While researching the life and work of Ernest Denton, I didn’t want to lose sight of Samuel Denton, his brother. He appeared in Berlin (now Kitchener) with Ernest sometime in 1913-1914 and was the other half of Denton Brothers and likely a partner in the Berlin Portrait Room. But who exactly was Samuel?
While his Ontario marriage certificate and California death registration record Samuel’s birthdate as 17 May 1892, I believe that he was born in late 1889 as Simon Dembovitch in Prestwich, Lancashire. His parents were Lithuanian emigre, Eli Dembovitch, and Dora Koriensky. Simon made his first appearance in the 1891 UK census as “Simon Dembovith” (which appears to be a misspelling of the family name) and then appears in the 1901 UK census as “Simon Denby”. In the 1911 UK census, his given name is recorded as “Sam Denby”.
Based on his age, he probably learned the photographic trade from his brothers Myer and Harris (who may have been Ernest). On his 17 April 1913 transatlantic crossing, he provided the Denby family residence at 44 Alma Street, Blackburn as his home address.
Samuel was married to Ada Frances Rowe in Toronto on 21 November 1917. The correction of “Residence when Married” from New Zealand to Toronto made me pause. Had Samuel been in New Zealand with Ernest? I did a quick check of the New Zealand Papers Past database, but it did not reveal any clues for “Samuel/Sam Denton”. Nevertheless, I’ll keep looking.
While little is known about Samuel’s early days in Berlin, there is an interesting 16 Feb 1920 “Request to Photograph Pupils of Public Schools” notice in the Kitchener News Record.
The article, which appeared after Samuel’s departure from Kitchener, seems to suggest that Ernest and Samuel were still working together. It may be possible that Samuel returned to visit Ernest as he travelled extensively in later life as a commercial photographer. The notice also mentions that the brothers enlisted in the 118th Battalion but were turned away due to “no fault of ours”. Searches of the attestation papers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force did not turn up Samuel or Ernest. Interestingly, the notice mentions two brothers who served overseas, one of whom was still in India. The brother in India was Louis Denby – a fact confirmed by his grandson via my Blackburn researcher. Myer Denby was likely the other brother.
A son, Douglas Ernest Denton, was born to Samuel and Ada in Victoria BC in 1918. I was lucky to have connected with a grandson of Samuel who shared amazing stories of his father’s exploits as a young sailor and his WWII war experience in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Like his father, Douglas Denton was a photographer.
While crossing the Canada/US border in 1945, Samuel dated his US residency (in Oakland California) starting in 1919.
Samuel worked as a photographer in the Oakland area for many years and operated a camera shop with his son, Douglas, for a time. I learned from Diane Curry, curator and archivist at the Hayward Area Historical Society that Samuel took panoramic photographs of Oakland area companies and their employees – so reminiscent of Ernest’s work here. She kindly shared these images from the Hayward Area Historical Society collection.
Diane also provided an undated newspaper clipping regarding Samuel and Ada being caught in a flash flood while driving near Castiac, California:
Samuel Sydney Denton died on 3 October 1983 in Alameda, California. As Ernest’s partner in Denton Brothers, Samuel contributed to the large body of early Denton work documenting our community and that of the cities of Oakland and Alameda California.
Acknowledgements: My thanks go to Neal Denton for his memories and photographs and to rych mills, Waterloo Historical Society, Diane Curry, Hayward Area Historical Society, Kirsten Baldock, Oakland Public Library and Jared Mariconi, California State University – East Bay Library for their assistance in locating information about Samuel Denton.