Face Your Fears Day: Some of George Hunter's Close Encounters While Photographing Around the World

By Alexandra Wells
Canada Summer Jobs Position

“A picture is worth a thousand words” has never been truer than it was for George Hunter. Except for him, it may have taken a few thousand words just to explain how he captured his final shot!  

This October 8th is recognized as Face Your Fears Day in Canada and in celebration, the CHPF would like to share some of George Hunter’s self-proclaimed “close encounters”.

George travelled all around the globe, immersing himself into various communities and capturing photos of places that few others have the opportunity to visit. This not only ensured he captured the photo(s) he wanted but also resulted in some fantastic stories and “close encounters” that George himself kept track of in a list that was left to the CHPF, along with his photography and other records.

They may seem far-fetched but by George’s own records, here are just a few…

In 1979, on his third trip to Afghanistan, he caught the last flight out of Kabul the day the Russians invaded and airports and airlines were closed down.

Was chased out of Algeria by a gun-toting gang after apparently offending a crowd at a church in a small village near the frontier.

Chased by irate whip-wielding cameleer in Iran after having been warned not to photograph a caravan with veiled women on horseback. 

Some of his close encounters were recorded without any explanation at all, only adding to their already bizarre nature. For example, 

Kidnapped enroute to Copenhagen – Oslo – captor became a life-long friend.

We aren’t entirely sure how George became wrapped up in so many unusual and potentially dangerous situations, but they weren’t limited to his international travels. Some happened on his photography assignments across Canada as well, 

Jumped by a moose while photographing CPR train in Banff National Park.

Helicopter in Labrador exploded, breaking pilot’s legs, only minutes after landing and Hunter stepping out of it.

Extremely lucky when his chartered Navajo ran out of fuel. The pilot managed to glide to the first foot of runway at Toronto International Airport.

After Summer aboard Hudson Bay’s supply ship, Nascopie, in Canadian High Arctic, sank on her next voyage.

Stopped on highway at gunpoint by RCMP who thought he was an escaped convict.

Possibly the most frequently shared of George’s close encounters is when he was ejected from the opened door of an aircraft while flying over Edmonton taking aerial shots and the pilot swerved to avoid a bird. As the story goes, George managed to hold onto the wing with one arm and his camera with the other. He made sure that his 20lb aerial camera was safely back in the plane before swinging himself in behind. Apparently, George told people he made sure to wear two seatbelts when flying with the doors opened after that.

George Hunter with his aerial cameras

George Hunter with his aerial cameras

George was never one to shy away from putting himself in fearful situations, in fact he often was willing to do whatever it took to get his shot. This could mean climbing the 50-foot ladder attached to the top of his coach bus, balancing on factory ceiling beams, strapping himself into a small plane with the door open, or allowing himself to be raised into the air with only the hook of a crane to keep him from falling. Whatever the situation, George always made sure to leave with a photo.

George Hunter may have had the opportunity to experience more than most but even at home in Canada he never let fear stop him from doing what he loved most – photography. We hope that this Face Your Fears Day, you too are able to find some adventure without letting fear stop you.

George Hunter Photographs on Exhibit @ The Legislative Assembly, Toronto: August - December 2019



Community Exhibits Program
The Legislative Assembly of Ontario
The West Wing Gallery
August - December 2019

The Community Exhibits Program is an opportunity for cultural organizations from across Ontario to showcase their treasures and share their stories with a wider audience.  The Legislative Assembly selected The Canadian Heritage Photography Foundation (CHPF) to display a selection of photographs, cameras and ephemera from the George Hunter collection.

The Canadian Heritage Photography Foundation is pleased to present photographs from our current digitization project of George Hunter’s images of Ontario.  Hunter is a well-known Canadian photographer.  In 1976, he became one of the first photographers to be elected an academician of the Royal Academy of Arts.  He was a documentary photographer who dedicated his life to capturing Canada’s industrial life, agricultural and rural landscape, cultural diversity and rich heritage.  After his death in 2013, CHPF was bequeathed his archive of over 100,000 negatives, transparencies and prints.  Made possible in part by the Documentary Heritages Communities Program through Library and Archives Canada, CHPF is excited to begin the process of digitizing these important images and making them available to the public.

To learn more about the Community Exhibits Program visit the Legislative Assembly of Ontario website:
The current display is available from August 14th until December 2019 in the West Wing Gallery, Legislative Assembly, Toronto.

The 1937 British Coronation: George Hunter's First Step Towards a Career in Photography

By Alexandra Wells
Canada Summer Jobs Position

George Hunter’s photographic career spanned over 70 years. His interest in photography dates as far back as 1937, when he was selected from his school to attend the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

At the age of 15, George first took part in an election process at his high school, Norwood Collegiate, to choose which student would be selected to travel to London, England to attend the Coronation and other related events. He addressed the Superintendent of the Norwood Schools, his teachers, and fellow students to explain why he thought he should be the student voted to represent his high school at the historic events. While going through George Hunter’s textural records during the CHPF summer archival initiative, we discovered journal pages containing George’s original electoral speech where he asked people to vote for him.

