believe that Matilda was a strong and independent woman, and quite the character. Nevertheless, there are some discrepancies in the newspaper accounts of Matilda’s life; some of the details don’t seem to sync. So, I decided to check some other resources to see if I could clear things up.

Digitized copies of Matilda’s 1965 death certificate, as well as the death certificate of her husband Edward Boynton (also 1965), were available online via BC Archives vital statistics. I was lucky, older versions of BC death certificates (like the Boyntons’) offer some extra genealogical information that isn’t available in the later versions. So, here is the point form “biography” of Matilda Boynton (and Edward Boynton) that I was able to glean from all the available resources:

  • Matilda Boynton was born Matilda Picket in Victoria, Tennessee on Feburary 13th, 1858. The same year that British Columbia offcially became a British colony. She died in Vancouver at the age of 107 on October 1965. She was Vancouver’s “oldest citizen” at that time.
  • Matilda was born into slavery on a cotton plantation in Marion County three years before the start of the American Civil War (1861-1865). After her parents died when she was young, she was raised by her grandparents.* – Her father was apparently killed during the Civil War.
  • A page of the 1860 US Census – “Slave Schedule” shows that there was a slave owner named John A. Picket in Marion County, Tennessee. He owned 13 slaves ranging in age from 50 to 3 months. It is difficult to know if there was any connection to Matilda, but it was common at the time for slaves to be assigned the surname of the slave owner.
  • She arrived in Vancouver around 1908 at the age of about 50 *with Edward Boynton.
  • Edward Boynton was Matilda’s second husband. One newspaper account states that she was married while she still lived in Tennessee. It also stated that she had a son from whom she was estranged. *- She married a coal miner in Tennesse.
  • Unfortunately, it is unknown when (or where) the Boyntons married as there is no record of their marriage in the Vital Statistics records of the BC Archives. * – Matilda moved to Seattle and met Edward there around 1904, where she nursed him back to health. They married and moved to Vancouver.
  • City directories list the Boynton’s living at 4195 Fraser starting around 1924 until 1965.
  • Edward’s death certificate reveals that he lived in Vancouver since 1905 and worked as a labourer (mostly for the City of Vancouver) for about 40 years. He retired in 1945.
  • Matilda’s death certificate lists her occupation as “housewife”, a job she did (according to the notation on her death certificate) for 86 years! She also worked as a cotton picker in the U.S. prior to coming to Canada.
  • Edward Boyton died at the age of 92 in January of 1965. He was born in 1872 in Ontario and his death certificate states that his “racial origin” was “White”.

[Note: facts following an asterix ‘*’ indicate updated information ]

Well, that was an unexpected plot twist. Interracial marriages are a non-event these days, but one has to remember in 1960 (and earlier) it would have been a rare thing – Matilda and Edward would have certainly “stood out”.  Eventhough Canada never had outright laws against interracial marriage, at the time the Boyntons married (in the early 20th C) it still would have been considered by many as socially unacceptable and in many states in the U.S. – illegal.  It wasn’t until 1968 when the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously that state laws prohibiting miscegenation were unconstitutional.  Because of their racial differences, I have to wonder what their personal experiences were, living as a couple in Vancouver, during the first half of the 20thC?  This is the part of Matilda’s life story that I would have liked to been able to have known more about. I’m very curious about people’s life experiences and how they live within their communities.

Matilda Boynton certainly lived a very long, interesting, and somewhat mysterious life. I’m sure there is still more to her story, but that will have to be for another time.

 

Photographer Deni Eagland

The Photographer – Deni Eagland: Of course, we can’t forget about the person behind the camera – the man who took that wonderful portrait of Matilda – Deni Eagland.

Dennis (Deni) Eagland was born in 1928 in Essex and emigrated to Vancouver when he was in his 20s. He was married and he and his wife raised three children. Before he was hired by The Sun Newspaper in 1956, he was the proprietor of  “Deni” – Photo and Art Dealers at 2932 Granville Street. Eagland was initially hired as a wire photo editor, but soon joined the group of talented staff photographers at The Sun.

