Aerial farm photographs provide unique link to the past
The owners of a large archival library of aerial farm photographs dating back to 1953 have been visiting communities across southern Saskatchewan since early October to sell reprints to anyone with a connection to a farm in the area.
Kim Bessette and Eileen Deringer of Calgary based Homestead Aerial Photo set up their display in the Swift Current Mall on Oct. 3 and 4.
They spent the Thanksgiving weekend on a farm south of the city and then headed to Estevan for two days.
They will be in southeast Saskatchewan for the rest of the trip, which will conclude on Oct. 19.
“What we're going to do is set up in different towns and we bring our archive or library out of the office,” Bessette said. “So we have to physically pack everything up. We've got probably about 50,000 pictures with us of farms throughout southern Saskatchewan, right from the Alberta border to Manitoba, actually into Manitoba a little bit. We brought about as far north as north of the Trans-Canada on the eastern part of the province and then north of Regina and then around here in Swift Current we brought right up to Kindersley.”
This is only a small portion of the entire collection. In total there are about 1.5 million aerial farm photographs that were taken across western Canada from 1953 to 2001. The dates vary between provinces, for example 1953 to 2001 for Alberta, but 1954 to 2000 for Saskatchewan and 1956 to 1994 for Manitoba.
The photographs for the Peace River district in British Columbia cover the period 1955 to 2000 and for the rest of that province there are images taken from 1970 to 1999, but there are no photographs for Vancouver Island.
The collection includes photographs taken on Prince Edward from the 1960s to 1975 and others are from some areas of Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
They have previously displayed images from this collection at different venues, but this is the first time that they are doing such an extensive trip to different communities.
“These photos have been around for a while,” he said. “Some people have seen them displayed before, but we found that when we put this entire library together a lot of the photos were missing. So we've been working really hard to replace a lot of material and people are finding a lot of pictures that they thought never existed. So it's a big undertaking and then we physically have to bring the photos. It's not a digitized library. We wish it was, but we bring the actual physical proofs and in that way you can find your farm.”
According to Bessette this is the most extensive and complete collection of aerial photographs in the country.
“There are photo libraries around,” he said. “Certain companies have bits and pieces of areas that they've photographed, but a lot of companies don't keep those stock as long as we have and some companies will focus let's say on Saskatchewan or concentrate on southern Alberta, where this is covering all the provinces going back this many decades. This is the largest archival library that's complete.”
These images were originally taken by a business in Edmonton. They took aerial photographs of farms during the summer and then visited farms to sell it to interested landowners.
“The numbers are anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 farms in the summer time, starting back in 1953,” he said. “Everything was shot on speculation. ... They took a chance that people would want pictures of the farm, photograph it, and then they would have sales. People would go farm to farm throughout the winter and try and sell the pictures.”
That company's owner retired in 1993, when Bessette and Deringer purchased the collection. They have added images to the archives, but they will only do it when a client makes a booking for an aerial photograph.
They will use an aerial drone to provide a client with a custom package of images. The original photographs were taken from a high-wing aircraft, which provided the photographer with a clear view of the land.
“We've got photographs in the office of different models that they used,” Bessette said. “Originally I think he flew a Super Cub and then pretty much anything that was an overhead wing, because you're trying to take photos, so you can't shoot with an underwing.”
There are now more flight restrictions in place than when the former company started to take aerial photographs in the 1950s. They flew very low to get detailed images of farmyards and homesteads.
“We've got photos where you can see the shadow of a plane on the barn,” he said. “So they came in low and tight.”
People are interested in these photograph for a variety of reasons and their display in the Swift Current Mall received a lot of visitors.
“It will make awesome Christmas presents, memory keepsakes,” he said. “One guy found a picture of his dad standing in the door with the pickup, waving at the plane.”
In many cases people have a connection to a certain farm or they want to know more about the history of their farm. These images can provide them with details about a farm when their grandparents were still farming or when it was farmed by a previous landowner.
These photographs also have a broader historical value, because some of them depict other structures such as rural gas stations, country schools and churches.
“We get requests lots of times for water drainage and land remediation,” he said. “Sometimes we get contacted to see the accurate records of what the land was like 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago. It helps to solve disputes, so we get requests of that once in a while.”
For more information about this archive of aerial farm photographs, visit the Homestead Aerial Photo website at www.homesteadaerial.com
Kim Bessette (at left) and Eileen Deringer of Homestead Aerial Photo show aerial farm photographs during their visit to Swift Current, Oct. 4.