Imagining Winnipeg

History through the Photographs of L.B. Foote


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.


“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

"Jones's approach to examining the work of Winnipeg photographer Lewis Benjamin Foote (1873-1957) is refreshingly open and honest. Unlike many, she makes a point of recognizing the open-endedness of photographic reading, she repeatedly alludes to the afterlife potential inherent in all photographs, the uniqueness of each relationship between the viewer and viewed and the consequent multiplicity of evolving meanings that may accrue."

Richard Holden, Border Crossings

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.”

Jake MacDonald, Susan Musgrave, Johanna Skibsrud, Jurors for the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award

“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, The Canadian Historical Review


Best Illustrated Book of the Year, Manitoba Book Awards (2013)
AMA Manitoba Day Award (2013)

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.

University of Manitoba Press is grateful for the support it receives for its publishing program from the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund; the Canada Council for the Arts; the Manitoba Department of Culture, Heritage, and Tourism; the Manitoba Arts Council; and the Aid to Scholarly Publishing Programme.