An historic streetscene of early Thunder Bay featuring J.F. Cooke’s photographer’s studio next door to an early 20th century tobacconist’s and across from the Lyceum Theatre where where silent films like “A Race for Ties” play continuously.
Cooke worked out of his studio for more than half a century, becoming widely known as the early town’s leading photographer. In July 1886, he took the famous photograph of Sir John A. Macdonald and Lady Macdonald on the rear platform of their private rail car in Port Arthur’s station during the Prime Minister’s only visit to western Canada.
This photo was adopted by towns all across the nation as depicting the time the Prime Minister visited their community.
Cooke was born in Markham, Ontario, in 1857 and came to Thunder Bay to join his brother. He worked initially as a cabinet maker but photography was his first love. By 1882, he was making a living as a professional photographer. Over the next 50 years, he recorded the evolution of the Lakehead from two sleepy villages with scarcely more than a handful of people, to one of Canada’s largest ports. His record of the community’s most historic moments (such as the opening of the city’s street railway), makes J.F. Cooke’s photographs among the most prized research tools in our archives.
From 1883 to 1900, Cooke was an official photographer for the Canadian Pacific Railway and later took up the same role for the Canadian Northern Railway. Specializing in landscapes along Lake Superior’s north shore, local street scenes and industrial photography, his images revealed Northwestern Ontario and Thunder Bay to the world.
He won first prize among all Canadian exhibitors at an international exhibition in London, England, and took top honours at the 1887 Toronto Industrial Fair.