Arts

Over 13,000 photographs by Bern Will Brown now publicly available


Over 13,000 photographs taken by Bern Will Brown have been made publicly available this week via the Northwest Territories (NWT) Archives, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment announced.

The collection consists largely of pictures showing northern life over Brown’s decades of living in and travelling the territory.

Left to right, Celine Ritias, Chas McNeely, and Millie Gully hold up martin pelts in Coville Lake in 1977. Bern Will Brown/NWT Archives
Left to right, Celine Ritias, Chas McNeely, and Millie Gully hold up martin pelts in Coville Lake in 1977. Bern Will Brown/NWT Archives
A family – possibly the Ferdinand’s – in Délı̨nę in 1950. Bern Will Brown/NWT Archives

Brown was a painter, filmmaker, journalist, dog-musher, and pilot, among other vocations. Born in Rochester, New York, he came to the north in 1948 as a young priest with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

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In 1971, he left the priesthood and married Margaret Steen of Inuvik. They spent over 40 years in Colville Lake, which he helped establish as a permanent community. 

Throughout his life, Mr. Brown was said to have remembered the places he lived and travelled and the people he came to know through his photographs, paintings, and books.

His photos, ranging from black and white to colour, capture moments in time from the daily lives of northerners at work and play. Communities represented include Behchokǫ̀, Aklavik, Inuvik, Paulatuk, Délı̨nę, Fort Good Hope, Tulita, Fort Providence, Fort Smith, Colville Lake, and Fort Chipewyan.

George Oudzi rides in a Carnation box atop a toboggan in 1978 in Coville Lake. Bern Will Brown/NWT Archives
George Oudzi rides in a Carnation box atop a toboggan in 1978 in Coville Lake. Bern Will Brown/NWT Archives
Celine Ritias displays martin pelts in Coville Lake in 1977. Bern Will Brown/NWT Archives

While these photos only publicly launched in July, NWT Archives acquired this collection from Brown back in 2005, working collaboratively with the artist to record information about the people and places in the collection before his passing in 2014.

Tuberculosis patients in hospital in Fort Resolution in 1948.
Agnes Ruben walks along a dock in Paulatuk in 1977. Bern Will Brown/NWT Archives
Agnes Ruben walks along a dock in Paulatuk in 1977. Bern Will Brown/NWT Archives
Buster Kailek, left, and an unnamed man stand with reindeer in fancy harness from Reindeer Station in 1956. Bern Will Brown/NWT Archives
Buster Kailek, left, and an unnamed man stand with reindeer in fancy harness from Reindeer Station in 1956. Bern Will Brown/NWT Archives

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