It took a night of scotch and pool playing to discover Kennedy Bradshaw.
The scotch was courtesy of late Keno City Hotel owner Geordie Dobson, who’d roped one of his only guests into playing some pool.
The guest was former government photographer Robin Armour.
Partway through the night, Dobson realized he had some old negatives lying around that might interest Armour.
Early the next morning, the men met for coffee, and Dobson started rummaging around.
“He pulled out three or four metal slide boxes,” said Armour.
“He knew I was doing historical shows and said I might appreciate them.”
It was months before Armour got around to looking at the slides.
“I was down in my rec room one day and started going through them,” he said.
Armour was “floored.”
The photos were taken by an immigrant car mechanic by the name of Bradshaw, who worked at Elsa.
“The quality of his craftsmanship and his eye - he has natural artistry for a guy with no training,” said Armour.
The slides offered snapshots of life in Elsa, but they aren’t your typical landscapes or family portraits.
In one, a long chintz curtain frames a perfectly white oil cookstove, while a crooked portrait of Bradshaw’s second wife hangs on the wall.
Bradshaw’s first wife and his two young children were lost in a “blitz” back in England during the Second World War.
Not much is known about the photographer’s past although a few pieces have been patched together.
Apparently, Bradshaw left school at 13 to become a journeyman mechanic at Rolls Royce, before joining his uncle’s engineering firm in Manchester, England.
Years later, he ended up testing battle aircraft for Fairley Aviation during the war.
Bradshaw first appeared in Canada in 1939, when he jumped ship in the Halifax harbour.
He ended up back in England, then returned to Canada legally, taking a job at Falconbridge mine in Sudbury, Ontario.
A few years later he headed north and was hired on at United Keno Hill Mines in 1952.
For the next 30 years, Bradshaw documented life in the tiny mining community of Elsa, snapping shots of guys tinkering with the fire truck, a kitchen table full of house plants in colourful red pots, and miners in mackinaws reading, framed by pillows with embroidered dog teams.
“Bradshaw has a cohesive collection that represents all the different facets of life in those days,” said Armour.
“He was interested in everything.
“And the detail is incredible.”
Bradshaw’s unique eye may have had something to do with his being an immigrant, said Armour.
“A lot of this stuff was unique to him,” he said, pointing out a detailed shot of a kitchen complete with Heinz ketchup and Quick Quaker Oats.
Armour curated a show of Bradshaw’s work that opened at the Yukon Arts Centre Gallery in the late ‘90s and eventually toured Canada.
Since then, Armour has retired, taking on the role of president of the Ted Harrison Artists Retreat Society. And the prints have been sitting in storage.
Now, with the Ted Harrison retreat in dire financial straits, Armour had an idea.
He approached the Keno City Mining Museum, which owns a copy of Bradshaw’s prints and asked if it minded him selling the duplicates in storage.
“We’re divvying up the proceeds,” he said.
Half of the money from the print sales will help support the artists’ retreat and half will support the museum.
It’s not the first time Bradshaw’s works were considered marketable.
Back when he was still alive and taking pictures, a bank manager in Elsa was going to make a calendar using some of the prints.
The vast majority of Bradshaw’s work was in the bank when it suddenly burned to the ground.
“We lost a huge whack of his work,” said Armour.
As it is, the collection has 60 prints, from 200 slides.
“We printed everything that was not scratched or dirty,” he said.
“And it was all gorgeous.”
Kennedy Bradshaw’s Yukon Friends opens Thursday, November 18th at 5 p.m. in Gallery 22, above Triple J’s.
The joint fundraiser is a three-week silent auction with each print starting at $275.
The show closes with a performance by Kim Barlow on December 4, between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
For further information call 668-5027.
Contact Genesee Keevil at