Among his colleagues, Deni was known as a master portrait photgrapher. The headline from Eagland’s own 1996 obituary reads: “Photographer was the ‘Karsh’ of The Sun”.   Fellow Sun photographer, Ralph Bower said, “as far as I was concerned, [Eagland] was the Karsh of the photo department, he was great at portraits”. The comparison to Yousuf Karsh, Canada’s most celebrated portrait photographer of the 20th Century, is high praise indeed.

An award-winning photographer, Eagland was responsible for numerous iconic Sun photographs of the 20th Century. Many of which have recently appeared in former PNG News Research Librarian Kate Bird’s  Vancouver in the Seventies: Photos from a Decade that Changed the City and her latest book, City on Edge. Both books feature historic Vancouver Sun and Province Newspaper photos and were the basis for two exhibits at the MOV.

Two of Deni Eagland’s photos. L: Foncie Pulice – August 28, 1970 Deni Eagland (The Vancouver Sun 70-1931) and R: 1960 Portrait of John Koerner by Deni Eagland.

Eagland was much admired by his colleagues. Sun columnist, Denny Boyd, once called Eagland a “blithe spirit” and “a plump ball of sunshine warming the chilly newsroom all those years”.  In 1996, former Sun fashion reporter Virginia Leeming recounted her experience of working with Eagland as the Sun’s “unofficial fashion photographer” in 1983: “Our weekly sessions in the studio or on location were usually hilarious. Deni’s sense of humor was infectious and he had the model and me in stitches laughing”

Vancouver Sun reporter, John Mackie also worked with “Deni the great” and wrote this 2012 piece about the “hellraisers” in the “good old days” at the Sun’s photo department.  Mackie said that Deni was best buddies with Dan Scott, another Sun photographer, “the late, great Ian Lindsay used to tell all sorts of Deni and Danny stories”.

Mackie also got me in touch with Deni’s grandson, Nick Eagland, who currently works for both The Vancouver Sun and The Province under the PNG umbrella.  Nick told me he thinks his grandfather would “be in a laughing fit if he knew I’d ended up in the biz”. Proud owner of his “grandpa’s old Pentax 67 camera”, Nick says he loves “going on assignment with our photographers who still have all these great, totally unpublishable stories of my grandpa’s time at the old Sun buildings”.

Known for his great sense of humour, generous spirit, love of flying and many mischievous capers – there are many great stories about Deni Eagland out there, but apparently most of them are not fit to print in mxed company!  Some of the “PG” stories about Deni include him: fishing with dynamite, accidently eating one of his photo assignments ( a tomato that looked like Winston Churchill), and having free-range cows eat the fabric off the wings of his floatplane while he was off shooting wildflowers.

Eagland worked as a Sun photographer for almost 35 years before retiring to the Cariboo in 1990. Sadly, he died of cancer at the age of 67 in 1996.

Both Matilda Boynton and Deni Eagland are the type of “average joe” personalities from Vancouver’s past that I love learning about, and would have liked to have personally known.

UPDATE: So, Matilda’s story (and my story) were featured in the February 17, 2018 edition of the Sun’s “This Week In History” series written by John Mackie. After my blog post was published, he found a “Matilda Boynton file”  in the archives at the Sun. New personal information (and some great photos) found that file are presented in Mackie’s piece. I’ve updated my original piece with some of the newly discovered facts (indicated by an asterix ‘*’).

Matilda and Edward Boynton (with cat) in 1961. Photo: Chuck Jones / PNG

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Master Chef and the 1978 Vancouver Heritage Advisory Committee photos

Master Chef Cafe at 2400 E. Hastings Street  – 1978. What can I say about the shirtless guy in micro jean cut-offs?! (CoV Archives , CVA 786-83.19)

Oh man, how fantastic is this photograph?!  If you ever had the privilege of dining at Master Chef you would realize how special this image is. I had no idea that the restaurant I knew as a simple “old school” diner at one time sported a cool neon sign. This space is now home to “What’s Up? Hot Dog!”, but prior to that it was home to the best turkey club sandwich and home-cut fries that I’ve ever known.

