Walter G. MacLaughlan - Photographer and Filmmaker
Walter Goodman MacLaughlan (1871-1935) was raised in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. His brother was Donald Shaw MacLaughlan (1876-1938), one of America's finest early 20th century etchers.
After Walter finished his schooling, the family moved to Boston where he opened his first photographic studio. He married a woman from Pugwash, Nova Scotia named Ella Jane Murray and moved there to start his business in 1895. They had four children: Rose, Bea, Marguerite and Murray. Walter worked throughout the whole province until 1908 when he decided to move to Vancouver. He then returned to Halifax in 1914, just prior to WWI, to establish his Halifax studio.
The MacLaughlan Studio was originally located at 237 Barrington Street (corner of Buckingham and Barrington) above the Royal Bank. In 1917, the street address was changed to 591 Barrington. He was appointed official military photographer for the city of Halifax. He began taking motion pictures and by 1915, was submitting requests for approval to take films of departing soldiers. After the 1917 Halifax Explosion, he took photographs of the affected areas in and around Ground Zero. His photographs, films and especially his panoramic photographs are iconic yet stark reminders of the immense devastation caused by the blast. It is believed the camera he incorporated was the Eastman Cirkut 8 Panoramic Camera. His assistant during this period was W. R. MacAskill.
The photographer's official military pass following the disaster
bearing the signature of Col. W. Thompson:
Below is MacLaughlan's panorama Looking North toward Pier 8. (Click image for a larger view)
MacLaughlan reportedly worked for both British-Canadian Pathe News and International Newsreel until late 1922 when the former closed down. He was then employed by Fox Films from 1923 through 1926. For health reason he, his wife, and daughter, Marguerite, moved to Florida. He worked in still photography until his death in Palm Beach on 9 May 1935 at the age of 63.
I wish to thank W. G. MacLaughlan's great-granddaughter, Linda Harrington, for kindly providing the photographer's portrait as well as the additional information and images for this page.
- View W. G. MacLaughlan films of the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion from the Nova Scotia Archives YouTube website.
- MacLaughlan's famous View of Halifax N. S. After Disaster of Dec. 6th., 1917 Looking South panorama photograph.
- View From Pier 8 looking west.
- Four short films on the Library of Congress website on the taking and processing of a panoramic photograph using a Cirkut Camera.
The following account is by Linda Harrington's grandmother Rose Edna Ross (nee MacLaughlan), who wrote her experiences down in 1989 at age 92. These are her exact words. Her sister, Bea, became a teacher.
"Just before war was declared in 1914, Dad opened a studio- he was a photographer- on the corner of Buckingham & Barrington, over the Royal Bank and Bea and I worked in the reception room awhile before she went to Normal College and I to Business College.
I was there on the morning of the explosion- a Belgian Relief Ship and another loaded with explosives collided in the harbour. The North end of the city was partly destroyed and a great many people killed. No one at the College was seriously hurt, although a number of the windows were shattered. The College was about three miles from the Harbour. It happened about nine o'clock as we had all just taken our seats at the College and the teacher for our room came in just as the ships collided. We thought it was a bomb on our building and the teacher ordered us all to run outside and we could see the smoke.
I knew Bea had gone to Dad's studio uptown, so I went down and met her on Barrington St. coming for me. We went back to the Studio but Dad hadn't come in. Mr. Nason, who worked there had been in the developing room and had his head done up as he was cut when the skylight broke up, but not badly. We were living out at Armdale then, about five miles from Barrington St. and we had to walk home, as everything had closed in the city. The traffic was terrible- cars and trucks taking people, who had been hurt, to the hospitals. When we got home we found mama and sister Marguerite ok and Dad had been a few miles from the house on his way to work. He went back home to see if they were ok and then left for the city. Nearly all the windows in our home were shattered, but that was all the damage.
Our cousin, Mary was living with us, since her mother had died and was working in a Halifax store- she was just going into the cloakroom when the explosion came. She wasn't hurt but Bea and I missed her and she had to walk home alone. That night her father arrived from New Glasgow to see how we were and stayed a few days. It was marvellous how soon the city was back to normal. The College was closed about a week, until the windows were repaired and we all went back to classes, except two girls who lived in the North end and their homes were destroyed and they apparently moved away.
A couple days after the explosion I worked at Camp Hill Hospital looking after children whose parents were either in hospital or killed. For a few days the hospitals, especially Camp Hill where I was, were packed- beds close together and quilts on the floor in the corners and three or four youngsters on them to be kept amused while their parents were treated or found. They were all so wonderful and good. Things were back to normal in no time at all."
According to Garry Shutlak, Senior Reference Archivist, N.S. Archives:
Mr. MacLaughlan first appeared in the 1915 McAlpine's Halifax City Directory which was published in July of each year. Therefore, his studio opened as Rose stated, in 1914. The studio, previously known as the Aberdeen Studio, was located in the Aberdeen Building, 237 Barrington Street, and later moved to 591 Barrington Street. It was run by Harris "Harry" Pliskow (1872-1948). The college she mentioned was the Maritime Business College, located at 16 College Street. The Normal College was in Truro, N.S. where Bertha "Bea" MacLauglan was attending school. The "Mr. Nason" referred to was George Nason who boarded at 12 Victoria Road with the family until they moved out to Armdale. By checking other directories, I discovered the MacLaughlans lived in Armdale on the Melville Island Road. The photographic studio was run by W. G. from 1914 to 1925 after which he sold it to Kenneth-Lloyd Gwynn-Timothy.
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