“I am sure that I will get the utmost good from this trip as I am using a hundred dollars of my own money and if there is any Scotch in me you may be sure that I will get full value for all the money spent.”

School Notes by George Hunter  c. 1937

School Notes by George Hunter

c. 1937

According to his personal records, after being selected by his peers and school officials George bought his first camera, a Voigtländer Bessa, specifically to record the trip. Found along with the above page were other handwritten notes by George which journaled his impression of the overseas trip and his unique experience.

“One of the first and most memorable days of the trip was the one in which we set foot ashore in England. I think that day will live long in the memory of all us Canadian boys who got off the boat in the morning and took a little English train from Southampton up to London. Each boy was all eyes that day as he wanted to see everything at once. Everything was so new and different and it seemed just as though we were in another world. We passed through much very picturesque scenery and were amazed at the greeness of the countryside.”

The largest event of the trip however was the Coronation itself, which occurred on May 12, 1937 - coincidentally one day after George’s sixteenth birthday. In his recollection of the historic day George writes;

“… rain began to fall in torrents but nobody seemed to mind it. Many rows of troops from every colony in the British Empire passed before us and when the Canadian Mounties came along all the Canadian boys and girls cheered at the tops of their voices. When the King and Queen passed sometime afterwards we hardly had any voices left for them although quite an applause was given. As we stood there watching the procession it gave us a wonderful thrill and made us feel proud that we were British Subjects. When the Royal Coaches passed into the courtyard of the Palace, the people started swarming towards the gates and began to shout, “We want the King, we want the King.” The doors of the balcony opened and the people all cheered but when they saw it was only a butler they began yelling “We want the King” again. After half an hour the King gave in and the whole Royal Family came out on the balcony.”

George’s personal notes even mentions seeing the daughters of the newly reigning couple, one of which is of course the now long-standing Monarch, HRH Queen Elizabeth II.

“The two little Princesses had the time of their lives waving their hands at the crowd.”

George’s journal goes on to record other events and festivities that he attended in England after the Coronation. One such event was the Naval Review where he and other children were assigned to different Battleships, from which they would view the Royal Yacht and more celebrations on the following day. Even then, George had a talent for finding adventure and in his notes he wrote;

“Owing to some mistake which later proved beneficial to us, the boat we were to board was not notified of our coming and consequently did not send out a [yacht]. The tender docked beside a giant Aircraft Carrier and we were told to come aboard while a [yacht] would be made ready to take to our ship the Crusader. We spent an hour going through this vessel seeing some of its wonderful mechanisms. The Vice Admirals [yacht] was used to take us across the water to the Crusader. The First officer was roused out of bed and we had to explain to him just who we were and why we were there as they didn’t know a thing about us. We visited the Captain next morning and after a chat with him he gave us permission to do anything we liked on the ship. He must have trusted that we wouldn’t pull anchor and sail down to the Mediterranean or up to the Baltic.”

It’s clear that George’s habit of attracting unique situations began at a young age. Once he returned to Canada, George was asked to address the South East Manitoba’s Teachers’ Association to tell them about his overseas experience. He used the above pages from his journal in his address, as well as photos he took during the trip. This experience sparked George’s unending desire for seeking adventure and ultimately led to his lifelong career as a photographer.

George Hunter: Witness in the Mines

By Megan Fothergill
Digitization Student - Young Canada Works Position, Summer 2019

Most Canadians will never see the inside of a mine, despite mining playing a significant role in the Canadian economy. Currently more than 425,000 Canadians are employed in mineral extraction, processing and manufacturing. Canada extracts more than 60 minerals and metals and ranks in the top five countries for global production for 16 of them. You can read the Mining Association of Canada’s ‘Facts and Figures 2018’ report for more information on Canadian mining: https://mining.ca/documents/facts-and-figures-2018/

George Hunter was one of the few people outside the industry to take a good look at what miners did on a day-to-day basis, and to photograph it well. George’s images open up the tight tunnels to the world and to help the Canadian public gain a better understanding of what these men were doing on a daily basis. The remoteness of many mining operations led many workers to move to communities built specifically to accommodate the influx of personnel, and many communities owe their existence and expansion to Canadian mining, including Elliot Lake, Kirkland Lake, Timmins, and the Greater Sudbury Area. What made their experiences unique however was the environment in which they worked. In northern Ontario they work deep in the Canadian shield in tunnels many people would find claustrophobic, often ankle deep in water and working alongside deafening machines in small spaces.

