Eva Urban, Avonport, remembers Edson Graham, the photographer who captured many early 1900s Valley scenes on film.
A superb photographer of the likes of another famous Nova Scotia artist with the camera, A. L. Hardy, Graham’s greatest claim to fame may simply be that he preserved for future generations Valley scenery and a lifestyle that have long vanished. In a recent column on Graham, I recalled that he delighted in shooting seascapes, ox teams, covered bridges and that like.
Urban, who is nearing 90, worked for Graham as his assistant in his Wolfville studio from 1930 to 1942. After her marriage, Urban continued to work for Graham “at busy times.” There were periods, Urban said, when she supervised as many as five girls who had to be called in to help Graham with clerical work and printing. “He was the photographer for Acadia (University)” Urban remembers. “That’s why we were so busy at times and needed extra people. All the students had their pictures taken there; freshmen, the debating team, the football team, all the groups would come down to have their picture taken for the yearbook.”
Graham’s Acadia Studio was located on the north side of Main Street (a photograph of the studio can be found on page 79 of the Wolfville history, Mud Creek, which places it opposite the mouth of Gaspereau Avenue). Urban recalls that a reception area, small studio, workshop and darkroom were on the ground floor; upstairs was a larger studio with different scenery backdrops.
“He was a perfect gentleman, quite formal and hard to get to know,” Urban recalls of Graham. “He called me Miss MacIntosh (her maiden name) all the time, never Eva once all the years I worked for him.”
Urban has several photographs of the interior of Graham’s studio that she cherishes. One is of her standing in his studio, another of Graham himself. Graham passed away in 1956, living out his retirement years with a widowed sister in Florida, but Urban says that he came back to Wolfville on several occasions. “He came down to visit me here in Avonport when he was home,” she said, “and I was so pleased to see him. I guess because I wasn’t working for him anymore he wasn’t so formal.”
As mentioned in the previous column on Graham, the photographer’s first contact with Wolfville began when he became the manager of the W. W. Robson studio. Robson apparently ran a photography business in both Windsor and Wolfville. In the Wolfville history, Mud Creek, it is noted that in 1904 Robson “had increased his photography work in Wolfville from two days to four, in consequence of having received so much assistance from Wolfville merchants after the disastrous Windsor fire.”
The brief biography on Graham in An Atlantic Album states that in 1905 he moved to Windsor and lived there for 45 years. However, the various references in Mud Creek indicate a life-long association with Wolfville. In the history, Graham is listed as a member of the Wolfville Chamber of Commerce in 1939, a charter member of the Wolfville Rotary Club (1935) a charter member of the Wolfville Historical Society (1941) and a Wolfville town councillor in 1919 and 1920. In 1940, notes the history, Graham had completed 35 years in the “photography business (and) changed the name of his establishment to Acadia Studio.”
(My thanks to Roscoe Potter, Wolfville, for directing me to Graham’s former assistant, Eva Urban and for providing information on the photographer).