Among the varied items of a recent auction of civil war militaria in South Yarra, Australia, including a folding moustache comb and a Spenser repeating carbine, were 13 cartes de visite. At this point we know nothing about the seller and how these photographs ended up halfway around the world, just that these photos must have made an incredible journey. Although several of the cartes in the auction lot had obvious American associations, the 8 acquired by the Archives and featured here were clearly from Manitoba dating from the 1860s and 70s.
Astonishingly among these eight cartes is an iconic image of Louis Riel and a number of his councillors who joined him as part of the Métis Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia. It is likely the earliest print of this well-known image, dating somewhere around 1869 and quite possibly taken by photographer Ryder Larsen. One account states that a photographer pulled Louis Riel and others who were in a saloon together for the original photograph. Most of the individuals however were part of the Assembly of Assiniboia.

The larger collection of cartes-de-visite were likely taken around the Red River settlement by photographers James Penrose and Simon Duffin, among others. Copies of some of these prints exist in other repositories. The modern notion of copyright did not exist at this time and photographers freely rephotographed works by other people so it is difficult to say with any certainty who may have taken the original photograph in each case.

 

 

The cartes de visite however provide a glimpse into what the Red River settlement looked like at that time and provide a nice balance between civic life and the private life of citizens. The shot of Portage and Main is so different from what it is today that it is virtually unrecognizable. Included in the 8 cartes as well is a photograph of aboriginal people, Ojibwe mourners in a graveyard in Lake of the Woods, Manitoba. The way the above ground graves are constructed is interesting. But what makes the image both startling and sad is the fact that everyone in the photo has obviously covered their faces to avoid their faces being photographed.

 

The accession number for this collection is A13-5.

Shelley Sweeney