MITCHELL, ALBERT WILLIAM, bookkeeper and photographer; b. 12 June 1868 in Charlottetown, son of Nathaniel Albert Mitchell, a bookkeeper, and Hannah Feavyour; m. 22 Jan. 1896 Annie Stentiford in Charlottetown, and they had one son; d. there 11 April 1906.
Albert William Mitchell spent his working life in the employ of a Charlottetown dry-goods firm, Prowse Brothers, where he served first as bookkeeper and then as a director and company treasurer and secretary. He was also remembered as a non-drinker, amateur pianist, ardent Methodist, and prominent member of the Oddfellows and Foresters social and mutual-insurance organizations.
Mitchell is known today as an amateur photographer who, beginning in the 1890s, used the gelatin dry-plate process in covering a wide range of subject-matter. Most of his photographs are portraits, taken either in the studio or outdoors using a canvas backdrop and a rug to give the appearance of having been shot in a studio. Images of Charlottetown make up another large segment of his output. In his cityscapes buildings dominate the image; when people are present they are usually shown as being small in relation to their surroundings. Although he does not seem to have travelled far from his native city, perhaps because of lingering illness, his work includes country scenes of people camping, boating, and cycling, as well as some 20 pictures taken on the reserve at Rocky Point, near Charlottetown, which provide rare glimpses of Micmac life. If he took any pictures off the Island, none have survived.
Mitchell’s images usually exhibit an eye for composition as well as the clarity characteristic of one whose concern is to produce documents rather than create works of art. Although he no doubt knew other local amateurs, his hobby was not particularly social nor does it appear to have been appreciated in his time. In the Charlottetown Daily Examiner’s relatively long notices of his marriage and early death no mention is made of his photography. That he is remembered today as a photographer is the result of a gift of some 225 negatives made to Prince Edward Island by Mitchell’s grandson, a resident of Ottawa, in 1972. A number of the negatives’ paper jackets bear the photographer’s notes about the images and the dates they were taken.
Sickly in disposition, Mitchell died in his home at age 37 from a combination of Bright’s disease and tuberculosis.
Several of Albert William Mitchell’s photographs were published at the turn of the century in the Prince Edward Island Magazine (Charlottetown). A self-portrait and about a dozen of Mitchell’s other photographs appear in Jim Hornby, “A. W. Mitchell, photographer,” Island Magazine (Charlottetown), no.12 (fall–winter 1982): 11–17; other views were used to illustrate I. L. Rogers, Charlottetown: the life in its buildings (Charlottetown, 1983). A much larger selection, some 35 pictures, was shown on the Island in 1983 as part of an exhibition of regional historical photographs that toured the Atlantic provinces. His entire output of about 225 glass-plate negatives was donated in 1972 to the Prince Edward Island Heritage Foundation (now the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation) by Ivan Kendrick Mitchell, a grandson.
NA, RG 31, C1, Charlottetown, 1881: 82; 1891: 128 (copies at P.E.I. Museum). P.E.I. Museum, Geneal. Div., File information concerning A. W. Mitchell and family. Daily Examiner (Charlottetown), 23, 25 Jan. 1896; 12, 14 April 1906. Daily Patriot (Charlottetown), 12, 14 April 1906.