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In Search of Geraldine Moodie


Born in Toronto in 1854, Geraldine Moodie was the granddaughter of the well-known Upper Canadian writer, Susanna Strickland Moodie, and grandniece of Catherine Parr Trail. In 1878 she met and married a distant relative, John Douglas Moodie. They moved to western Canada in 1880 and following an unsuccessful attempt at farming, they returned east a few years later. There, in 1885, John received a Commission with the NWMP. Late that year the Moodies returned west and began a 32-year adventure that would take them to almost every major NWMP post in western Canada and the Hudson's Bay district of the eastern Arctic.

Remarkably, considering the male-dominated society in which she lived, Moodie prospered as a photographer and was even commissioned by Prime Minister Sir Mackenzie Bowell in 1895 to photograph some of the major historic sites between Edmonton and Battleford. This was a period of tremendous change in western Canada, and Moodie realized the historical significance of her photographs, capturing as they did images of a society which was rapidly vanishing.

Nearly forgotten since her death in 1945, Moodie's fascinating story has been uncovered by Donny White, Director of the Medicine Hat Museum and Art Gallery. Intrigued by a series of remarkable photographs found in a neighbouring museum, White embarked on a 17-year search, during the course of which he located and indexed Moodie's work, stored and largely overlooked in museums and archives across Canada, the United States, and Great Britain. Due to White's efforts, this important photographic record is now available. It provides insights not only into the vanishing lifestyles of the pre-settlement Cree and Inuit, and the nascent western ranching society, but also makes us more aware of the significant and frequently ignored role played by women in Canadian history.