Sunday 3 January 2021

There lies your way, due west

      There lies your way, due west.

VIOLA                                             Then westward ho!
      Grace and good disposition attend your Ladyship!

             Twelfth Night, Act 3, Scene I   William Shakespeare

We’ve inherited a photograph of Bertha M. Ingle that has long been a mystery. It shows Bertha seated in front of the screen-door entrance to a log cabin. She is busy with her brush and palette and Pochade Box, and there’s an umbrella for shade.

The photo is framed in a somewhat unusual way. There’s a mat and glass, which is common, but the mat has a second smaller cutout, below the photo itself, to accommodate these handwritten lines:

For deathless powers to Art belong,

And they like Demi-gods are strong

On whom the Muses smile;


The lines come from a poem by William Wordsworth, but altered slightly with “Art” replacing his word “verse”. We don’t recognize the handwriting.

We’ve wondered for a very long time where the photo was taken. Recently an unexpected clue came our way in the form of a very fine watercolour painting, offered on ebay, signed by Bertha M. Ingle – and there’s a date with the signature, which is quite an unusual circumstance. The painting depicts a pair of sunlit log cabins nestling among dense wilderness trees at the edge of a lake or river. The date is ’15.

Could this be the same place as where the photo was taken? Closer inspection revealed what could be convincing evidence in support: the cabin on the left in the painting has exactly the same arrangement as the one in the photo, where the window is extremely close to the door. Such close proximity is a somewhat unusual configuration, I would say. There are also the same number of logs beneath the window, and the proportions of window, wall, and doorway seem to be the same as well. It appears very plausible that the cabin in the painting and the one in the photo are the same.

My partner, who built our database of Ingle artworks, suddenly realized when we were discussing the new painting that there is already in our collection a small, very rough sketch (in oils) of log cabins among trees. Calling up the database on her iPad and doing a quick search for “log cabins”, she quickly recognized that the sketch does indeed depict the same cabins as the newly-found watercolour, seen from a slightly different angle. The existence of such a sketch could suggest that it’s a location where Bertha spent a significant amount of time, perhaps much more than a quick visit.

The date of 1915 provides what may be another important clue. We believe that Bertha visited BC that summer, as she had in 1913 and 1914. Her brother John served as CPR stationmaster at Tappen. Bertha greatly enjoyed visiting with him, roughing it in the mountains, and painting the rugged scenery in that remote part of the province. Tappen is situated on the southwesterly arm of Lake Shuswap, not far from the City of Salmon Arm, and is also where Tappen Creek empties into the Lake. Perhaps the waterside cabins in the painting were a place Bertha stayed in the summer of either 1914 or 1915. If so, we may well have at long last answered the “where” and “when” of our mystery photograph.

We’ve been aware for some time of an online photo archive covering the Salmon Arm area, posted by the R.J. Haney Heritage Village and Museum. It includes a photo from 1913 of the Tappen CPR depot, showing Bertha, her brother John, and her mother Mary.

The archive also tells us that the photo was taken by an experienced professional photographer named Frank Duncan. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there’s information about him on the web. Missouri-born and Texas-raised, he came to Salmon Arm in 1913 as a widower, along with his daughter Kathleen. Already highly experienced as a photographer, he started a successful studio and was also commissioned by the Salmon Arm Observer to travel around photographing all aspects of the Shuswap area. While he was travelling, Kathleen was cared for by a family in Tappen. Frank spent at least two summers in Salmon Arm (1913 and 1914), and possibly a third.

When I read Frank Duncan’s story, it struck me that our log cabin photo is of a significantly better quality than the several “snapshot” photos we have from the Tappen visits. And there is one other photo as well, showing Bertha sketching near Tappen in 1914 (the place and date are written in her hand on the reverse side) that also looks to be of professional quality. Might Frank Duncan have been the photographer of these two, as well as the one at the CPR depot that is posted online?

My revisiting of the photo archive brought another serendipitous discovery. I was browsing in the hope of finding a photo of our log cabins, but I came across something entirely different:

The caption reads as follows: “Art Ritchie feeding the ducks at Little Lake. Ducks were on Mrs McGuire's menu at her eatery. Little Lake was renamed McGuire Lake.”

After initially scrolling past it, I suddenly realized the scene looked familiar. A couple of years ago, my partner became the proud owner of an Ingle oil painting that she christened Duck Pond. It had turned up in, of all unlikely places, the silent auction of the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Hamilton, Ontario. The resemblance of the Art Ritchie photo to Duck Pond was unmistakeable.

Thanks to the kindness of Deborah Chapman, Archivist at the Museum, we’ve since seen a second photo of the ducks of Little Lake (which is in central Salmon Arm), and it further corroborates the similarity. I have little doubt, now, that this painting, too, has been identified in place and time. And the young woman in Duck Pond might well be one of Mrs McGuire’s daughters – she had two daughters who could have been the right sort of age.

As a final bonus, there’s yet another painting, one from our inherited collection, that looks to be a close companion piece to Duck Pond, possibly painted at the same time and place. It, too, has features that agree with elements of the photos, and I believe we can confidently place it at Little Lake. A visit to should allow you to find it easily!

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting, shows problem solving at its best!