There is no one historical truth. The oft-repeated phrase “there are two sides to every story” falls flat when dealing with the past, because there are not just two sides; there are infinite “sides.” Museums do not work with “history,” but rather histories. Yet so frequently we are presented with a model of the past that ignores major historical complexities and power relations, including the histories of indigenous peoples, women, and other groups in Canada, which are often hidden away.
The photographer Helen McCall, whose works are found throughout our archives, was one such woman who documented early Coast life in invaluable ways. Photographs are a limited medium because unlike a diary or other written record, we cannot know the subject’s inner thoughts. But McCall aimed to photograph community, and we can follow her work to identify what she, as a photographer and settler woman, found most important. In many ways, McCall departed from the norm by documenting rural life. She photographed all aspects of community life, thus creating a more comprehensive story of the Sunshine Coast. Her craft also reflected her rural living, as she produced her photographs in a basic darkroom with neither running water nor electricity. From her unique angles and perspectives, we see the influence of a youth spent in a forested environment.
McCall’s entrepreneurial spirit is evident not just by her pursuit of a career, but also by her use of a postcard medium to attract the Sunshine Coast’s tourist market. Though she may have seen herself as simply making a living, Helen McCall had the immensely powerful task of shaping our historical memory here on the Sunshine Coast.