Master Chef Turkey Club and “May’s world famous freshly cut fries”. (photo: C. Hagemoen)

In operation since 1953, and run by various owners over the years, the final version of Master Chef was owned and operated by Tony and May Fung ( Tony was out front and May did all the cooking) from 1993 to 2014. I first learned about Master Chef from a friend of mine around 2003. Ever since then, in my mind, it was the best place in the city for cheap & good old school diner food – and I miss it dearly.

My only wish with the 1978 image (top) is that the photographer had tilted their camera ever so slightly sky wards in order to capture the entirety of the billboards within the frame. Alas, it wasn’t one of those “Herzogian type” photographs, but part of a group of over 2000 recently described and digitized photographs from the City of Vancouver Archives. This inventory of heritage photos was part of a 1978 summer project by the Heritage Advisory Committee that was funded by B.C. Heritage Trust (acting as the project supervisor) and Young Canada Works (for students who carried out the work).

239 E. Hastings Street and 251 E. Hastings Street, Afton Hotel – 1978 (CoV Archives, CVA 786-49.31 & CVA 786-49.32)

Born out of the tremendous public outcry over the decision to demolish Vancouver’s iconic Birks Building, the Vancouver Heritage Advisory Committee was established initially as the Vancouver Heritage Advisory Board in October 1973. Despite the efforts of many concerned citizens, architectural professionals, and a committee of SOB’s (Save Our Birks Building), the Birks Building was demolished in May of 1974. The loss of the beloved heritage building mobilized the architectural preservation community in Vancouver.  By September 1974, the newly named Vancouver Heritage Advisory Committee (now Vancouver Heritage Commission) was working to advise council on a variety of heritage matters.

635-637 E. Hastings Street. The best part of this image is the sign beside the Shamrock Hotel that advertises horse meat roasts and steaks! (CoV Archives – CVA 786-45.11)

The photographs in this 1978 Heritage Advisory Committee survey were broader in scope and breadth than previous heritage surveys. The Committee wanted to include “buildings which had previously been considered of less social (and architectural) interest” and increase the survey breadth by attempting a more “thorough documentation of all areas of the city”.

House at 1843 E. 2nd Avenue – eventually replaced by a Vancouver Special (CoV Archives, CVA 786-73.10)

The Elcho was at  845 Davie Street, 1978. I love the garden space above the entrance. (CoV Archives, CVA 786-7.16)

The availability of these images is a boon to heritage professionals and amateurs alike. Not only as documentation of specific structures, but they are also valuable as evidence of how built Vancouver has changed over the years. Look at these images depicting the foot of West Georgia Street near Denman Street:

1729 W. Georgia Street, 1978. (CoV Archives, CVA 786-8.04)

1781 W. Georgia Street, 1978. (CoV Archives, CVA 786-8.03)

Without the inclusion of the trees of Stanley Park visible in the background of the image above, the area is virtually unrecognizable today.

Many images include aspects of social history (like advertising and fashions) which make them, in my opinion, doubly valuable. It’s hard to pick one’s favourites out of over 2000 photographs, but here are a few of mine:

2417 Main Street, 1978. (CoV Archives, CVA 786-61.18)

802 E. Hastings Street. Look closely and you’ll see a woman wearing the greatest pair of wide leg white jeans ever! (CoV Archives, CVA 786-45.07 )

628-630 Davie Street, 1978. (CoV Archives, CVA 786-7.12 )

1060 W. 6th Avenue, 1978. Now lost, this building if preserved would have been a most interesting warehouse conversion. (CoV Archives, CVA 786-8.11 )

1350 Nanaimo Street, moving east from Strathcona many Italian Canadians settled in Hastings-Sunrise. Look closely and you’ll see a banana seat bike leaning outside the store. (CoV Archives, CVA 786-76.06)

However, my favourite photo of the series doesn’t even depict a heritage building.

