Photo Album 47: Record of a real and a constructed journey to western Canada: a mystery!

In the previous posts, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Tour of Western Canada, June 1914 and Visit to Jasper National Park, we followed on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s trail as he travelled through Canada in 1914. The images of the trip came from a large album of photographic prints put together by William Topley capturing the author’s travels—supposedly. Upon doing further research, there are some curiosities with the way the album has been presented.

The photo album (see pages from the album below) appears to be not only a record of the Conan Doyle tour of 1914, but also a constructed record of a journey that an immigrant or tourist would take on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.

A black-and-white photograph showing a group of people sitting on a veranda overlooking a wooded area.

The Conan Doyle party sitting on a veranda. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is on the far right.

Clues

First, the original nitrate and glass plate negatives are located in the Topley fonds rather than the Department of the Interior, which employed the photographer for the Conan Doyle tour.

Second, the photo album resides within the Department of the Interior’s fonds in a series entitled, Immigration Branch — Photographic Albums of Canadian Settlement. The MIKAN record notes that the albums in this series contain photographs taken by two photographers, John Woodruff and Horatio Topley, working for the William Topley Studio. However, the photographs in the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle album are clearly identified as having been taken by William Topley, rather than his brother, who died in 1910.

Third, while the MIKAN record—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Tour—suggests that the entire album is of Conan Doyle’s tour, a close inspection of the physical album reveals that only a portion of the photographs are from the tour! The last part of the album has photos of places along the remainder of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway route from Jasper, Alberta through central northern British Columbia to Prince Rupert on the Pacific coast—places which Conan Doyle did not visit as he returned east after his stay in Jasper National Park.

So why are these other photos in the album? By looking at the finding aid for the Topley Studio Series SC, we learn that Topley may have travelled on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway to photograph the Mount Robson Glacier and Berg Lake in 1913. In July 1915, he may have taken the railway from Jasper, Alberta all the way to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Along the way, he photographed:

Photograph of a typewritten list with photograph numbers and titles of locations along the Grand Trunk Railway.

The finding aid at the beginning of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle photo album from the Immigration Branch listing the photographs contained in the album.

Topley was quite probably employed by Department of the Interior to record these trips as he had a number of prominent assignments with the Department in the first two decades of the 20th century.

In 1917, the Department of the Interior published the book, Description of and Guide to Jasper Park, which includes several of Topley’s photos from his 1914 trip with Conan Doyle and one photo of his 1915 trip.

A photograph of an album, showing three black-and-white photographs of a city.

A page taken from the album showing photographs of the city of Edmonton.

A photograph of a photo album, showing four black-and-white photographs of groups of people with horses and tents.

A page from the album showing photographs taken of a press excursion at Jasper Park that are clearly labelled 1915.

A photograph of an album, showing four black-and-white photographs of various scenes in British Columbia, including the totem poles at Kitwanga, a view of the village, an unidentified medicine man and a person fishing on a stream.

The album showing locations in British Columbia that Conan Doyle did not go to during this trip.

A collage of two images. The first one is a label explaining how to reorder the binder if necessary, and the second one shows two black-and-white photographs: one of an Ottawa bridge and the other captioned, “Str. Prince Rupert leaving for Vancouver.”

First and last pages of the album. The last photograph shows a steamer heading towards Vancouver. However the Conan Doyle party never made it past Mount Robson.

Whether the Department of the Interior album was intended for public viewing or not, one thing is certain—Topley’s western excursions were addictive. The photographer was drawn to the grand western landscapes. Retired Library and Archives Canada photo archivist and Topley expert Andrew Rodger writes in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography: “Topley and his wife, who died in 1927, spent much of their last years in Edmonton with their daughter, Helena Sarah, and son-in-law, Robert C.W. Lett, an employee of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. The latter was probably influential in the naming of the town of Topley, a community on the rail line in northern British Columbia.

William Topley died in Vancouver in 1930.

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