Rod LeMay: Master Photographer
Rodolphe "Rod" Lemay ( 1875-1949 )
Rod LeMay was born in St. Louis de Lotbinière in Quebec on January 11, 1875 and when he was 16 he was an “Artiste Apprentice” in Montreal.
A story of heartbreak seems to have led him to the then remote area of Powell River at the age of 27. He lived on the territory of the Tla'amin Nation and appears to have worked in a logging camp. The first image we have by LeMay is that of the Michigan Puget Sound logging train in 1907. His first studio was located in what was called Lutzville at the time (where the old golf course in Townsite was located behind the hulks).
In 1909 rumblings were heard that a pulp and paper mill was to start along Powell River and in 1910 construction of the mill and the town that grew up around it started. It is assumed that the Powell River Company allowed LeMay to document both the industry’s growth and that of the newly burgeoning Townsite.
LeMay did amazing work, all the more remarkable because of the cumbersome materials that were required for his images. His work faithfully reflects the growth of the Powell River community and its citizens, including a tragedy that befell the Tla'amin First Nations in 1918 when it lost a major village to a devastating forest fire.
The LeMay collection of images inspire awe in both visitors and researchers alike. His glass plate negatives and the prints made from them are pristine, elegant in their depiction of people in their work and at play. LeMay used a Romera view camera with a 6.5 lens. His ingenuity made it a magical instrument. He rigged up a process to use flash and to capture wide angle shots. He not only created technical innovations, his artistic eye produced lasting images that rank among the finest from early photographers.
The quality of his black-and-white original prints remained intense for decades due to a secret that he used in the dark room. The glass negatives he left behind produce images as sharp and detailed as the day he made them. The combination of his innovative technical expertise and his artistry have created a priceless legacy documenting the beginnings of the community.
We do not know why LeMay stopped taking photographs but in 1923 he sold his studio to Maud Lane. He remained in Powell River until 1947 and died in Vancouver in 1949.