By David F. Rooney
Search the Internet for Ralph Beaumont and you’ll turn up the description “avid railfan.” That may be true but it hardly does the Ontario native justice.
Beaumont has written a number of books about railways in his home province and has just published his most ambitious project to date — Heckman’s Canadian Pacific : A Photographic Journey, about which he will be speaking at the Revelstoke Railway Museum on Tuesday, July 21. Beaumont will sign copies of his book and make a special lunch time public presentation about it. This event starts at 11 am and ends at 1 pm.
Heckman’s Canadian Pacific is a 328-page volume about pioneer photographer Joseph Heckman who, between 1898 and 1915, travelled across Canada by train and hand car shooting images of the national railway system with his glass plate camera.
In so doing, he captured 4,900 views of the CPR at a formative period in its development. Working for the company’s Engineering Department, he photographed not only the CPR’s infrastructure but the people who made it run.
Beaumont combed through the archive and selected 388 photos that not only showcased the CPR’s engineering accomplishments but those that said something about the men and women who made it a living system.
“It’s as much a story about people as it is about the railway,” Beaumont said in a brief video interview that you can watch by activating the YouTube player below. “There are people in every photo.”
Take an image of Albert Canyon that is one of Beaumont’s favourite.
“There’s the station agent and his wife and five little kids. And the photographer came to town so they were dressed in their Sunday best. Back in those days very few people had their pictures taken and it was usually in a studio. These are completely candid photos.”
Heckman’s Canadian Pacific gives us a unique and accurate glimpse into Canada at the turn of the 20th Century, through the lens of one of this country’s most prolific railway photographers.
It’s no wonder, then, that Heckman’s Canadian Pacific: A Photographic Journey was lauded by Canadian Geographic’s John Geiger as “a privileged perspective of Canada through the lens of a dedicated photographer… This book brings Heckman’s images into the light once again, in a work that will serve not only the railway enthusiast but also all those seeking to learn more about Canada.”
You can meet Ralph Beaumont and attend his presentation at the Revelstoke Railway Museum starting at 11 am on Tuesday, July 21.