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Harry Bowles Photographer in Sarnia, Winnipeg and Pembina, ND

Back to James Bowles of Sarnia, Ontario

This research was motivated by Gordon Goldsborough and the Manitoba Historical Society who have researched and published an online series on Manitoba Photographers: 1858 to Present.  I just filled in the before and after. 

Note: much of this story is based on the reports of Harry's life included in the Sources section below and have not been independently confirmed by myself.  The newspaper clippings from Sarnia papers were provided to me by John

Pass your mouse over any clipping to see a larger image of it.

See also James Bowles of Sarnia for more on Harry’s ancestors.

Henry James (Harry) Bowles was born on Dec. 15, 1855 in Franktown, Lanark county, Ontario, the youngest child of Irish immigrants James Bowles and Martha Carson.  In 1861 the family moved to Sarnia (Lambton county) where Henry assisted in a photography studio or in some other way learned to be a photographer. 

In June 1875 Harry moved from Sarnia to Winnipeg where he worked with an established photographer, James Penrose, on Main Street South.  

 In July 1876 Harry opened his own studio, The Sunbeam Gallery, on Lyon Street (the original name of McDermot Avenue on the east side of Main Street).

James and Harry took first prize in the Photograph category in the 3rd Annual Provincial Exhibition of the Agricultural and Industrial Society of Manitoba.  Reporting on the event, The Manitoba Free Press of October 7, 1876 mentioned "The exhibition of photographs is confined to the capital display made by Messrs. Penrose & Bowles and a few pictures entered by Mr. Doherty.  The first collection (first prize) embraces both portraits and views, and contains some fine pictures ..."  Specific mention is made of their pictures of the steamer Manitoba and of the Winnipeg Field Battery.  Possibly these photos have survived and we'll be able to locate them yet.

Very shortly afterwards though Harry returned to Sarnia where by March 1877 he bought an existing gallery “on Front Street, next the ferry landing and opposite the Belchamber House”. 

The Manitoba Free Press announced on Jan. 6, 1877 that "Photographic views of Winnipeg are now exhibited by Harry Bowles at Sarnia, Ont."

These photos show the most likely location of Harry's studio in Sarnia (1875-18), on Front Street across from the Belchamber Hotel and over W. B. Clark's grocery store (Daniel McCart's store in the later photos), although not within the actual years he was there.  Harry's ad on Dec. 14, 1877 gave directions to his studio as "you just go up to the stairs, one door south of W.B. Clark's".  The stairs are not visible in any of these photos but would most likely lead directly to the offices over the store.

Harry was not to last there very long either although he featured some of the latest photographic equipment (for example, The New Photo-Chromotype”) and placed eye-catching ads such as this one which announced the WAR and GREAT SLAUGHTER on prices for frames and mottos in his studio.

He would have faced stiff competition from John Barron right next door to him who had operated a very well established and successful studio since the 1860’s.

Harry appears to have had a setback in April 1878 as he and a neighbouring business placed a Card Of Thanks in the paper to the Victoria Mutual Insurance Company in appreciation for their having paid his claim only 8 days after a fire.

He offered his photographic services there until May 1879 and then sold out to Hetherington & Co and returned to Winnipeg.


In Winnipeg he formally partnered with James Penrose as “Penrose and Bowles, Photographers” on Main Street “opposite the Post Office”. 

Their opening was announced in the Winnipeg Daily Times on October 6, 1879 with an advertisement:

 "PHOTOGRAPHERS. Call and See us in our New Gallery, Opposite Post Office, Where you will get your Photographs taken in the best style in the city. We have always on hand a very large collection of First-class Views, &c. COME ONE! COME ALL! “Secure the shadow ere the substance fade.”” 

The new Winnipeg Post Office had just been built in 1876 at the corner of Main and Owen St so their studio should have been at the corner of Main and McDermot St (Owen Street was also renamed McDermot Avenue soon after).  The McPhillips Insurance Plan of Winnipeg 1880 which was drawn in Autumn 1879 does not show a photo studio but they may have been in the Caldwell Block which was built that same year at that corner.  There is also a small ‘photo gallery’ marked at the north end of that block near Bannatyne Street but I don’t think they were that far north.

