Mary Spencer (photographer)

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Mary Spencer
Mary Spencer.png
Mary Spencer in the 1900s
Born(1857-10-04)October 4, 1857
DiedSeptember 1, 1938(1938-09-01) (aged 80)
EducationLincoln County Model School, Toronto Normal School
Known forPhotography

Mary Spencer (1857-1938) was a Canadian photographer.


Margaret Spencer was born on October 4, 1857 in St. Catharines, Ontario[1], the daughter of Margaret and Abraham Spencer. Spencer began her schooling at St. George's and later St. Catherine's Collegiate Institute, before she studied for a teaching degree at Lincoln County Model School beginning in 1877.[1] Her first position as a teacher after gaining her certification was at School Section Number One, Port Severn in 1878. Spencer enrolled in the Toronto Normal School in January 1879 to gain further credentials, gaining a second-class teaching certificate in June 1879. She gained another teaching position after the family relocated to Port Colborne in 1880.

Photographic career[edit]

Shorty Dunn - photograph by Mary Spencer

During her time in Port Colborne Spencer developed her skills in oil painting, and had also taken up photography. She and her mother Margaret and sister Isobel relocated to Kamloops in 1898, and she quickly established a photography studio. Spencer opened her photography studio in Kamloops[2] on June 25, 1899, also offering oil painting classes.[3][1] In 1903 she bought property at 218 Victoria Street and hired an architect to construct a new studio with living quarters above. Her portraits became popular amongst Kamloops notables and many of her scenic images of the Kamloops area were made into postcards and souvenir books.

In May 1906 Spencer was hired by the Vancouver Daily Province to cover the capture and trial of train bandit Bill Miner and his gang,[4] increasing her reputation as a photojournalist. She managed to obtain a series of images of the capture of the gang, even being allowed to photograph the gang during initial questioning and in the courtroom.[5] Her mug shots of Bill Miner, William "Shorty" Dunn, and Louis Colquhuon were published in the local newspaper, the Kamloops Standard. In 1906 Spencer and her sister Isobel purchase an orchard in Summerland, British Columbia, and moved there 3 years later. In 1909 she sold the photography business to Mrs. L.M. Walker[6] and moved to Summerland to run the orchard with her sister.

It is unclear whether Spencer re-established a full photography studio in Summerland, as photographs from that era evidence more family oriented topics, but she continued her artistic endeavors by painting china, was active in the Baptist Church community, and assisted Isobel with cultivating their orchard. Mary Spencer died of pneumonia on September 1, 1938 in the West Summerland hospital.[7]


  1. ^ a b c Foster, Sherril (2013). A steady lens: the true story of pioneer photographer Mary Spencer. Caitlin Press Inc. ISBN 1927575222.
  2. ^ Inland Sentinel, 1899 June 22
  3. ^ Inland Sentinel, 1899 August 22
  4. ^ "Mary Spencer, pioneering photographer, showcased at Kamloops Museum". CBC News. 2015-02-27.
  5. ^ Eight Women Photographers of British Columbia 1860-1978, by Myrna Cobb and Sher Morgan
  6. ^ Inland Sentinel, 1909 September 24
  7. ^ Penticton Herald, 1938 September 8

External links[edit]