Ae­rial farm pho­to­graphs pro­vide unique link to the past

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - Swift Current - BY MATTHEW LIEBEN­BERG— mlieben­berg@prairiepost.com

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

Photo by Matthew Lieben­berg

Kim Bes­sette (at left) and Eileen Deringer of Home­stead Ae­rial Photo show ae­rial farm pho­to­graphs dur­ing their visit to Swift Cur­rent, Oct. 4.

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