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Archives of Ontario releases turn-of-the-century memories of Prince Edward County

Hop pickers at Bert Cooper’s yard in Bloomfield

Turn-of-the-century memories of Prince Edward County saved by an antique dealer have been released to the public domain by the Archives of Ontario.

The fonds consist of 876 black and white photographs primarily from glass plate negatives, although nitrate negatives, glass lantern slides and prints are also included circa 1898 to 1930. They document leisurely activities of middle- and upper-class families. Activities depicted include picnicking, people in parlours, drinking tea and people by the lake.

Marsden Kemp

The photographs are the output of Marsden A. Kemp’s amateur passion for photography. A resident of Kingston and Picton, he was known to travel Eastern Ontario by bicycle capturing images from that era.

The glass plate negatives were found in the 1960s by Picton antique dealer George Miller. The Archives on Ontario notes Miller found about 4,000 to 5,000 negatives and managed to salvage almost 1,000 of them as the passage of time and the storage conditions had taken their toll on most of the negatives. He also had prints made from many of the negatives.

The Archives notes many of the photograph descriptions are unclear since relatively few of the glass plate negatives have inscriptions, thus the content of a large number of the photographs remained unidentified.

In 1968 the Archives of Ontario acquired 64 copy prints of the negatives from Mr. Miller and in 1970 acquired the original glass negatives from Thomas Bouckley of Oshawa. One single copy print was donated from another source in 1967, although it was not identified as a Marsden Kemp photograph at the time of donation.

Kemp was the fifth child of George John Kemp (1825-1890) and Mary Jane McTaggart (1827-1911). Kemp, along with all of his siblings (Eliza, George, Mary, Edward and Horatio) were born in Jamaica. They emigrated to Kingston sometime before 1860.

The Archives notes little information is otherwise available about Kemp’s life. He had a promising start as a pianist but a hunting accident cut that future away. Instead, he became a piano tuner in Kingston. He eventually moved or retired to Picton where he was noted as an avid gardener. Besides photography and gardening, his photographs also reveal an interest in the outdoors, particularly canoeing. His main period of photography, as reflected in his records, was from about 1900 to 1914.

He died on April 5, 1943 at the home for the aged in Picton.

Click here to view the entire collection. Prints can be ordered from the Archives of Ontario.

Included include historic buildings, canning activities, ice cutting at the Picton Harbour, horse-drawn wagons loaded with apples, Picton Collegiate girls callisthenic class, hop harvesting at Bert Cooper’s farm, among many other others.


All images from the Marsden Kem/Archives of Ontario

Apple barrels stocked on the dock awaiting transport, at Picton

Boys sailing prams in Picton Harbour

Town Hill, Picton

Picton Collegiate girls callisthenic class

Cyclists at Glenora hill

Employees standing outside tomato cannery, Picton

Cutting ice at Picton Harbour

Cattle laying on a sand hill

B.R. Hepburn’s Rickarton Castle

Alexander MacDonnell farm, Black Creek

Castle Inn

Horse-drawn wagon loaded with apple barrels


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  1. John Lyons says:

    The Senior Archivist, for the Archives of Ontario, tells me that he would very much appreciate it, if viewers of the photos, who might be able to identify the location, or content, of any of the unmarked photos, or correct any errors, or omissions, in the current descriptions, to please type your information into the comment box underneath each photo, and they would be happy to make any verified corrections to them.

  2. It’s high time we get serious about promoting educational tourism in the County. Understanding what local heritage is has been a great bonus for the crosscultural experiences I’ve offered here over the last 20 years. Many newcomers and foreign visitors appreciate more than the “low hanging fruit” of what they can get in other locations. Deepening their experiences builds an interest in coming back to discover more about what’s unique to this region.

  3. Borys Holowacz says:

    Wonderful, delightful photos. Clicking the link provided at bottom of the article allows for a thorough review at near full-screen size.

  4. Dennis Fox says:

    What a wonderful photographic record of the County. Thanks to the photographer, Marsden Kemp and to antique collector George Miller for preserving this record.

    I’m not sure if such a record would be taken today – with the development of cell phones, I would imagine that many photos would simply be deleted into cyberspace. Does anyone know if a photo record of today is being taken and stored?

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