Imagining Winnipeg

History through the Photographs of L.B. Foote

Esyllt W. Jones (Author)

In an expanding and socially fractious early twentieth-century Winnipeg, Lewis Benjamin Foote (1873-1957) rose to become the city’s pre-eminent commercial photographer. Documenting everything from royal visits to deep poverty, from the building of the landmark Fort Garry Hotel to the turmoil of the 1919 General Strike, Foote’s photographs have come to be iconic representations of early Winnipeg life. They have been used to illustrate everything from academic histories to posters for rock concerts; they have influenced the work of visual artists, writers, and musicians; and they have represented Winnipeg to the world.

But in Imagining Winnipeg, historian Esyllt W. Jones takes us beyond the iconic to reveal the complex artist behind the lens and the conflicting ways in which his photographs have been used to give credence to diverse and sometimes irreconcilable views of Winnipeg’s past. Incorporating 150 stunning photographs from the more than 2,000 images in the Archives of Manitoba Foote Collection, Imagining Winnipeg challenges our understanding of visual history and the city we thought we knew.

Visit the Lost Foote Photos Blog at for the amazing back story of how some of these photos were recovered, as well as guest posts from artists, filmmakers, photographers, and more about their favourite Foote photos and the inspiration they have invoked!


  • SHORTLISTED TITLE, 2014-2015 On The Same Page Program, Winnipeg Public Library (2014)
  • WINNER, Best Illustrated Book of the Year, Manitoba Book Awards (2013)
  • NOMINEE, McNally Robinson Book of the Year, Manitoba Book Awards (2013)
  • NOMINEE, Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award, Manitoba Book Awards (2013)
  • NOMINEE, Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher, Manitoba Book Awards (2013)
  • NOMINEE, Local History category, Margaret McWilliams Awards (2012)
  • WINNER, Manitoba Day Awards, Association for Manitoba Archives (2013)


“L.B. Foote’s Winnipeg is a boomtown of staggering abundance and meanest privation. His city teems with a mad sense of community—everywhere people, people and more people, throngs of new citizens forever gathering, spilling over, lining up; everyone held rapt and almost intoxicated by grand ceremony, fevered ritual or political upheaval. So much giddy newness plopped down on top of the nations that came before and on the timeless, pristine, soon-to-be-bedevilled plains. Foote honours human, city and prairie alike with his peculiar and ennobling eye.”

– Guy Maddin, director of My Winnipeg

Imagining Winnipeg is at the same time a coffee-table beauty, a collection of intriguing photographs from a time past, and one of the most creative analyses of this period in Winnipeg’s history since Alan Artibise’s influential books over thirty years ago. It will forever change your impressions of the city.”

Hayley Caldwell, Canada’s History

“Imagining Winnipeg offers us a way of re-imagining not only Winnipeg the history of Canada in the first half of the twentieth century. Beautifully curated by Esyllt W. Jones, this collection presents the work of photographer L.B. Foote in all its mastery and idiosyncrasy. The eclectic subjects of the photographs – the social and political pressures of the 1930s, strikes and union issues, Native life and its representation, diverse cultural identity and relations – brings many aspects of Canadian history back into conversation in new ways. Jones’ insightful introduction establishes the cultural and aesthetic context for Foote’s photographs and asks us ‘to risk a move into unknown territory, beyond the firm ground of well-trod historical narratives,’ so as to look at the history presented within these pages, as well as – by extension – our own time period, in a new light.”

– Jurors for the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award: Jake MacDonald, Susan Musgrave, Johanna Skibsrud. 2013 Manitoba Book Awards.

“While the book certainly does contain many photographs, it is much more than just a book of photographs. Neither is it exclusively a book about a photographer or photography in general, nor, despite its title, is it even primarily a history. Rather it is a hybrid that attempts, and to a large extent, succeeds, in being all of these.”

Richard Holden, Border Crossings

“As Jones’ title suggests, ‘history through the photographs’ involves many ways of imagining Winnipeg—as Foote’s own chronicle, as the way historians can use photographs to gain a subtler understanding of themes they hope to investigate, or as an argument about the cultural agency of photographs in shaping our understanding of the past.”

– Matt Dyce, University of Winnipeg, The Canadian Historical Review

About the Author

Esyllt W. Jones is a history professor at University of Manitoba and is the author of the award-winning Influenza 1918: Death, Disease and Struggle in Winnipeg.

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