Clearly not a heritage building, but certainly worth documenting. Pontiac Firebird window display. (CoV Archives, CVA 786-62.19)

This photograph of a cool Pontiac Firebird window display was probably taken out of admiration by one of the student photographers working on the 1978 summer project. Clearly not part of the scope of the heritage building survey, I love that this image was included in the series.

Check out these great images on the City of Vancouver Archives website here.

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The city in flux: Cedar Street (aka Burrard Street)

Spend any length of time living in Vancouver and you know it is constantly changing (old buildings come down, new buildings go up). Vancouver is a city in flux.

For a relatively young city (in the global scheme of things), Vancouver has certainly gone through its fair share of changes in its 129 year history. Personally, I am amazed how quickly one can get used to the new scenery and forget what used to be there before. In my own experience, that is just in the past 40 years. Imagine how much the city would have appeared to have changed for people who lived here 80 or 100 years ago – it would be almost unrecognizable to them.

Here is a brief snapshot look at one part of that flux – Cedar Street aka Burrard Street.

Cedar St.

This sidewalk stamp found along Burrard St. near 11th Ave. dates to 1931. Photo: C. Hagemoen

This sidewalk stamp reveals the former name of the southern portion of Burrard Street in Vancouver. According to “Street Names of Vancouver” by Elizabeth Walker, Cedar Street dates back to 1885 and was named by L. A. Hamilton, Vancouver’s most influential street namer. When the Burrard Bridge was completed in 1932, Burrard St. (north side, downtown) was then linked to Cedar St. on the south end of the bridge. Cedar Street was officially renamed Burrard Street in 1938.

Looking northwest towards the intersection of Cornwall Avenue and Cedar Street (Burrard Street), July 1931. Photo: Stuart Thomson, COV Archives - CVA 99-4630.

Looking northwest towards the intersection of Cornwall Avenue and Cedar Street (Burrard Street), July 193[2?]. Photo: Stuart Thomson, COV Archives – CVA 99-4630.

The addition of the Burrard Bridge in 1932 dramatically changed this part of the city, and eventually Cedar Street permanently. As seen in the photo above, this part of Cedar Street from the southern end of the Burrard Bridge to 1st Avenue was mainly undeveloped, scrubby land – no Molson’s Brewery complex (originally Sick’s Capilano Brewery – 1953) or Seaforth Armoury (1936) to be seen.

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60th Anniversary of CBUT- Part 3 – CBUT and the 1954 British Empire & Commonwealth Games

This Wednesday, July 30th, marks the 60th Anniversary of the opening of the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games (BE&CG) held in Vancouver –  at the time “the most spectacular event of its kind in Canada’s history and the greatest Empire and Commonwealth sports meet ever staged”. It also marks the 60th anniversary of CBUT’s (and the CBC network’s) first national (and international) live television broadcast.

The CBC purchased exclusive world rights for complete coverage of the 1954 British Empire & Commonwealth Games in Vancouver (July 30 to August 7) for $50,000. Jack McCabe, a CBC sports producer, was appointed by the CBC to co-ordinate radio, television and film coverage of the event. In the early days of television, before communications satellites, it was one of the most ambitious enterprises ever undertaken by Canadian radio and television.

The Commonwealth looks to Vancouver. Graphic promoting CBC's TV and Radio broadcast of the 5th BE&C Games from Vancouver.

The Commonwealth looks to Vancouver. Graphic promoting CBC’s TV and Radio broadcast of the 5th BE&C Games from Vancouver.