George Hunter had a special relationship with Canadian mining; much of his commercial work in Canada and in Ontario was for mining companies. His photographs were used in presentations to banks and investors, giving “life and realism” to the relatively unknown field, and in offices and annual reports to bring “warmth and conviction” about the work being done. George believed that photography was an important partner to industry and visited more than 40 mining sites over the course of his career. George’s images bring a unique perspective into the everyday lives of Canadians during the late 20th century, more of which we hope to share as the team at the Canadian Heritage Photography Foundation continue to catalogue and digitize George’s images of Ontario.


The above pamphlet is an an example of how George would market his photography to the mining industry. One interesting method to attract customers was suggesting multiple companies contribute to one trip; companies could work together to fund one of George’s 100+ cross-Canada trips to reduce the individual costs to themselves. One or more of these trips would end up supporting the brochure to the left and below, which was presented as part of the Sixth Commonwealth Mining and Metallurgical Congress in 1956.

Sixth Commonwealth Mining and Metallurgical Congress
George Hunter

A.Y. Jackson and Maurice Hall Haycock

By Aggie Frasunkiewicz
Young Canada Works Position, Summer 2019

The Group of Seven, active in the 1920s and 1930s cemented the iconic Canadian landscape within the global artistic community. The Group, established in 1920 by artists Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, Franz Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H MacDonald, and F.H. Varley frequently travelled to remote areas of Canada to capture the rugged Canadian scenery. Although the works of the Group of Seven often depicted Canada as terra nullius (nobody’s land), devoid of Indigenous presence, the impact made by the Group on the art world in the 20th century was insurmountable.

Of the many expeditions taken by A.Y. Jackson, the trip he took to Ellesmere Island with Dr. Frederick Banting in 1927 forged a strong, and long-lasting friendship with Maurice Hall Haycock - the Canadian Arctic Artist. Jackson and Banting went on a government sponsored excursion, which aided the Canadian government to establish a sense of Canadian possession of the Arctic as foreign explorers challenged Canadian jurisdiction. Maurice Hall Haycock, sometimes referred to as an unofficial member of the Group of Seven started out in the Arctic on a surveying assignment shortly after graduating with a BSc and a MA in Geology. Haycock began painting from the many photographs he took in the Arctic, and soon after began experimenting with watercolours and pastels en plein air.

After their initial encounter, Haycock and Jackson began communicating back and forth and went on many painting trips around Canada and the Arctic. Their works created a discernible Canadian identity with the Arctic that ensured Canadian sovereignty of the North.

This photograph, taken by George Hunter depicts A.Y. Jackson and Maurice Haycock carrying their Pochade boxes and their stools walking towards another painting location. Behind Haycock and Jackson is George Hunter’s custom built Prevost coach bus “Photography”, built in the mid 1960’s. The coach bus was outfitted with an office, a darkroom, and sleeping/living quarters, as well as a twenty-five foot hydraulic ladder that permitted high-angle shots.

O Canada

By Emily Hall
Canada Summer Jobs Position

Canada Day is a national holiday, observed on July 1st of every year since 1867. The 37 million residents of Canada will be celebrating this national holiday over the weekend with family BBQ’s, parade’s, parties and fireworks. Here is a summary of what is happening around Canada Day at CHPF.

George Hunter

George Hunter

CHPF is very proud to house the George Hunter archive. He was widely published and likely Canada's most travelled photographer. Hunter spent seven decades creating dramatic images across Canada and travelling around the nation more than 100 times. Notably, the Canada Post has used five of George’s images on their stamps and the Bank of Canada chose two for their $5, $10 bills in the 1972 – 1988 banknote series. His photographs appeared in newspapers, magazines, textbooks and atlases, and one is even travelling in space in a time capsule aboard the NASA probe Voyager.

In addition to our current project, Images of Ontario by George Hunter, RCA - Digitization and Preservation Project funded in part by the Documentary Heritage Communities Program through Library and Archives Canada, CHPF summer students began digitizing George Hunter’s O Canada slideshow of 35mm slide transparencies and will make it available to view in the coming months. For the O Canada presentation Hunter collaborated with Ken Clayton, a longtime friend of Hunter, on a concert featuring the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra playing in time to an image show of more than 800 photographs. Check out a sneak peek at O Canada by George Hunter below:

George Hunter is known for his portraits and landscapes of Northern communities but his body of work also spans across a diverse genres and subject matters, from intimate portraits in family living rooms to iconic Canadian landscapes captured from airplanes.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the exciting festivities every year, between trips to the cottage and parties in the city. But it’s important to remember the people who were here before the first French and English settlers all the way back in 1534. While this year Canada celebrates its 152nd birthday, some indigenous tribes go back thousands of years and have long been forgotten during the festivities. The name ‘Canada’ was actually a gift from Indigenous peoples, coming from the Iroquoian word, kanata, meaning ‘village.’

