1840 Daguerreotype of Niagara Falls
NIAGARA FALLS, ON - Niagara Falls is one of the most photographed natural wonders in the world, and thus billions of pictures have been taken of it.
But someone had to be the first to do so.
"Somebody did have to be first and by a great stroke of luck we know who it was and when it was!" exclaimed Niagara Parks Commission Historian Sherman Zavitz.
"His name was Hugh Lee Pattinson and he was here in April of 1840," Zavitz explained for WGRZ-TV.
Pattinson utilized a just developed means of imagery used to create what was known as a Daguerreotype, a forerunner of the photograph, to take a picture of the Falls.
The images, however, were thought to have been lost according to Zavitz.
"In the 1920's some of his descendants decided to give the Daguerreotypes to the University of Newcastle in England, which was where Pattinson was from. The university library accepted them but sometime after that, for whatever reason, they thought they'd been lost or destroyed. It turns out that wasn't the case," said Zavitz.
"In 1997 they were looking through some store rooms in the library and came across this old dust covered carton, they opened it up and lo and behold, there they were," Zavitz said.
While painters of long ago may have taken artistic license with their canvas images of the Falls, the camera --as the old saying goes--never lies ...which gives us a rare glimpse into how things really looked back then.
"The falls have not changed that drastically. Contours in certain areas have changed slightly, and certainly there was much more water flowing over the falls at that time then you'd see now," Zavitz remarked.
Zavitz also believes he knows from where the images were captured, based on the amount of the river you can see above the falls, and the fact that a picture of the old Clifton Hotel was also discovered among the cache of images.
"So he was at an elevation, and that's because he was on one of the hotel balconies," Zavitz explained.
"We don't know if Pattinson realized he was taking the first photos of the Falls. He may have, or maybe later on it was discovered that he had ...I hope he did realize it eventually during his lifetime," Zavitz said.
The images, however, may hold even more significance beyond Niagara Falls.
The Daguerreotype had been perfected in France only a matter of months before Pattinson's visit here. Thus, historians believe these actually may have been the first "pictures" ever taken in all of Canada.
The Niagara Parks Commission has reproduced and enlarged one of the 170 year old pictures which it plans to prominently display near the entrace to the Maid Of The Mist boat tour as part of the Commission's 125th Anniversary celebration. It plans to display the rest of Pettinson's images on its web site.
Click on the video icon to watch the story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Ben Read.