Take a peek at some of the fascinating photos that Ryerson received from the New York Times’s archives
Late last year, the Ryerson Image Centre got its hands on a gallerist’s dream: 25,000 images from the New York Times’s archives. The collection, donated by GTA real estate executive Chris Bratty, documents how Canada was covered throughout the 20th century.
The RIC is still busy cataloguing the images, but this week, it unveiled 14 portraits from the collection: Canadian celebrities, including Margaret Atwood and David Suzuki, blown up into a 133-foot vinyl wrap on the RIC’s facade. And, in September, it will feature about 230 images in the gallery’s fifth-anniversary exhibition, Faraway Nearby, and an accompanying book.
“It was critical for us that these photos not just stay put away in boxes,” says Paul Roth, the RIC’s gallery director. “A lot of archives and libraries think of themselves as repositories. We think of ourselves as a laboratory. The images have to be accessible, literally pulled out, put on the wall, circulated, published—any way we can think of to get them out.” Here, we reveal the stories behind some of the photos in the collection.
The Montreal Bounce • Circa 1924
Looking through images from the 19th and early 20th century, Roth found a surprising number of shots of people being tossed into the air as a sort of hazing or initiation ritual. “Prior to seeing this photo,” says Roth, “I’d never heard of the ‘Montreal bounce.’” The act in this particular picture earned its name from the Montreal snowshoe club, which would fling new members, recognized guests and race winners into the air.
Banff Springs Hotel • 1928
This shot was used as a promotional image for Banff tourism—though it’s more than a little spooky. “What fascinates me is the mysterious isolation of these figures,” says Roth. “Who are these people? What is this strange place where there’s a swimming pool in the middle of this landscape?”
Toronto Maple Leafs in the trenches • 1939
Hockey is one of the most common subjects in the New York Times collection. In this shot from World War II, Leafs players march through a trench at a machine-gun target range during a military training session (the exact location is unknown). The Leafs were in constant training, in case they ever got called to duty. “I love the sense that one team was as important as the next team,” says Roth. “Being Maple Leafs meant that these people were tribally associated with their team no matter what… They might move onto a conflict of a different type, one with higher stakes, but at the same time, they draw their identity from their relationship with their teammates.”
The Calgary Stampede • 1951
In this shot, Chief Little Dog of the Kainai Nation and his wife, Antoinette Heavy Shield of the Siksika Nation, present a gift to Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh before the 1951 Calgary Stampede. By this point, Roth says, the roles of the leaders in the photo were largely ceremonial.
Peace protestors at an Easter Parade • 1959
“My first impression was: look how well-dressed these protesters are,” Roth says, chuckling. Most of these protesters were part of the Student Christian Movement at the University of Toronto. The group was marching against the Cold War arms race and calling on Canada to help bring about peace.
Trudeaumania • 1968
The man in this photograph serves as a stand-in for the viewer, wondering what this wall of Trudeaus is all about. Back then, Trudeaumania played out in the newspapers, which published images of Pierre Trudeau over and over again. “Now you’re more likely to see people taking selfies with Justin,” says Roth. “But in many ways, I think it’s the same phenomenon.”
Buffy Sainte-Marie • Circa 1971
As a musician and activist, Buffy Sainte-Marie became emblematic of Indigenous issues, environmentalism and the rights of women. “Sadly, there aren’t a huge number of Indigenous people photographed in this collection who would immediately communicate to a broad public audience the political strength, forbearance and perseverance of Canada’s Indigenous populations,” Roth says. “But Sainte-Marie does.”
Margaret Atwood • Circa 1989
“This picture was really made for putting on a large public building,” Roth says. “It’s a close-up, stunningly direct and charismatic.” The photo was taken around the time Atwood’s seventh book, Cat’s Eye, came out. At the time, Atwood was already 30 years into her career and had established herself as one of the greats in Canadian literature.
David Suzuki • Circa 1993
When this photo was taken, Suzuki was teaching at the University of British Columbia’s Sustainable Research Development Institute and hosting the PBS miniseries The Secret of Life. As a scientist, says Roth, Suzuki made academic subject matter accessible to a large audience. He continues that today, urging for public understanding of climate change and fighting for environmental protection.