 "My mission is to show Canadians, and the world, a little of our country. The more they see something of Canada's grandeur and diversity of its people, the more they will appreciate it. I will not rest a minute until my mission is accomplished."
- George Hunter

National Indigenous Peoples Day

By Emily Hall
Canada Summer Jobs Position

National Indigenous People’s Day is June 21st and celebrates the heritage, cultural diversity and achievements of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. Canada’s Governor General proclaimed the first National Indigenous Peoples Day 23 years ago in 1996. It is celebrated as a local holiday throughout the Yukon, North West Territories and Nunavut whilst being observed in the rest of the country. Today there are many events happening across the country, such as language lessons, blanket festivals & feasts, viewings of short films created by Indigenous Canadians and various ceremonies.

Photos by george hunter ”Views of the north” baker lake 1946

Photos by george hunter
”Views of the north”
baker lake 1946

Photographer George Hunter was sent to observe and record one of the eleven Inuit groups during the winter of 1946 located in Baker Lake, NWT, where the average temperature in June is only eight degrees. Located 320 km inland from Hudson Bay, it is near the nation's geographical centre, and is known for being the Canadian Arctic's sole inland community. The series developed from this expedition was called “Views of the North”, which focuses on the daily interactions, schooling and family lives of the Indigenous Peoples. Baker Lake was given its English name in 1761, whereas Baker Lake’s Inuktitut name is Qamani’tuaq, which means “ where the river widens”.

Photos by george hunter ”Views of the north” baker lake 1946

Photos by george hunter
”Views of the north”
baker lake 1946

National Indigenous People’s day is important for everyone in Canada to celebrate regardless of their cultural background. It is a way to support and connect with Indigenous communities across Canada and allows Indigenous communities like the ones in Baker Lake to be remembered and celebrated.

Project Update: Digitizing The George Hunter Archive

Images of Ontario by George Hunter, RCA - Digitization and Preservation Project
Check out a sneak peek of the digitized Ontario negatives and film transparencies by George Hunter

During the digitization process, our team of students from the Young Canada Works in Heritage Organizations program along with the Canada Summer jobs initiative have come across a wide range of different sizes of negatives and film transparencies. Our team are using our new Epson V800 and V600 scanners to digitize using film holders and are working with a guide for best practices. A major challenge faced early in the project was related to scanning large negative transparencies. Many were curled due to age and would not fit in the holders, making it difficult to produce high quality digital images. As a resolution we are using newton glass to not only help with newton rings, which is an issue for the large colour transparencies, but also to help keep the large negatives flat for scanning.

The process of pulling the materials for this project to scan requires a significant amount of preparation. This process includes: auditing boxes, assigning accession numbers and creating accurate catalogue records. The materials also need to be placed in proper housing to preserve them for the future. We are custom creating our own negative sleeves while preserving George Hunter’s original envelopes with illustrated labels, titles and dates.

George Hunter shot with a variety of cameras and explored both black and white and colour photography. The George Hunter fonds are diverse with a wide range of photographic materials. Hunter explored and embraced the progression of new photographic inventions and materials. He really did move with the times, starting off with black and white film and moving forward with colour and finally fully embracing the digital era. It is very fitting that CHPF can digitize these images and move forward with Hunter’s vision to share the works of Canadian photographers.

Some highlights from the first one thousand five hundred scans include aerial views of Toronto, parliament buildings, mines, landscapes and portraits. Hunter’s Ontario images call attention to the many industries, developments and changes this province has experienced.

This project has been made possible in part by the government of Canada’s Documentary Heritage Communities Program through Library and Archives Canada.

Aerial works: A collection of George Hunter's aerial photographs as seen in TIME and MacLean's.

Aerial works: A collection of George Hunter's aerial photographs as seen in TIME and MacLean's.

George Hunter’s photographs have appeared in many publications over the years, including various newspapers, magazines, and books. Some notable magazines that have featured his work include TIME Magazine, TIME Canada, and MacLean’s, who have all had multi-page spreads featuring George’s aerial photography from all across Canada and the United States. The letter from the publisher in these issues of TIME and TIME Canada also discuss George and the work he did in these shoots. Here, we would like to share with you these letters and photographs, as well as the article that accompanies his spread in MacLean’s. We hope you enjoy!

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Digitizing The George Hunter Archive

Images of Ontario by George Hunter, RCA - Digitization and Preservation Project

This project has been made possible in part by the government of Canada’s Documentary Heritage Communities Program through Library and Archives Canada

The goal of the project is to digitize 4,000 Ontario Negatives by George Hunter

The project timeline is May 1, 2019 – September 1, 2019

- Scan and Catalogue 4,000 Ontario Negatives
- Rehouse the scanned negatives
- Create an online digital collection