Everett Baker Photo Collection brings Saskatchewan's history to life

By: Sarah Ferguson March, 2013

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the worth of the Everett Baker photo collection is priceless.

The collection features 10,000 colour images of Saskatchewan residents’ lives between 1940 and 1957. Now the impressive group of photos can be viewed online, at the Saskatchewan History and Folklore society’s website: http://shfs.ca/

“What makes the images valuable is the fact that they are in colour—most images from that era are in black and white or sepia,” says Finn Anderson, executive director of Saskatchewan’s History and Folklore society (SHFS).

The man behind the camera had a fascinating past. Everett Baker was a transplanted American book salesman who fell in love with Saskatchewan’s landscape and its people.

According to Anderson, while working as a field man for the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, Baker bought a Leica camera for $100 from a German immigrant. The rest became history.

As Baker travelled across Saskatchewan, he used Kodachrome film to capture the lives of the people he met: farmers, families, and everyday people.

“Part of the field man’s job was to promote the area, and attract people to come to their meetings,” Anderson says. “They would have movies with them…and a generator in their car to power it all,” he added. “They would run one to attract the public, and then do their sales pitch.”

Anderson says Baker used his camera as a promotional tool. “He would show his movie, and do a colour slide presentation afterward,” he explains.

Baker died in 1981, and his images were forgotten. In 1997 Anderson stumbled across a newspaper article that claimed that Baker’s historic collection had been forwarded to the Co-operative archives in London Ontario. “I phoned them and was told that 37 binders of slides were sitting there,” Anderson says. “They told me ‘If you can promise you will do something with them, we’ll give them to you,’ he adds.

Anderson acquired the slides in 1998 and began making presentations in the community. They became an important educational tool. “Word got around, and people wanted to use them in various projects,” he says.

In the early 2000s, the moose Jaw Art Gallery curated an exhibit featuring 60 of Baker’s images that continues to tour across Canada. “The exhibit was created so viewers could spend more time with the photos, because slide presentations are so fast,” says Heather smith, curator of the gallery.

Then the Western Development museum became interested in the slides, and partnered with the SHFS to digitize the entire collection - a process that took three years.

Finally, in 2012, 12 teachers from Saskatchewan and Alberta who were taking part in the university of Saskatchewan’s educational Design and Technology course partnered with the SHFS to bring the Everett Baker Collection to the world-- a project that took the group just 13 weeks to complete.

According to JR Dingwall, project operations manager “It came out amazing, and I am really proud of our team.”

“The slides are a looking lens into the history of Saskatchewan… they connect everyone with what it means to be from this province.”