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

By Kylie Robins
Canada Summer Jobs Position, Summer 2019

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!

TIME Magazine

Following is a transcription of the letter from the publisher and subsequent photographs from the September 20th, 1954 issue of TIME Magazine, featuring a multi-page spread of George’s aerial photographs of the United States at night titled “The U.S. After Dark”. These photographs were the first of their kind, as other photographers claimed that nighttime aerial photography could not be done. To learn more about George and his story, including how he managed to get these incredible photographs, visit the National Film Board’s website to see their Legacies 150 stories on George Hunter.

TIME magazine letter from the publisher, Sept 20th 1954:

The picture below was taken at night from a plane flying over an East Detroit avenue lined with neon latticed used-car lots. For the same shot in colour (and seven pages of "The U.S. After Dark"), see this week's colour spread—the first such aerial colour pictures ever taken. 

When TIME'S Art Director Mike Phillips first planned the layout, the experts said it could not be done. But Phillips remembered one photographer who might be willing to give it a try: George Hunter of Ottawa, who does a lot of aerial photography in Canada, and who has taken on such TIME assignments as the recent colour pictures of the Colorado River (TIME, Aug. 23). Hunter was interested but dubious. Said he: "I don't think it's possible, but let me think about it."

 There were two major items to think about: a fast film and a fast camera lens. As far as the former was concerned, Hunter felt that sensitive Aero Ektachrome film, developed during World War II to take colour pictures of camouflaged installations, would work if it had special darkroom handling.

Then began the search for a lens. The search ended when Eastman happened to mention that they had ground a special 8-in. ∫ /1.5 lens during the war for use in bomb-damage photography. The work had been done for the National Research Council of Canada, and as far as they knew the camera and its unique lens were still in Ottawa. Hunter found that the camera was indeed in Ottawa, and he was given permission to use it.

The first tests were made last February. Hunter came down to New York, rented a Piper Pacer at the Teterboro airport and took off to shoot Manhattan after sunset. "The pictures were so poor," he says, "that I was ready to give up. Just to prove that the job could not be done, I made second tests three days later. Atmospheric conditions were better and the pictures turned out well." Two weeks later Hunter left on his aerial tour of U.S. cities to take the pictures that appear in this week's issue of TIME.

TIME Canada

George Hunter’s work has also appeared in TIME Canada. A number of his aerial photographs of British Columbia appear in the October 27th, 1958 issue of TIME Canada along with an article written by Contributing Editor Robert Parker, celebrating the first 100 years of British Columbia. Below is a letter from the publisher discussing George’s part in this article, followed by copies of his photographs.

Time Canada letter from the publisher, October 27 1958:

The helmeted young man in the helicopter hovering over Victoria’s placid harbour was on the last lap of a major photographic assignment: to show the spectacular profile of British Columbia in colour to TIME readers all over the world on the occasion of the province’s Centennial.

For Toronto Photographer George Hunter, photogenic Victoria was the easiest part of a job that called for 16 commercial airline flights, ten chartered planes, four helicopters, eight rented cars, one bus, one truck, one steamship, several fishing boats and one giraffe (a lineman’s long-necked machine). After lugging his 290 lbs. of camera equipment to 50-odd locales specified in TIME’s shooting script, Hunter shipped off the last of 308 sheets and rolls of film, remarked: “This was my 23rd trip to B.C., but it was the first time I’ve seen so much of it.”

To report the story of big, booming British Columbia after its first 100 years, Time assigned Calgary Bureau Chief Ed Ogle, Vancouver Correspondent Ralph Daly of the Vancouver Sun and James English of the Grande Prairie Herald-Tribune. Ogle criss-crossed the province by plane, car and train, wired 10,000 words on what he saw and learned from British Columbians. English’s beat was the burgeoning Peace River country. In Vancouver, Reporter Daly interviewed leading businessmen and other sources for the hard facts on British Columbia’s industrial development and potential.

In TIME’s New York editorial offices, the editors pored over Hunter’s pictures as they came in, chose the best for a six-page full-colour layout. Finally, when the pictures and reports were assembled, Contributing Editor Robert Parker, onetime Toronto bureau chief, wrote the story of B.C.’s amazing first century. For Hunter’s pictures and Parker’s story, see Canadian Affairs, British Columbia: A Century of Progress and Prosperity.

This week, we at TIME are noting another anniversary: the 15th year of TIME’s Canadian edition, which each week reports the world to Canada and Canada to the world.

To mark TIME’s coverage of Canada since 1943, we have prepared an illustrated booklet, In Our Time, of year-by-year excerpts from TIME stories about significant Canadian news and newsmakers. In it we include highlights of Canadian news as it was reported when it happened. In addition, we explain just how TIME’s four Canada bureaus and 30 special correspondents across Canada go about reporting Canadian stories such as those in this week’s issue for 200,000 Time-reading Canadian families (46,065 when the edition began). Thus, our booklet is designed to serve as a record of important Canadian news as Time has reported it to an ever-growing number of readers over the past 15 years.


MacLean’s Magazine is another well-known Canadian publication that has featured George Hunter’s work. In the Feb 8, 1964 issue, the magazine had an article all about Canada titled “The Land that Holds the People Together”. It is here that six of George’s aerial photographs from across Canada were featured, shown below with the article.

MacLean’s magazine Feb 8, 1964 edition “The Land that Holds the People Together”

Photography by George Hunter, text by Blair Fraser

Whatever arises to divide Canadians, one quiet but deep response unites them: a feeling for the land itself. The feeling, although we don’t often say so aloud, is love.

As a Nation Canada never did make economic sense. The stresses and tensions of today have always been with us — regions and religions and kinship groups have always lain uneasily with each other. Economically we can never hope for better than a second-highest standard of living, within near and tantalizing view of the highest. And at any time in the past two centuries we could have solved our problems merely by rolling up the undefended border and disappearing into the great continental melting-pot of the United States, taking our share of the way and the standard of life that the whole world seems to envy. Why have we never done this?

Evidently there is something in Canada that matters to us more than money. We may not be able to say exactly what it is, any more than we can say what life is or what happiness is, but we know it when we see it. We know some of the things that make it up, and they have nothing to do with the standard of living. The homecoming Canadian would still feel the same lift of the heart if there were not a single television set or supermarket from Cape Race to Nootka Sound.

Each of us has his own picture that the word Canada brings to his mind's eye, and the pictures can lie very far apart. Some are of the nooks and crannies of rough coastline, cast or west; some the sweep of the great plain; some the green forest, grey rock and blue water of the Canadian shield. But they would surely have this much in common: they would all be pictures of the land itself. Not of the shiny new second-best cities, still less of the political symbols and slogans and windy abstractions with which we bore each other. Not pictures of a new, raw young nation, but pictures of a very old land, the oldest in the world.

Man has done no more than scratch the southern edges of it. Nine tenths of it is still as it was when the last glacier receded, twenty thousand years ago. In this vast and wonderful land any Canadian can recapture the illusion of solitude. Any Canadian, be he ever so urban, lives within a hundred miles or so of the empty wilderness, and can see and move among the kind of scenery that made Champlain catch his breath when he, the first white man ever, looked out upon the Great Lakes.

Not everybody likes this. Those who don't are free to go away, and do go away by hundreds of thousands in every generation. Those who do are free to come, from wherever they were born, and be Canadians with us. The land will still be here for us, forever.