Marius Barbeau A glimpse of Canadian Culture (1883-1969)
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The Edwin Lester Brittain Collection

Edwin Lester Brittain, a native of New Brunswick, arrived in Ottawa in the late 1880s. He built a summer home just east of what we know today as Britannia Beach.

He also maintained a winter home on Gilmour Street (between Elgin and Metcalfe). Brittain's career was spent in the civil service in the upper-middle ranks of the finance department.

E.L. Brittain and his wife, Sarah Louise Code, had four children: Code (born 1900); Edith (1906); Lester (1909); and Frances (1911).

The Canadian Museum of Civilization has sixteen of the photographic albums left by Edwin Brittain spanning many decades; the first of his album contains photos dated July 1898 to February 1899 while the last album contains photos up until 1930. By clicking on the "View the rest of the collection" icon at the bottom of this page you will be able to view the photographs from the first two albums of this magnificent collection.

The photos include scenes from the Brittain family's boat trips across Canada, winter and summer family events, official functions on Parliament Hill, landscapes, the return of World War I veterans from overseas, scenes of daily life in the city of Ottawa at the turn of the century, family portraits, etc.

What is truly remarkable about these albums is that Edwin Brittain's identified every one of the hundreds of photos, noting its subject and date.

Excerpt from an interview with Edith Brittain. By Doug Fischer, the Ottawa Citizen, May 25th 2000

"Dad was great at writing down details. He loved history and he was like a historian himself. He had a great big camera (later he got a smaller one that you could pull pictures from) and he carried that big camera around everywhere - it was always in the way when we went places.

I don't think he took it to the office but at every family gathering he had that camera. I can remember having my picture taken so many times at the shore, at parties, on the boat and the veranda of the big summer house.

Are there pictures of us looking wide eyed? He used to make these explosions on a tray ... he'd light a match and there would be a big flash and some smoke. It always gave us wide eyes in the pictures, like we were being frightened by something.

He was always reading about things and experimenting with new techniques. "Whenever anything happened in the city, even when we were out at Britannia, he would try to get there to get it on his camera. I can remember going to parades with him and he would try to get himself into a position so he could get a good picture. He never stood still. I can always remember him saying, 'Oh, that would make a good picture. Where's my camera?'

"Dad wrote everything down about those pictures. He was such a beautiful writer. He had such beautiful handwriting. I remember him sitting down in the dining room on Gilmour Street and writing about those photographs. He wanted his children and his grandchildren to know about these things. He gave each of his children an album of us until we were 12 years old. I still have mine.

I don't think my mother ever handled a camera. She was a wonderful mother and was curious about many things. But she didn't take pictures. I'm sure of that. If there are pictures of my father, then they were probably taken by a friend. He had a great many friends.

Dad was a great sailor. He grew up on the water in New Brunswick so he knew how to sail from a young age. He was a charter member of the Britannia club and he was always out sailing on Lac Deschenes in the summer. His first yacht was the Pioneer. I don't remember it very well. It was a pretty big boat. By the time I was sailing he had another smaller one. That one I remember better".

Reference: Our Times, a pictorial memoir of Ottawa's past. Published in 2000 by the Ottawa Citizen. Edited by Douglas Fischer


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