Ernest Denton & Panoramic Photograpy

Deciphering Denton: the Kitchener Connection

1916 Picnic in Berlin

A 1916 picnic in Berlin – image taken by Ernest Denton. (P2399 WHS). Please note that image was not taken with the Cirkut camera.

Thanks, Michel, for that fascinating introduction to Cirkut Panoramic camera and panoramic photography.  Having met with Willie Nassau and Dolph Bogad on Monday, I have a greater appreciation for the technical and artistic expertise that Ernest Denton had to operate this type of camera.

My first exposure to Denton was in exploring the rack of oversized, framed photographs in the Grace Schmidt Room.  The hand-printed and slightly skewed identifier “Denton Bros.,” “Denton Portrait Rooms,” or “Denton Photo” in the lower right hand corner was a frequent sight.  The more I saw of his work, the more I wanted to know about this man, who seems to have photographed every aspect of Kitchener life between 1913 and 1955.

P290 Visit of the Duke of Connaught to Berlin City Hall, 9 May 1914

Visit of the Duke of Connaught to Berlin City Hall, 9 May 1914 – image taken by Denton Bros. (P290 WHS). Please note that image was not taken with the Cirkut camera.

I have had much fun trying to fill in the blanks – but the details of Denton’s early life in England and abroad are still very sketchy.  I’ve been in contact with libraries and archives in Manchester, England, Wellington, New Zealand, Oakland, California and Waterloo, Ontario – in an effort to track down information about Ernest and his family.

What is known about Denton primarily comes from a cryptic first page of a 15 March 1956 letter written by Kitchener-Waterloo Record editor, Henry Koch, to Ralph Allen, editor of Maclean’s magazine and Denton’s 11 November 1957 obituary in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record.  Koch tried to entice the Maclean’s editor into writing a story about Ernest, but according to their archivist, a Denton feature did not materialize.

Ernest Denton was born 31 August 1883 in Manchester, England.  He started his photography career at the age of 16, on bicycle rigged to carry a camera and portable darkroom.  He travelled throughout the whole of England and later around the world by ship, by photographing ship crews, collecting money upfront and mailing the images later.  It’s rumoured that Denton travelled twice around the world, working in places such as Fiji, Ceylon, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Gibraltar, and Egypt.

In New Zealand, Denton operated photographic businesses in Invercargill (1907), Wellington (1907-1909) and Palmerston North (1909-1912). Koch claimed that Denton freelanced for illustrated weeklies for five years in New Zealand, which saw him photographing everything from the House of Commons, the 1906 International Industrial Exhibition to earthquakes and floods.  A report in the 23 April 1910 edition of the Wairarapa Age noted that Denton had been fined 1 shilling plus costs for working on a Sunday.  His Palmerston North studio was destroyed by fire on 17 March 1911. In June of the same year, Denton returned briefly to England for health reasons. His business last appears in the 1912 Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory in Palmerston North and then the trail goes cold, that is, until April 1913.

1912 Wise's Directory Advertisement

Ernest Denton’s advertisement from the 1912 Wise’s Directory (New Zealand). Image courtesy of the Dunedin (NZ) Public Library.

Ernest Denton and his brother, Samuel, arrived in New York City, aboard the Adriatic on 19 April 1913, with the declared destination of Montreal. How and why they chose to come to Berlin is not known.  Local directories in the Grace Schmidt Room first catch their presence in 1915, but it likely that they arrived in 1913 or early 1914, based on some of the early Denton images in our collection.  Their first business venture, Denton Brothers Photographers, was located at 62 King Street, Berlin.

Of particular interest was a cryptic note that Koch made in his 1956 letter to Ralph Allan, mentioning that Denton owned one of two known panoramic cameras in Canada.  Koch went onto say that Denton had the camera smuggled across the border from the US.  Why would he smuggle a camera into Canada? And how would he have done it? These are questions yet to be answered.

P2683 118th Battalion, A Company

A panoramic of the A Company, 118th Battalion, taken by Ernest Denton, May 1916 (P2683 WHS) We believe that this image was likely taken with the Cirkut Panoramic Camera at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Following brother Samuel’s departure from Kitchener, Ernest worked with another photographer in a studio named “Denton & Gifford” between 1924-1925, and then, on his own, operating a studio at 163 King Street West.  His advertising byline was “Photos made anytime, anywhere”.  He was also very active in business interests outside of photography. In the 1930’s, Denton owned an apartment building at the corner of Victoria and Weber Streets and an indoor mini putt golf course in downtown Kitchener.  However, photography remained his mainstay and he continued to photograph schools, picnics, companies and businesses throughout Waterloo and surrounding counties. He remained at the 163 King Street West location until 1955, when his studio was destroyed by fire on the evening of 11 December.  Everything was lost – except, his panoramic camera which now resides at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Ernest Denton

Image of Ernest Denton from his obituary, which appeared in the 11 November 1957 edition of the Kitchener-Waterloo Record

Denton died on 10 November 1957 at his home at 55 Samuel Street, Kitchener, after a lengthy illness.  He was survived by his wife, Louisa, stepchildren Fred, William and Rose Manning and Vera (Manning) Bennett, his brother Samuel, 11 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

Koch estimated that Denton had taken over a million photographs over his career, ranging from Waterloo County school classes, factory workers and military troops to coronation of King George V, prime ministers Robert Borden, R.B. Bennett, Mackenzie King and Winston Churchill.

A very interesting life and man, don’t you think? If you have comments, questions or information to share, please let me know!

  Part 3 – The Challenge of Accurately Dating Denton’s Cirkut Camera

on 11 March 2015

Collecting and Connecting blog

Canada Science and Technology Museum (CSTM)

@M_Labrecque

 References

  1. Photographer of Prominent Persons Dies (obituary – Ernest Denton). Kitchener –Waterloo Record, 11 November 1957.
  2. Koch, Henry. Letter to Ralph Allen, editor, Maclean’s Magazine (photocopy). 15 March 1956.
  3. National Library of New Zealand. PapersPast (database: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/).
  4. Vernon’s Kitchener and Waterloo City Directory.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks go to the following for their contributions:

Jane Britton, former Head, Special Collections and Archives, University of Waterloo, for her thoughtful insights on Ernest Denton, Kirsten Baldock, Oakland Public Library, Dale Taylor, Archives and Local History -Manchester Central Library; Jenni Chrisstoffels, National Library of New Zealand, Malcolm Deans, Dunedin (NZ) Library, Heather Glasgow, Palmerston North (NZ) City Library, Jared Mariconi, California State University – East Bay Library, Patricia Treble, Maclean’s Magazine and Rod Frketich, Photo/Graphics Editor, Waterloo Region Record for their assistance with locating information about the Denton brothers; rych mills for his Denton citations; Charlotte Prong, Kitchener Public Library, for her love of good story; and Michel Labrecque for his knowledge and infectious enthusiasm for photography and a panoramic camera owned by Ernest Denton.

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2 thoughts on “Deciphering Denton: the Kitchener Connection

  1. Kim Grimes says:

    Hello, Ernest Denton was my great-great grandfather. My great grandfather was his step-son Fred. My grandmother, Jacqueline, Fred’s daughter used to assist him with his photography. I have pictures of Ernest and her on a trip to California. I have always been proud when I go to areas around Kitchener such as the auditorium or the armory and see his amazing photography.

  2. Hi Kim, Thanks for connecting! It’s so nice to hear from a family member. Ernest’s work is certainly very prolific – especially for Kitchener-Waterloo. Would the trip to California you mention have been to visit Ernest’s brother Samuel?
    Cheers, Karen

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