Magic Lantern Slides of the Rockies

by Megan Bailey, Communications Specialist

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Before power point presentations and home movies, what did professors, lecturers and travellers use to entertain audiences and share photographs?

Magic Lantern slide shows like the ones from the collection of Thomas B. Moffat, were a very popular form of entertainment in the 1920s and 1930s, before "talkies" and motion pictures became common.


T.B. Moffat feeding ground squirrel at Burgess Pass camp, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, ca. 1921 – 1937, Collection of Glenbow Archives.

T.B. Moffat feeding ground squirrel at Burgess Pass camp, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, ca. 1921 – 1937, Collection of Glenbow Archives. Image No: S-20-97


Magic Lantern shows used special projectors to project images on a wall, and were presented to large crowds in church halls and local theatres by travelling preachers, academics, entertainers. This collection of lantern slides shows us that mountain climbers used slide shows to share the beauty of the Canadian Rockies, too!

Thomas B. Moffat, born in 1870, was a prominent member of the Alpine Club of Canada. He settled in Calgary in 1910 and joined the club in 1911. Moffat, his wife Winifred, and their son, Tommy, enjoyed extensive hiking trips in the Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks. Mount Moffat, near Maligne Lake, was even named after him.

Person fishing at Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, ca. 1921 – 1937, Collection of Glenbow Archives.

Person fishing at Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, ca. 1921 – 1937, Collection of Glenbow Archives.Image No: S-20-37

In 1934, the Moffats took a trip to eastern Canada and the USA, during which Thomas gave illustrated lectures using Magic Lantern slides about the mountains and the Alpine Club of Canada''s activities, including photos of his ascent of Mount Robson ten years earlier.

These lantern slides measure 3.25" x 4", and consist of an image sandwiched between two pieces of glass. The photographs used to make them were all black and white, but most of these slides have been carefully hand painted to give the illusion of colour. The gemstone-hued glacial lakes, mountain ranges and emerald forests of these slides are captured so beautifully that it would not be a surprise if a slide show had inspired many audience members to travel to the Rockies to experience them in person.

By the 1950s, Magic Lantern slides were almost obsolete, replaced by 35mm slides. Glenbow Archives staff members, Anita Dammer and Susan Kooyman, have recently digitized over 200 of Moffat's beautiful slides, which are available to view at http://ww2.glenbow.org/search/archivesPhotosSearch.aspx. Just enter "Mr. Moffat" into the Keywords/Phrase box and hit Search.

All of these wonderful images can be ordered online as high-resolution scans, and would make stunning gifts for the alpine or outdoor enthusiast in your life.

 
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