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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Rose Marie the Riveter

Two images of women (1943 & 1945) on the back cover of Wallace Shipbuilder.

Two images of women (1943 & 1945) on the back cover of Wallace Shipbuilder.

I found these great photographic images of these women serendipitously while doing another task at the City of Vancouver Archives. [Isn’t that the best way to discover interesting new things?] Though both images essentially depict the same thing – an attractive woman – despite being taken only two years apart, I was intrigued by how differently these women were portrayed. Especially since these images appeared on back covers of the same publication, Wallace Shipbuilder. The side by side juxtaposition of the two images piqued my interest.

Wallace Shipbuilder covers.

Wallace Shipbuilder covers. An employee magazine for the Burrard Dry Dock workers during WWII.

Wallace Shipbuilder was the company newsletter for the Burrard Dry Dock workers during WWII. Sharing news of production, health and safety and social activities, Wallace Shipbuilder was published monthly, running from July 1942 to September 1945.

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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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Reviving a Polaroid 360 Land Camera

Just because they don’t make film for a particular analogue camera anymore, doesn’t mean you should pass up the opportunity to own one. This is exactly what I thought  when I recently had the opportunity to take home a Polaroid 360 Land Camera (for free!).

My recently acquired Polaroid Land Camera model 360 with booklet. Photo: C.Hagemoen

My recently acquired Polaroid Land Camera model 360 with booklet [on a floor in desperate need of refinishing.] Photo: C.Hagemoen

At the very least I thought it would make a really cool objet d’art –  a great addition to my growing collection of vintage cameras. I was curious to learn more about my new acquisition so I did what anyone would do in this day and age, I “Googled” it.

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Bottle-dash stucco

There are several architectural features that quite distinctly define Metro Vancouver: the Vancouver Special, forests of glass condominium towers, west coast modernism and the oddest one of them all – bottle-dash stucco. Predominately found in Vancouver, bottle-dash stucco appears throughout the Lower Mainland  and occasionally in the rest of the province.

Bottle-dash stucco exterior

Bottle-dash stucco exterior on house in East Vancouver. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Also known as ‘beer bottle’ stucco, ‘broken bottle’ stucco or ‘crushed bottle’ stucco, ‘bottle-dash’ stucco is something of an enigma.*** If you are not familiar with what it is, houses with bottle-dash (unlike pebble-dash) have bits of glass (most often brown beer and green pop bottles), instead of the more commonly used rock bits, embedded in the exterior stucco finish. I have been curious about bottle-dash stucco since I was a child and first saw it on my great aunt’s house in East Vancouver.  Back in the 1970s and into the 1980s, it was quite common to see it on Vancouver houses of a certain era. When I decided to research bottle-dash stucco, I found that there was very little historical information about it.

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Finding ‘Bunty’ Brennan, part 1

Visual literacy, the ability to “read” pictorial images, is a basic skill necessary for working with still and moving images. Reading images is the first step in researching images effectively – it is the start of the appraisal process. Sometimes the hardest part is figuring out the context of the photograph (or any historical artifact) and the relationship (if any) it has with other items found with it. At work, we referred to it as “forensic cataloguing”  – taking all the clues you have (visual, textual, etc.) and investigating them, until you have a clearer picture of what is in front of you. Sometimes all you have to start with is the artifact itself, and a brief (often vague) notation. In the case of the photo below, I had the name of the owner, but no other contextual information was found on the photo envelope.

Bunty in park

Eileen “Bunty” Brennan in park. ca. 1946. Photo: [Bertram F. Nobel]

Take for example the photo above, on first glance it is a B&W photo of a woman in a park-like setting. Look a little closer, and you might notice the mountains in the background; the clothing she is wearing; and the style of her hair. You begin to get a clearer picture (no pun intended) of how to describe this photograph.

What if you were to add into the mix, the following two photographs found in the same negative envelope along with the photo above?

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Sarah’s Cafe

Sarah's Cafe

May 1960.  FL-158-2 (detail) (Franz Lindner/CBC Vancouver). Original image was a 120 medium format B&W negative.

This great image is from the CBC Vancouver Media Archives Still Photograph Collection. It sparked some curiosity amongst my fellow library and archives types — Where was Sarah’s Cafe ? Does the building still exist today?

With former VPL Special Collections Librarian, Andrew Martin on the case, it didn’t take long to find out:

  • By searching the Vancouver city directories and telephone books from the 1950s.  In the city directories Sarah’s Grill is listed at 218 E. Georgia.  It was run by a Sarah Cassell.   It was listed from 1957 up until at least 1961.
  • In the Vancouver telephone books there is a Sarah’s Cafe listed at 220 E. Georgia.  It is listed from 1957 up until at least 1960.
  • Looking at a fire insurance map it shows 220 E. Georgia on the south side of the street and beside (east side)  a north south alley (the one parallels Main St. on the east side).

Franz Lindner, a contract photographer for CBC Vancouver, took many pictures of the area … Sarah’s Cafe being one.  His assignment was to shoot publicity photos for the CBC Times (programming guide) feature on the radio documentary, “G.O.M.” (God’s Own Medicine).  A  radio documentary that aired June 5, 1960 on CBC radio. According to the CBC times, ”G.O. M. will offer the total picture of addiction in Canada, with emphasis on the seat of the concentration, Vancouver”. So it seems fitting that Lindner would choose the area then know as Skid Row, now known as the DTES – Chinatown.

Although this image was not published in CBC Times, it is part of a series of images shot for the assignment. One of the images from that series was ultimately used as the cover photo for the CBC Times for that week.

So, that just leaves one question. Does the building still exist today?  A quick check in Google Maps Street View for 220 E. Georgia revealed that the building does indeed exist today. A little worse for wear, perhaps, but considering it is over 100 years old, it is looking pretty good.

I was recently in the area, and took this photo of the building and alley today.

Sarah's Cafe today

March 2013. Photo: C. Hagemoen

It is interesting to note the difference the construction of the Georgia Viaduct had on the neighbourhood. In the photo from 1960, the neighbourhood seems to go on forever (or at least for several blocks). In the photo above, it ends abruptly a block away. Hard to imagine the impact that would have had on the people that lived and worked there.