The 1954 BE&C Games marked the first time Eastern and Western Canada were linked for a simultaneous live telecast.  This unique feat was made possible by a circuitous route totaling some 2,750 miles (4,425 km) across the United States from Seattle to Buffalo (via Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Denver, Omaha, Des Moines, and Chicago), thus linking CBUT, Vancouver, with CBLT, Toronto, and the microwave-connected television stations of Eastern Canada. In connecting the Vancouver production centre with the eastern network stations, CBC television coverage of the Games was made available to Canadians the same day.

Rear Screen slide of CBUT graphic created for the television broadcast of the 1954 BE&C Games.

Rear Screen slide of CBUT graphic created for the television broadcast of the 1954 BE&C Games.

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The Electric Company

As I sit writing at my computer, with two fans oscillating the warm air of my top floor apartment around me,  I can’t help to think how lucky we are to have access to reliable (and relatively inexpensive) electricity. Which reminded me of a photo I discovered online in the catalogue of the Vancouver Archives – this month’s vintage photo of the month.

Power lines and supporting structure in lane west of Main Street at Pender Street. March 10 , 1914. Photo: British Columbia Electric Railway Company, CoV Archives, AM54-S4-: LGN 1241,

Power lines and supporting structure in lane west of Main Street at Pender Street. March 10, 1914. Photo: British Columbia Electric Railway Company, CoV Archives, AM54-S4-: LGN 1241.

How crazy is that photograph? And we think there are too many overhead wires today! I can’t even imagine how hard it would be to service those power lines. It made me wonder when did electricity first come to the city of Vancouver?

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Beveridge, Vancouver and the Great Fire of 1886

Today a new regular (hopefully) feature debuts on vanalogue – vintage photo(s) of the month. This month I’m featuring the work of Scottish amateur photographer, Erskine Beveridge and some of his photographs of early Vancouver a year before the Great Fire of 1886.

1885 view of street in Granville, now Vancouver, BC. Copy of photograph titled “Main Street, Granville.’ [Looking East on Water Street near Carrall] From "Wanderings with a Camera" by Erskine Beveridge. Photo: Erskine Beveridge, RCAHMS, DP042683

[June] 1885 view of street in Granville, now Vancouver, BC.  Copy of photograph titled “Main Street, Granville.’ [Looking East on Water Street near Carrall] From “Wanderings with a Camera” by Erskine Beveridge. Photo: Erskine Beveridge, RCAHMS, DP042683. [Compare this view with the 1886 H.T. Devine (COV Archives )photo below.]

This Friday, June 13th marks the 128th anniversary of one of the greatest calamities in the history of Vancouver.  A year earlier, wealthy Scottish businessman, Erskine Beveridge was in Vancouver [then known as Granville] documenting a rough and tumble township on the cusp of becoming a city.

Erskine Beveridge (1851-1920) was not only a successful textile manufacturer  (specializing in the production of fine table and bed linen), he was also an enthusiastic historian, archaeologist and talented amateur photographer.  Beveridge was fascinated by landscapes, seascapes, buildings and archaeological monuments.  He traveled extensively across Scotland, taking hundreds of photographs that captured Scotland’s rural heritage. [A collection of his photographs can be seen on the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) website.]

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Before and After – Main Street

Heritage Hall

Heritage Hall, Main Street, Vancouver – 2012. Photo: C. Hagemoen

To loosely paraphrase Benjamin Disraeli: In a progressive [city] change is constant; …change… is inevitable. Vancouver is a city that most inevitably is constantly changing … sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. But, how much has the city really changed? Sometimes it can be hard to tell unless you can directly compare the past with the present.

Primary source documents like visual historical records, whether they are still or moving images, capture a moment in time and allow us to compare the past with the present.  I think it is really interesting to look back and compare how much (or, how little) a place has changed over the years. So, inspired by photographer Dan Toulgoet’s “Then and Now” series in the Vancouver Courier and the blog of ‘then and now’ images Changing Vancouver , I decided to try my hand at creating my own comparative pairs of ‘before and after’ images.

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