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A. W. Mitchell - Photographer

The other day I read of the death of Marion Mitchell in Prince Albert. It made me think a day back in 1972 - just about this time of year - when Marion and her son Ivan came into the Heritage Foundation . We were still up in that office on Kent Street. They carried with them boxes of glass negatives. Some 3x5's and some 9x10's. Fortunately there were some prints in the collection, too, so that we were able to get an idea of the scope of the collection.

The photographer had been Marion's late father-in-law, Albert William Mitchell. A.W., as he was known by, had died at the age of 38. He had worked his full career at Prowse Brothers. He was so devoted to his work that he had risen to the position of a director and Secretary to the board. He seemed to be awfully good. One obituary had noted that " after a life lived about as perfectly perhaps as is possible for mortal man" and the other noted "Honest, and true and faithful, the son was worthy of his sire". [So much for the mother's role in the matter!] Neither of the obituaries that I read mentioned his avocation as a photography and that is what today makes A. W. Mitchell famous.

The Mitchell Collection, as it is called, is one of the most extraordinary photographic collection that the Island possesses. It covers the ten year or so before Mitchell's death in 1906. They have been reproduced so many times. His collection of photos of the Micmac people in Rocky Point are wonderful. He also had great pictures of people in fashionable bathing suits and others riding bicycles. Their are family groups and architectural interiors, as well as exteriors. There is a great self portrait taken it seems on top of one of the buildings on Queen Street across from the market. There are pictures of Government House and Province House with great parades out front and pictures of the first stone St. Dunstan's being built.

Islanders were very lucky to receive this collection and none of us there that day could ever have imagined how useful it would be to historians. Sadly we don't know how he became involved in photography or who would have taught him. Around the turn of that century photography was important and we had people like G. H. Cook and J. A. S. Bayer with studios in the city and earlier Cyrus Lewis was active and even Louson was around then. . He could have learned from one of them or maybe he read all about it in Popular Mechanics!

There is a lesson for all of us in this story. When we have collections of importance we should begin to think of what happens to them "later" for the greater good. Just a thought.

Written Thursday, May 16, 2002 at 05:18 PM

(c) 2000 by Catherine Hennessey. Questions or comments? Email me@catherinehennessey.com

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