A Life In The Wilderness

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His pictures of both trail life and activities in and around Banff were being picked up by the national news services and his widening circle of influential trail companions carried word of his work back home with them.

Harmon also gained stature through an impressive line of postcards,* view books, and calenders that were mass produced by companies in Germany, England, and Vancouver at first, and later in his own Banff studio, Sales centred on the CPR, the only means of transportation through the Rockies in those days, and the railroad ‘newsies’ would peddle his works in the trains from Winnipeg to Vancouver. Catering to this market, Harmon produced viewbooks and cards collectively entitled ‘Along the Line of the CPR’, and included a railroad motif in many of the photographs.

In his personal and business life, Harmon maintained the same level of energy, ingenuity, and perseverance that he displayed on the trail. In 1908 he purchased an old livery barn across the street from his original location and converted it into a new and expanded darkroom and curio shop, and in 1912 he bought an adjoining lot on which he built a moving-picture theatre that featured not only ‘fresh films daily’, but variety nights and, during the Great War, various patriotic fund raisers. Unfortunately the theatre burned to the ground in January 1917. The fire cost Harmon an estimated thirteen thousand dollars and destroyed not only the theatre but portions of his working area next door, which meant a partial loss of his collection of stills and movie footage and most of his stock on hand. It was totally typical of the man, though, that within two or three days he had farmed out various phases of his business to different places in town and was back at

*The status of the postcard was considerably greater in the early 19th century than it is today. Between 1880 and the Great War the postcard had great appeal; and, in fact, a special word, ‘delitilology’, was coined to denote the study of postcards. Most of the early cards were printed in Germany, where the best lithography was done.
work plotting new schemes for his burned-out building.

Indeed, Harmon prove d to be the archetyal free-enterprise entrepreneur. Seldom a year went by without some major renovation in the ‘Harmon Block’, and over the years his buildings included various combinations of the studio, a theatre, a curio shop, a drug store, a fountain lunch and tea shop, a book store and lending library, a woollen shop, and even a beauty parlour, many of them occupying a common area. His passion for designing and building fit in perfectly with the boom in technological gadgetry prior to the Great War, and he was forever trying out new ideas. His shops featured the first gas lights in Banff, the first ice-cream maker, the first neon sign, probably the first radio and phonograph, one of the first postcard machines in western Canada (capable of producing 4,ooo cards a day), and God only knows what else. He designed and built much of the equipment used in his darkroom, built the screen used in the theatre, and devised an ingenious ventilating system for the theatre incorporating hollow beams that ran the length of the building. He was always amused to find that someone in town had ‘borrowed’ one of his business innovations for their own shop, and he would invariably smile and say, ‘That’s all right. There are plenty more ideas where that one came from.’

He was also somewhat of a speculator and at various times had amounts of money invested in drilling and mining operations. Receiving word that one such investment was not perhaps entirely above moral (and perhaps legal) reproach, he quickly pulled his shares and walked away with a good profit- in early 1929.

Making films was yet another vocation that Harmon pursued. Although nearly all of his footage has disappeared over the years, movies were important to him for both pleasure and profit. From the early teens on he devoted more and more time to film technique and technology, and some of his later journeys were

A Life In The Wilderness

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