Two cards with family photos are among the most well-known of early Prince Edward Island postcards. However, the cards are somewhat of an anomaly. Published by the Toronto publishers Warwick Bros. and Rutter, the Garden of the Gulf Series of cards more often showed the traditional fare of landscapes and buildings. This is even more evident when dealing with the cards attributed to amateur photographer William Steel Louson who produced scores of P.E.I. images for Warwick & Rutter. In fact, people are conspicuous by their absence in most of the Louson cards.
However two cards stand out from that group as exceptions and they both stem from a visit by Louson to the western P.E.I. community of Tignish in 1903. He was probably there in his capacity as a commercial traveller for the Greenshields wholesale firm of Montreal but it was not unusual for him to carry his camera on his visits to rural stores across the province. While in Tignish he visited with the family of Colo [Nicolas] Poirier, the patriarch of a branch of the large Poirier family, descendants of Prosper Poirier of Malpeque and later of Tignish. What was remarkable about Colo Poirier was that in 1903 five generations of his family were living in the community. Colo was 97 years old and his wife was 93. Married for over seventy years the couple had twelve children, seven of whom were still living in 1903. At the time there were 201 living descendants of the pair.
Louson photographed the couple at “their clean little home by the sea-shore,” the residence of their eldest son Gilbert. By special request of the couple the prayer-book and cross were included in the photo posed in front of a flag hung to protect them and to hide the shingles on the side of the house. Both were pipe smokers and Louson brought a gift of tobacco for them. He found them in remarkable health, Colo still worked on the cod flakes and cut and sawed his own wood. With them in the photo was their great-great-grandson Master Joseph Poirier.
At the same time, although possibly in a later visit, Louson posed the family in a number of carefully composed group shots, two of which were to become postcards. The first, seen as a photograph above, was taken on the shore near Tignish with a fish stage in the background and male members of five generations of the family holding the painter of a small, beached vessel, a type used for both lobster fishing and hook and net catches. The cropped and coloured image, titled “Five Generations All Pullers Together” became Warwick and Rutter card # 2730.
Another image, which was published as Warwick & Rutter card # 1801, shows the four adult men, their spouses and the child. Louson described the image in an article written for the Guardian newspaper in November 1903. “Here is our third picture, the husbands and wives with little Joseph are represented. What a happy reunion this is, surrounded by lobster traps all appear as happy as clams.”
There were probably no later photos of the group. Colas died at Skinner’s P0nd in the fall of 1904 and his wife followed him less than a year later.
There is an interesting feature of this card which can be seen under closer examination. The image supplied to the publisher by Louson apparently could not be cropped to fit the landscape format of the Warwick & Rutter cards with their title block at the bottom without losing detail from either the heads or feet of the subject. The solution arrived at was to manually add to the width of the image. Carefully drawn images of the lobster traps and background were extended in order to fit the format of the cards. Once the alteration is notice it can be easily spotted on both the left and right of the image of the card.
Louson made good and repeated use of the images. He was an occasional contributor to the Montreal Standard and the Poirier story and images appeared on its pages. Besides coverage in the Charlottetown Guardian in an article written by Louson the images also were included in two souvenir albums of P.E.I. scenes published by Carter & Co. in 1904. The cards themselves were very popular and the family “Five Generations” card exists in at least four editions with minor variations including one where the location is misspelled “Tidnish.”
For Louson, who was a tourism booster for his adopted province, the Poirier story and photos served as an example of the healthy life-style of the Island and longevity of Islanders. He promoted the bringing together of the extended families of the province such as the Poiriers, which could provide tourism benefits flowing from what he referred to as “Come Home Excursions” and which later emerged as “Old Home Week”.