From Dream to Reality: The Photographic Diary of a Community

Copyright © G. R. Gooderham

Catherine (Mamo) Morrison, now 101: She is seen here with her Great, Great Grandson Ryder, 7 months. Catherine has been coming to Temagami since 1950 as cottagers and is known by everyone.

In the summer of 2005, I was inspired with an idea that played out to my love for photography. It came to me while discussing with a friend how so many rural communities had dwindled, and disappeared, without so much as a photograph of their existence. Who records the passing of time as it slips by? Sure there are local papers, personal diaries and family photographs; some have been passed down through the generations, but many are lost forever. Public libraries have some of these records, but they are often hidden away in dusty old boxes.

I live in such a place. Temagami, Ontario is an old mining and logging village, and like similar communities that lose their prime industry, it is slowly eroding away. I felt that a visual record of the people of Temagami was missing–photographs of elders and seniors. These are the people who live and remember Temagami in its hay day, the very roots of the village and lake. These are the folks who remember how their Grandfathers and Grandmothers literally lived off the land and how it was so different “back then”.

In the winter of 2006, I began putting this project together, but essentially it would involve making photographic portraits of the elders and seniors of the community. After several months of research and planning, I had the scope of work, and as ambitious as it was, I was excited. Although Temagami is a small village, the municipality is huge and encompasses the Teme-Augama Anishnabai First Nations on Bear Island; the permanent and seasonal Lake Temagami Islands residents as well as the village and mainland rural areas.

Copyright © G. R. Gooderham

Len Guppy, 82: He is a local historian and the Guppy family is one of the oldest family names in Temagami.

Copyright © G. R. Gooderham

Herb Costante, 83: He and his 2 brothers are long time residents of Temagami and last year reunited here for the celebration for the Temagami public school’s 100 year celebration.

The Temagami Elders Portrait Project was on paper and ready to go, but I soon realized that the cost of printing and framing was going to run into hundreds of dollars! I needed assistance! I approached the Temagami Community Foundation and applied for some working funds. I wrote letters to all the community leaders, clubs, groups and associations explaining my goal. The idea was met with great enthusiasm by all and I did receive a start up grant from the Temagami Community Foundation.

The goal of the project was to photograph as many community elders and seniors as possible to produce a body of work that records the history and humanity of our communities as a living history.

Locke Goddard, 81: He is a local videographer and has recorded a lot of historical events and places. He always has a great story to tell.

Copyright © G. R. Gooderham

Copyright © G. R. Gooderham

Jack Stevens, 83: Jack and his wife return every year to their cottage. The Stevens family name is one of the oldest in Temagami.

In brief, here is the scope of the project:

  • The initial project will be to try to archive 30 to 200 portraits.
  • It will take place over the next 2 years, starting in the of winter 2009.
  • Portraits will be a permanent record made with digital equipment.
  • Archival DVD’s of the final project will be produced as a permanent record and kept where archiving facilities exist, such as the library or Municipal office.
  • All portrait photographs will be made print ready at a size of 11 x 14 and matted and framed using acid free materials.
  • A selection of the portraits will be framed for display. The original scope is about 20, but the actual number will depend upon funding.
  • The framed portraits will be displayed gallery style in halls, municipal and administration buildings, and may also be available to businesses that apply to display them.
  • The long-term goal is to keep this as a living project/archive.

Copyright © G. R. Gooderham

Verla Pacey, 96: She is the sister to Locke & her husband Lorne Pacey was the local insurance man for decades and was heavily involved with the community.

Copyright © G. R. Gooderham

Ellen Marquette, 88, is a member of the Teme-Augama Anishnabai First Nations on Bear Island.

Now the questions were: how and where to begin, how to approach the people, how to get the shots, who to photograph first? Unfortunately, by then my busy season hit full tilt and I needed to concentrate on my other business (construction) for the time being; the project would have to wait until next winter. In the winter of 2007, we decided to sell our house in the village. My wife, Suzanne, a teacher would now have to commute full time from our house on a Lake Temagami island to the Temagami Public School …another year lost for the project.

