A Fur Trader's Photographs: A.A. Chesterfield in the District of Ungava, 1901-4


113 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-7735-0593-8




Reviewed by Trevor S. Raymond

Trevor S. Raymond is a teacher and librarian with the Peel Board of Education and editor of Canadian Holmes.


The nearly 130 photographs in this volume are only slightly more extraordinary than the story of the book itself. The latter began in 1973 when W.C. James was assigned an office at Queen’s University, where he teaches in the Department of Religion. Among the papers and books left by his predecessors was an album of 28 photos, with handwritten captions, by an unidentified photographer. Mr. James assumed that any photographs of special interest had been published, until an editor of the Canadian Geographic viewed the collection. Mr. James then began a lengthy period of “rigorous investigation” which included archival visits, travel to the north and west, and ultimately, a sabbatical leave to pursue his inquiries. Contemporary Cree and Inuit and anthropologists were consulted for interpretations of some of the pictures.

This fascinating book is the result. The photos, for which Mr. James wrote an accompanying text, were taken by A.A. Chesterfield some eighty years ago when he worked in Labrador and the James Bay area for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Few of Mr. Chesterfield’s colleagues appear; his subjects were the land, the post buildings and ships, and the native people. Here we see Inuit and Cree indelibly portrayed before “a host of police, teachers, nurses, social workers, and civil servants” would forever remove their unique way of life. Here is recorded “in marvellous detail” Inuit and Cree clothing, shelter, means of transport, and in one remarkable sequence, an Inuk hunter stalking a seal. But what lingers, and draws one back after the book is closed, is the portraiture. How splendidly and poignantly Chesterfield captured the faces of these unknown Canadians!

The book concludes with a chapter on the more than half-century of life that remained to A.A. Chesterfield after he left the north. He died in 1959. Mr. James has rescued from obscurity an interesting Canadian and has made available a collection of photographs that belongs in every library of books on the Canadian north.


James, William C., “A Fur Trader's Photographs: A.A. Chesterfield in the District of Ungava, 1901-4,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 27, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/35679.