N-1983.17 | Letterbook, Baltzly's western trip with the Geological Survey, 1871-1872

Letterbook, Baltzly's western trip with the Geological Survey, 1871-1872
Benjamin F. Baltzly
1871, 19th century
Ink on paper
20.8 x 13.5 x 1.1 cm
Gift of Mr. C. Bryce Camplong
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Book (26)
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Keys to History

This image is taken from Benjamin F. Baltzly's personal diary, dated July 20, 1871. Here he describes being awakened in the middle of the night in Victoria, B.C., by Confederation Day festivities marking the colony's first day as a Canadian province. Three weeks earlier, Baltzly, a Notman Studio photographer, had left Montreal as part of the Alfred Selwyn-led Canadian Geological Survey that was charting the land between the Rockies and Coastal Mountains of the British Columbia interior. One year earlier, the Canadian government had convinced British Columbia to join the federation with a deal that included the promise to connect the province to the East through the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). Selwyn's crew was searching for a path the train could follow. Unbeknown to the photographer at that time, the journey would be plagued by numerous difficulties.

With close to 227 kilograms (500 lbs) of camera equipment to carry, including hundreds of fragile glass plates and a complete darkroom tent, Baltzly recorded the steps of this ill-fated journey with a series of dramatic photographs. Battling poor weather and delays, the crew worked their way up the North Thompson River from Kamloops, passing through difficult terrain under a persistent rain that would soon turn to snow. Baltzly's daily journal details the difficulties that ultimately forced the crew to abandon their original goal of reaching Jasper. Racing against the onset of winter and the rapid depletion of their supplies, Selwyn's crew retraced their steps and reached Kamloops on November 18. That the crew survived the journey and the photographs remained intact is remarkable.

  • What

    This 152-page leather-bound journal was donated to the Notman Photographic Archives by C. Bryce Camplong, a descendant of Baltzly's granddaughter. It contains a series of letters written to the photographer's wife and daughter. In the summer of 1872, Baltzly published a less personal version of the journal in the Montreal Gazette.

  • Where

    This Canadian Geological Survey expedition traveled up the North Thompson River in British Columbia, from Kamloops towards Jasper, Alberta, before turning back at the Yellowhead Pass.

  • When

    William Notman arranged for Benjamin Baltzly, one of his staff photographers, to accompany the Geological Survey and provide prints to the Canadian Government. As part of the agreement, Notman retained the negatives and copyright.

  • Who

    Benjamin Franklin Baltzly was born in Springfield, Ohio, in 1835. He moved to Montreal after serving as a lieutenant in the American Civil War. Soon after his Montreal photographic studio burned down in 1868, Baltzly went to work for William Notman's Studio where he remained until 1877. He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1883.