In the summer of 2008, I met Sherry Guppy, a local artist and we chatted briefly about the work we were doing. Sherry is working on a great project, called “Storytelling in Temagami: Collecting the Living Memories.” It is funded by The Ontario Arts Council from an “Artist in the Community/Workplace” 2008 grant. The project involves holding Round Table sessions with community elders, talking, remembering and telling stories from the past. Partnering with The Temagami Legion to hold the storytelling sessions, Sherry and Shanna McFarland were making digital audio recording of these sessions with audio equipment funded by The Temagami Lions Club.

I thought “WOW!”, and the lights came on! I approached Sherry and asked if we could partner our efforts; what a great opportunity to photograph these folks interacting and to have them sit for portraits! We accomplished two full sessions during the summer and another is planned for the fall. To date there are about 35 portraits ready for framing, as well as hundreds of candid photographs. There are now 15 framed B&W portraits hanging in the new Temagami Library and in the new Temagami Family Health building. So the project lives and breaths! You can see more of these portraits at–look for The Temagami Elders Project.


The best way to start a project like this is to have your plan well laid out and then contact any or all social clubs, the appropriate municipal government departments, and all the community leaders you can find. Tell everyone you know what you’re planning to do–to preserve their family history. Be ready with enthusiasm to present and pitch your case for this as a community project and ask for support and finical assistance (to print and frame). It takes some work, but within 6 to 7 months I had all the support I needed to move forward.

Copyright © G. R. Gooderham

The following is some detail of the shooting. The old legion building in Temagami was a challenge with poor florescent lighting and few windows, so some close inspection of the setting was needed. I finally settled on a northern wall with some natural light and a 6’ black background. A gold reflector leaning on my kit bag gathered both natural and reflected light from my sb800 with a 40” shoot thru umbrella set at about 5’ high and 5’ away from the subject. I played with settings, but found that the best was to use my Nikor 18-200 VR 3.5 set anywhere from from 50mm to 80mm and 1/200 with an f stop of 7.1 to 9. The flash was set to manual @ ¼ power.

In the 2 sessions, I captured the portraits of some great people, ranging in age from 80 to 97 years old. It was a pleasure to work and photograph each one of them. But for me, the crowning achievement was to photograph Catherine (Mamo) Morrison (lead photo above), 100 years old last winter, along with her seven month old Great, Great Grandson Ryder, who agreed to pose with her! What a special treat and opportunity that was!

Copyright © G. R. Gooderham

Ronnie Turner and Barb Laronde, 81 (brother & sister): They are long time residents of Temagami and members of the Teme-Augama Anishnabai First Nations on Bear Island. The Turners were a large family on BearIsland, who ran a large hotel. Ronnie Turner, always tells a great story with a touch of humor.

Copyright © G. R. Gooderham

June Rumney, is a long time resident of the village and is very involved with many committees. Her husband was the District Manager for the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Although the funding has run out for the time being (I am applying for more framing funding), I will continue to shoot and archive. I have made contact with several more seniors and with the First Nations on Bear Island; hopefully a session or two on the island to record the Elders will result. At this time I am anxiously awaiting the lake to freeze, so I can pursue the next phase.

I am thrilled to have accomplished this much in such a short amount of time and that this permanent gallery of portraits will stand the sands of time. I have enjoyed sharing my experience in hopes that it may inspire other artists to engage in their own community and uncover the stories hidden within.


Gerald Richard Gooderham has been a permanent resident of Temagami, Ontario, Canada since 1973.

He started to approach photography seriously in the year 2000 by taking several courses in photography at Canadore College. His continued studies and his experience with the camera have given him an extensive working knowledge of photography with both digital cameras (Canon a50, Nikon 4500, d70, d100, d300) and film cameras (Konica, Nikon f-80, Nikon f-100). He has a great deal of training in both the chemical darkroom and digital darkroom (Photoshop 6 to CS3 and Lightroom2).

Gerry has a small home studio and takes portraits by request and does custom assignments. He has also worked on several local projects, including this elder community project.

He loves the northern landscape and its people–the richness of sprit and its endless possibilities. To find a unique and beautiful wilderness shot is thrilling, but to capture it in the eyes of someone who lives here is the completion.

Gerry has often said, “Look closer, move in, refocus–the possibilities are unlimited.”

by Gerry Gooderham

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