I was an undergraduate history student searching for evidence of women’s role in the Winnipeg General Strike.
It seemed strange to me that women had made up one-quarter of the workforce in 1919 yet had never made it into any of the history books about the strike.
After this first Foote encounter, and over the next quarter century, Foote became intertwined with the city in my mind. Iconic, like the Golden Boy or the Arlington Bridge. So I felt surprised this summer to come across a letter from Foote – I had practically forgotten he was human, so mixed into the cement and metal of the city had he become.
I found the letter at the City of Winnipeg Archives where I had been working on the records surrounding the building of the aqueduct from Shoal Lake (how we still get our water, by the way, almost a hundred years later).
The letter is dated July 23, 1935 and in it Foote offers his photography services to the Greater Winnipeg Sanitary District. He needs the work, he says, because a “fire cleaned me out” and “my taxes are long overdue.” In fact, he says, “I am finding it very difficult to get along.” At the time of his letter, Foote would have been 62 years old—a pretty cruddy time, if you ask me, to be stuck hustling for money.
Esyllt Jones, in her Imagining Winnipeg essay, tells us that in 1948, when Foote was 75, both his legs were broken in a car accident.
So, my favourite Foote photo, now that I’ve learned a bit more about his life, and gotten a bit older myself, is the very last photo in Imagining Winnipeg: tough Mr. Foote, standing upright on the corner of Portage and Main, 77 years old, cane dangling from his overcoat pocket, and with his camera raised.
- Mary Horodyski
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Mary Horodyski is in the middle of her third degree in history – an M.A. in Archival Studies at the University of Manitoba. She also has an M.A. in History from Concordia University and a B.A. in History from the University of Manitoba. In between (and sometimes during) history degrees, she works as a writer and researcher. She recently completed her archival internship at the City of Winnipeg Archives. Her Manitoba History article on women and the Winnipeg General Strike can be found here.