The mandate of this blog is to create an online archive of information about Roland Caldwell Harris, the City of Toronto works commissioner between 1912 and 1945. He held that position longer than any other individual, before or since. But Harris was much more than a long-serving bureaucrat. His legacy is apparent throughout the old City of Toronto.

Friday, May 7, 2010

R.C. Harris, Photographer

News reports frequently cited Harris's enthusiasm for photography. Some excerpts:

Toronto Weekly Star, June 8, 1912:

- Mr. Harris’ habit of nearly always carrying a camera has been commented on, and, no doubt, many people have guessed that the Commissioner generally wears a tail coat for this very purpose. It might be supposed easy for him to tuck away a pretty big camera in its capacious folds. But the truth is Mr. Harris in his inveterate pursuit of photography has a fondness for a very small camera. For quite a long time, he has carried a tiny English vest pocket instrument, and he recently bought another, smaller if possible. And it is with these – the two smallest cameras manufactured – that he has most of his picture-making fun. They wouldn’t bulge the pocket of the thinnest man at the Hall.

Toronto Star, March 2, 1914:

Works Commissioner Harris, as soon as the hour of the day comes when he is transformed to “Roly,” turns joyfully from boiler plates to photographic plates, from blue prints to gas light prints. He is a camera fiend of much renown among the experts of the art. He can make all kinds of photographs. Some of them are clean and sharp, like his reports, some of them are vaguely beautiful, like his answers to newspaper men when questioned about something he does not wish to reveal. Their quality is almost always fine.

A short profile of Harris (News, July 14, 1914) noted what we would now describe as his urban sensibility:

He sees all the romance in the development of the city. The men who work in perilous places, who plan great bridges, who toil day and night when water famines threaten, when water mains burst, when the unforeseen spells danger and the welfare of the whole or a portion of the community is threatened, all play their part in the story of the city. If he could be forced to write the romance they would not be forgotten.

[Note: the references to water famines and burst mains would have been broadly recognized by the Torontonians of that period, who were dealing with chronic water shortages caused by the deterioration of the city's water system.]

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