DUFFIN, SIMON, photographer and merchant; b. c. 1844 in Ireland; m. Sarah Jane Calder, and they had two children; d. 26 July 1900 in Winnipeg, Man.
Simon Duffin immigrated to Upper Canada in his youth, working as a merchant in Odessa before going to Winnipeg about 1872. He opened a photographic studio on south Main Street and thus became one of the earliest resident photographers in Manitoba. Although he started with limited capital, within four years he was able to advertise that his gallery had “the largest assortment of views in the Province and North West Territory.” During the years 1878 and 1879 Duffin was joined in his studio by W. Caswell and they did business under the name of Duffin and Caswell.
By 1881 Duffin had become the senior photographer in the province and had extended his business to include photographic supplies, outfitting many photographers throughout Manitoba and the northwest. He had also built a three-storey building on Main Street to house a new studio, his dealership, and a family residence. The building was said to be “one of the finest structures in Winnipeg.” The studio was comprised of “two rooms of commodious area, the reception room being furnished in an elegant and chaste manner, and well adapted for the display of the beautiful specimens of excellent work, while the operating room is fully equipped with all the latest improved methods and appliances incident to the purpose.” At the height of his photographic career in the 1880s, Duffin was described by his contemporaries as “a genial, courteous gentleman, honorable and fair in all transactions.” A leader in his field, he headed in 1885 a delegation of professional photographers that requested the Winnipeg City Council to levy a tax on itinerant photographers to protect the established businesses.
Duffin found the 1880s a propitious time to be in the photographic supply business. The introduction of dry-plate negatives allowed photography to be more easily and more widely practised. In 1888 he relinquished his studio work to the firm of Steele and Wing to devote himself more fully to his supply business, which could completely equip a photographic studio “from the carpet to the most delicate photographic instruments.” After his death the business was continued as Duffin and Company by his son-in-law, Newman Fletcher Calder, until it was sold about 1926.
Duffin was a member of the Winnipeg Camera Club, founded in 1892, and was a long-time active member of the freemasons. At his death he was one of the oldest master masons in western Canada. His contemporaries remembered him primarily as a successful businessman. His true legacy, however, is his own photographic record, perhaps the best-known examples of which are his view of the St Boniface cathedral and a portrait of Gabriel Dumont*, and the record of the countless photographers across western Canada who were able to carry on their business with the equipment supplied by his company. The surviving photographs are often our most tangible link with our past urban environment, our rural heritage, and our ancestors.
PAM, GR 170, file 2519; MG 7, B7-1, reg. of burials, 26 Dec. 1886, 28 July 1900. Begg and Nursey, Ten years in Winnipeg. Manitoba Free Press, 1–8 Aug. 1874; 4 Feb., 13 March 1879; 25 Dec. 1886; 20 Aug.–21 Sept. 1888; 27, 30 July 1900; 27 Aug. 1927. Blue book of amateur photographers, British societies, ed. Walter Sprange (London, ). Manitoba directory, 1876–79. Pioneers of Man. (Morley et al.). Winnipeg directory, 1880–1900. Schofield, Story of Manitoba, 2: 682–85. W. T. Thompson, The city of Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba and the commercial, railway & financial metropolis of the northwest: past and present development and future prospects (Winnipeg, 1886). Winnipeg, Manitoba, and her industries (Chicago and Winnipeg, 1882).