Click on the map to see a full size image


The following photos are from the personal collection of Gordon Goldsborough of the Manitoba Historical Society.  Thank you for permitting me to use them. 

A sample photo from Penrose and Bowles Photographers


This picture is thought to be of a sketch depicting the execution of Thomas Scott at Lower Fort Gary in March 1870.



A sample photo by Harry Bowles, Photographer




  The young man in this photo has not been identified.

The next year he bought Penrose out and operated as Harry Bowles, Photographer at 95 McDermot Avenue (that would be the side of the Caldwell Block facing onto McDermot so it was still the same location opposite the post office).  However, things quickly went bad for him as his debt to his creditors became unmanageable until finally when he was also implicated of being is possession of a lens stolen from another photographer he found it wisest to move on quickly to North Dakota.

The Winnipeg Daily Times reported on July 14, 1880, p. 4:

"Harry Bowles, the photographer, has emigrated to Dakota – not on account of the Land Regulations, but of a little discrepancy between himself and his creditors. The discrepancy still remains. Bowles also foresaw a little difficulty regarding a lens, which he bought a year ago for a sum much below its value, and secreted till the other day. It belonged Mr Duffin, from whom it was stolen by a half-breed, who sold it to Bowles. Duffin got track of it, and sent the police to recover it, and shortly afterwards – on Monday afternoon – Bowles secured passage on the steamer Minnesota, getting on board a mile or so up the river."

It’s unlikely that he returned to Canada while there were outstanding claims made against him by his creditors.

When he first arrived in North Dakota he worked for the Northern Pacific out of Wahpeton, ND.  In 1882 he moved to Pembina, ND and worked as a photographer for 3 years.

After that he homesteaded in Beaulieu and then moved to Langdon where he first built his own home.  There he met and married Elizabeth McGauvan McKercher in 1892, they settled at Osnabrock, ND and raised a family where their descendants still live today.

Sources: (the above story was pieced together from the information in the advertisements shown, from the sources stated in the main text or from the following accounts of Harry's life)

The Henry J. Bowles story from The Spirit Lives On, Osnabrock, ND 1887-1987

Henry Bowles own handwritten application for The Cavalier County Pioneers Association gives a good personal account of his life.

Read The Henry Bowles Family History from the Langdon, ND Centennial Edition 1888-1988

Harry's obituary

Henry Bowles' Family Tree (extracted from a public family tree on ancestry.com)

James Bowles m. Elizabeth

(lived Franktown, Ont. (SW of Ottawa) in 1855; moved to Sarnia in 1861)

1.  Henry James (Harry) Bowles b. Dec. 10, 1855 Franktown, Ont. (near Ottawa)
m. Elizabeth McGauvran (b. June 21, 1859 Alfred, Prescott, Ont.; Joseph, Mary Brownrigg) ca. 1892
1.1  Dewey Bowles
1.2  Albert Henry Bowles b. June 26, 1894
1.3  Herbert John Bowles b. Jan. 1896
1.4  Harold E. Bowles b. Feb. 27, d. June 18, 1898
1.5  Horace Edwin Bowles b. Apr. 24, 1899 d. Nov. 30, 1903
1.6  Walter James Bowles b. May 22, 1903 Hay township, Cavalier, ND
m. Ada Marion Magnus (b. Apr. 2, 1907 Mona, ND; Emil, Annie Alfson) Dec. 12, 1926 Cavalier
(10 children; 9 Living; descendants living in ND today)
Walter James d. June 26, 1982 Langdon, ND
Ada Marion d. 1998 Cavalier, ND
Elizabeth d. Sept. 23, 1931 Hay township, Cavalier, ND
Harry d. May 22, 1944 Langdon twp, Cavalier, ND 


This site was last updated 10/19/18