GHS focuses on local photographer
Duncan Donovan, one of the first people to chronicle life in the county through a camera lens, was the subject of the latest installment of the Glengarry Historical Society’s Speaker Series on March 9, courtesy of Dane Lanken.
Mr. Donovan was born in January 1857 in McCrimmon in the former Lochiel township to Irish immigrant Richard Donovan and his wife Sarah (née MacMillan).
By the 1890s, he was “one of the travelling tintype photographers who were familiarly seen at fairs and other public events,” according to Royce McGillivray’s Dictionary of Glengarry Biography.
It’s believed that Mr. Donovan assumed control of the Alexandria photography business he’d shared with partners A.G.A. Robinson and Duncan McMillan circa August 1897 when the former left town to seek his fame and fortune in the Klondike.
Five years later, and following a roughly dozen-year partnership with Mr. McMillan, Mr. Donovan “finding the necessity of more modern quarters for his steadily expanding connection with the public, proceeded to build his very compact brick block,” according to his March 24, 1933 obituary in The News –a studio at the corner of Kenyon Street West and Main Street North, the present- day Scotiabank site.
Mr. Donovan retired and sold his photography business to P. A. Charlebois in 1924, but remained a resident of the building until his death nine years later (March 17, 1933) at the age of 76.
He was survived by his wife, Catherine (née Campbell), of Peveril, Que., who died 10 years later. The couple had no children. Following his purchase of the studio, Mr. Charlebois – who maintained a strong presence in the local community, serving as treasurer-clerk for the Town of Alexandria from mid-1938 until his retirement in 1963, police commissioner in Alexandria from 1953 to 1977 and as an active member of the Alexandria Legion for 58 years – moved Mr. Donovan’s glass negative plates, along with his own, into the loft of a shed in his backyard.
They remained there, preserved, until 1970 when they were transferred to the Archives of Ontario.
The Archives also acquired the bulk of Mr. Donovan’s collection of approximately 3,200 photographs from Mr. Charlebois that same year.
A total of 2,500 of those images were later transferred to the Glengarry Historical Society, although many were destroyed in a fire.
In 1977, the Oxford University Press published a collection of Mr. Donovan’s photographs, edited by Jennifer Harper, entitled