TIME WINDOWS: Tribute to a photographer

The Mahon Family Records include century-old glass plates produced by Edward Stolterfoht, a close friend of Castlegar’s founding father.

Edward Mahon (right) entertains a business associate at his house on Burrard Street

Edward Mahon (right) entertains a business associate at his house on Burrard Street

The Mahon Family Records that were made available to me included century old glass plates produced by Edward Stolterfoht, a close friend of Castlegar’s founding father, Edward Mahon. His photographic record documents Edward’s life as one of Vancouver’s most eligible bachelors, and the early phase of his marriage to Lilette Rebbeck. Printing his photographs, I often stood in his footsteps, although I have never seen his face. But I think I know his heart.

Stolterfoht was part of Edward’s inner social circle. The two friends shared common interests: city planning, astronomy, love of music. With Stolterfoht, it was the piano that was the love of his musical life. It put him on centre stage at social gatherings, and provided a glistening facet to his personality.

Tragedy struck Edward’s photographer friend in August 1907. He was a passenger on the Alberni Stage when the carriage broke away from the horses on a steep hill, ejecting Stolterfoht. His head collided with a rock. Edward rushed to his side at the Nanaimo Hospital, and spent an entire night with his unconscious friend, talking to him so he would not give up. He remained unconscious for six days, bleeding from his Eustachian tubes. When he revived a week later, he thanked his friend for a $120 cheque and his vigilance:

Very nice to know that you have been here all night, having had long conversations with me … A week later he reports “being greatly troubled with the hearing.” It was almost totally gone. He set out for California, hoping to regain it. But it was not to be:

I am quite happy but rather lonely, for only being able to understand with difficulty, what people say to me. I like to avoid being a burden to them on any length of time, and so I am walking around outdoors or in my own pleasant room alone. But there I am not alone. I have a piano. It seems funny. My ears are full of noises, there is music: the roar of the sea, and the wind in the pine trees. [But] if I hear anyone play the piano, I do never understand the harmonious sound of the melodies, but only a disagreeable metallic drumming noise.

That loss was never corrected. It may be that his passion for photography in some way made up for the destruction of his acoustic landscape. I can only hope so. But his photographic output was not compromised and his letters to “Dear Mahon” continued. One of the most touching was penned just as he had returned from a visit to Danzig, the place of his birth:

When I had to walk out in the wet this morning, I was friendly greeted in the street by a young man. It was your friend, Mr. Taite. He was asking me, whether I had met you in the old country, and then my surprise was very great and turned into sincere joy to me, when soon Mr. Taite developed the glad news to me, that not only you were in the home countries, but also that you got happily married, since I saw you in the last summer. So, before looking in any of my 20 letters, which I have found waiting home, I cannot help writing first these lines.

Sincerely I wish to you everything good, this time not only for a nice and pleasant journey to your Home-Relatives, but altogether now for a nice and happy journey through all your lifetime … although being myself a ‘Junggeselle’, which means Bachelor, and remaining so, I am heartily glad for you for the step you have taken in this life. Be always happy and hearty. I wish that you will fully enjoy the present times, that also you will look with confidence to the times-to-come.

As to myself I am always well and happy, as the years flow away like a river, which at last ends in the sea. I still like to play on the piano and still like to see the nice world, as long as I can, being now nearly 63 years … My deafness I do not mind anymore. I am however sorry, that I cannot be of any use in society, that I never can understand the general conversation, and that only by imagination I can enjoy the dear sounds of music, when, by playing myself, I know what the noise means – But that is alright.

(For more on Stolterfoht and scans of his letters, see the TGN: Edward Stolterfoht album on my Trails in Time Facebook page.)

Previous installments in this series

Farron summit industry

Farron memories

Ben Shaw: Myth and reality

Lilette Mahon: Art in living

Lilette Mahon: A mentor’s gift

Edward Mahon: Searching for a legacy

Edward Mahon: A stimulating childhood

Ole Skattebo: Fishing legend

Ingenuity: Milking the river

Intrigues: Castlegar’s lacklustre childhood

Perceptions: Adrift on the River of Life

Local history interwoven with rivers

Drawn into the currents of time