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The photograph above, taken in 1859 is one of the first photos taken in southwestern Manitoba. The photographer was Humphrey Lloyd Hime a photographer and surveyor recruited to provide a photographic record of an exploring expedition.

By the 1850’s the governments in both Canada and Britain were beginning to consider an important question.

Was agricultural settlement viable in what was considered to be the cold and dry expanse of the western prairies?

The Hudson’s Bay Company who had controlled the region for nearly 200 years, were only there for the furs, but the people in charge of the fur trade posts had already determined much earlier that "anything will grow here." But could it be grown in quantities, and efficiently enough to still be a cash crop once you factor in transportation to the market - meaning the cities of Upper and Lower Canada?

The Canadian government commissioned Professor Henry Youle Hind, a Toronto geologist to explore the region in light of that question. During the summer of 1859 he and his party of thirteen men explored southwestern Manitoba. They camped at the mouth of the Souris and took the first photographs of that river. They were particularly impressed by the grasshoppers which Hind insisted took only ten minutes to destroy three pairs of woolen trousers, but they also noticed the numbers of fish rising to catch grasshoppers. They were watchful of the Sioux whom Hind called the "tigers of the plains", and they noted the beauty of the Brandon Hills. They noted the lack of timber, but found what they were looking for - fertile land.

Hind’s identification of travel routes and arable land directly influenced the future of the west in terms of settlement and agriculture, and held a role in Canada’s decision to pursue the acquisition of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), albeit without regard for Indigenous peoples.

Theirs was the first survey in North America from which photographs have survived.

Hind contracted Humphrey Lloyd Hime to accompany him. At the time the twenty-four year old Hime was a photographer, surveyor, businessman, and financier.

Now he is best remembered for his photos of the Canadian prairies.

Hind’s instructions didn’t specify photographic documentation. The decision was likely his, it may have even been an afterthought as in his budget preparation records he had altered an entry for: “Mr. Hind’s Assistant - $640” to read “photographer “.

Photography could provide a most accurate and faithful record of places and things and copies could be taken to illustrate expedition reports.
Photography was still new. It potential for his sort of work was just beginning to be considered recognized. Instead exploratory expeditions often included an artist whose sketches might be used to illustrate the official reports. In fact two artists of note: John Fleming and William Napier also provided a record of Hind’s travels. Photography was a new thing but not unheard of. Daguerreo-typists had accompanied Commodore Perry on his expedition to Japan in 1852 and the U.S. Western Survey party of 1853 employed a photographer. Leading explorers of the day were beginning to use photography extensively on expeditions.
Because photography was becoming an acceptable part of life in urban Canada, its potential to record faithfully was undoubtedly brought to the attention of many Government officials. Thus, by 1858, there was a willingness to accept a reasonable expenditure for photography.

Links to Additional Resources

Pioneer Photographers

Copyright Turtle Mountain–Souris Plains Heritage Association.