A New Brunswick Album: Glimpses of the Way We Were


ISBN 0-88882-096-8





Reviewed by Richard Wilbur

Randall White is the author of Voice of Region: On the Long Journey to
Senate Reform in Canada, Too Good to Be True: Toronto in the 1920s, and
Global Spin: Probing the Globalization Debate.


Few provinces can match New Brunswick’s lode of historical photographs, thanks to the efforts of pioneers in this field such as George Taylor of Fredericton and Saint John’s Isaac Erb. Their work has been widely publicized in various works in recent years. In making selections for her New Brunswick Album, Mary Peck has wisely chosen from less familiar sources. Thanks to her close association with the Public Archives of New Brunswick, where she worked for several years, she has come up with a truly fascinating collection of “the way we were” from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth.

Putting all this material into some logical sequence posed the challenge and the resulting sections, of necessity, are somewhat uneven. The most successful in terms of geographic distribution and content, in my view, are those depicting New Brunswickers “At Work” and “At Play, “ but these headings are slightly misleading. “At Work” really applies to outdoor economic endeavours while “Town and City Life” depicts urban service work such as hostelling, dentistry, and clothing stores.

Not that this matters, since the photos are so clearly reproduced and in most cases are so large as to delight the general reader as well as specialists seeking information on lifestyles and fashions of our recent past.

Indeed, I found the section “Contrast Life-styles” one of the most fascinating. Here you can compare the grand dining in a Saint John private club with the fare at a Sussex boarding room. The grandson of Sir William Van Horne sits gingerly in his shining pedal-car while, on the opposite page, three rural children play with their cart in front of their humble farm home.

A tight publishing deadline might explain the author’s failure to identify some of the subjects in the more recent photos, especially those depicting public events. In the scene showing the King and Queen visiting Moncton in 1939, those “other officials” were Moncton’s Mayor W.C. McMonagle and Premier A.A. Dysart. Current residents at the Woodstock Indian Reserve could have identified the two artisans pictured on page 107, and the name of the teacher in the 1955 class photo at Lower Knoxford School, Carleton County, should have been given.

Another small quibble: the author should have used serious captions rather than reaching for some thin humour. And there are factual errors: in 1951, during her royal visit, Elizabeth was still Princess, as George VI was still alive.

In all, however, this is a fine effort, one that should help compensate for the huge gap in our heritage caused by the loss of the thousands of family photo albums that do not survive the generation that instigated them. This handsome volume is a treasure.



Peck, Mary Biggar, “A New Brunswick Album: Glimpses of the Way We Were,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 17, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/34424.