Catalogue Introduction

In 1899, the Rochester-based Eastman Kodak Company formally opened its first Canadian location on Colborne Street in Toronto. This movement northward to establish “Kodak Heights” allowed the corporation to extend its reach beyond its American borders, connecting the cities of Rochester and Toronto through photography, and establishing a new market of consumers for the Kodak brand.

Kodak Canada: The Early Years (1899–1939) is an exhibition, publication, and digital project, created and organized by the 2019 cohort of Ryerson University’s Film + Photography Preservation and Collections Management program. Drawing from the Kodak Canada Corporate Archives and Heritage Collection at the University’s Archives and Special Collections, Kodak Canada examines the company’s earliest years in Canadaandtraces the global expansion of the Kodak empire into Canada in the early part of the twentieth century. Growth into Canada solidified Kodak as North America’s dominant manufacturer in photographic technology, a driving force behind visual culture in Canada, and a near century-long employer in Toronto’s Mount Dennis neighbourhood.

This publication builds upon the exhibition, deepening our understanding of Kodak Canada during the first four decades of the twentieth century. Essays by Kate Fogle, Olivia Jenkins, and Misty-Dawn MacMillan provide insight into the company’s archive and history. Concentrating on the twentieth-century interwar period, Fogle’s essay Women at Work unpacks the presence of female workers at Kodak Canada. Using texts and images from the company’s internal bimonthly magazine At Kodak Heights as source material, Fogle broadens her analysis to the social and cultural roles expected from working women at the time. With her essay Shooting” the Great War, Jenkins focuses on the popularity of amateur photography by soldiers during the First World War, despite its illegality under military law. The author examines two Kodak cameras—the Vest Pocket and the Autographic—that were used throughout the conflict, and how Kodak actively promoted them to soldiers. MacMillan adopts a critical lens toward the company in her essay Difficult Histories. Addressing photographs of the Kodak Minstrels, she considers the challenging politics of racist, prejudicial, and discriminatory images found within collections and archives.

This publication also includes excerpts from interviews with Ryerson University’s Special Collections Librarian, Alison Skyrme; photographer and School of Image Arts professor Robert Burley; and former Kodak Canada employees, Al and Diane Holley. Recordings of the full interviews are available on the interactive online project created for this exhibition at This website provides additional digital resources, including an interactive map connecting the corporation’s presence in Rochester and Toronto, and a timeline that extends the chronicles of the company until the Kodak Heights site closed in 2005.