Preserving My Father’s Legacy, One Photograph at a Time

By: Tom King

Volume 19, Issue 6, June 2024

It’s been over twenty years since my father passed away, but hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of him. One of the main reasons for that is because I have the privilege of being the custodian of his vast collection of photographic images, which he accumulated over his lifetime. I have gradually digitized many of the old photographs and I access “the archives” on a regular basis, looking for an image related to a specific occasion. Every time I do, I am reminded of my Dad and his love of photography.

J.W. King behind his camera

My parents, Jim and Betty King, moved to Gananoque in 1949, along with my older siblings Barb and Doug. Dad had been transferred to town to assume the position of Superintendent at the local Steel Company of Canada plant. My other brother, Steve, and I arrived in the following years. It didn’t take long for the family to discover the beauty of the Thousand Islands and soon, a small Link boat with a 25 horsepower Evinrude outboard motor was purchased for adventures on the River. The old Link was eventually upgraded to a beautiful, varnished, inboard launch, which was named “Bar-Bet” after the two ladies in the family. It is with this boat that I have my earliest memories of time on the River.

Along the way, Dad purchased a Kodak camera and started taking pictures of the family outings and the beautiful scenery of the area. As his interest in photography grew, the old Kodak was replaced by several increasingly advanced Minolta cameras. His collection of lenses and other photographic paraphernalia began to expand too. Although he did shoot some prints, Dad’s format of choice was Kodachrome 35 mm slide film. He really liked the vibrant colours that it produced, which resulted in some stunning images. In those days, the exposed rolls of film were mailed away to Kodak for processing, and a few weeks later, a small yellow box containing the developed slides would show up at the Post Office. There was always an excited air of anticipation when the slides were loaded into the projector, to see what images had been captured in the latest batch. Unlike today’s digital photography, you only had one chance to get all the various camera settings correct for a properly focused and exposed photograph. Whenever the dreaded words, “Oh damn,” were muttered by Dad, you knew that something didn’t turn out right and the photo wasn’t up to snuff! More often than not, there would be several praiseworthy pictures in each of those little boxes of slides.

The trusty camera accompanied Dad just about everywhere and he was constantly snapping pictures to record family gatherings, trips, and local events for later enjoyment through slideshows. One particular area of photography that Dad loved was taking pictures of flowers. He purchased a macro lens so that he could take close-up shots that highlighted the intricate details of the various types of flowers, which he captured on film. Over time, he amassed a large collection of stunning floral photographs, which he would organize into slide presentations for various groups around town. He also liked going out to the Gananoque Airport to take pictures of the skydivers who were jumping there. The beauty of the four seasons, particularly on or near the rivers in the area, was another source of imagery that Dad took great pleasure in capturing. To further enhance the viewing experience for his audiences, Dad eventually incorporated two projectors and screens into his presentations, which was pretty cutting edge at the time.  Considering that all the slides had to be properly sequenced in their respective carousels for the dual projector setup to work as intended, it was no easy task putting together a show that had a few hundred pictures.

As Dad entered his twilight years, the passion for photography slowly faded away and his enormous collection of slides began to collect dust on boxes piled high in the basement. After both Mom and Dad passed away, the kids had the unenviable task of cleaning out the family home in preparation for selling it. When I saw all the boxes of slides, I knew that they had to be preserved, so I gathered them all up and took them home with me. I stored them in my basement where they sat for another couple of years. As our kids grew older, and I had a bit more time to devote to hobbies, I decided to start scanning some of the old slides. I bought a good quality slide scanner and began the monumental task of digitizing the thousands of images in those little yellow boxes and carousels. Going through each batch of slides was like taking a trip down memory lane and wonderful recollections of times long forgotten came flooding back. Around that time, I discovered social media and joined a new online thing called “Facebook” and soon realized that it was a terrific platform for sharing old photographs with family and friends. With the rapidly improving technical advancements in digital imaging, I was able to edit many of the scanned slides, either to enhance the colour and clarity, or to crop out unwanted portions of the picture. I was even able to salvage a few of the old “Oh damn!” shots!

All these years later, I have scanned over 7,500 slides, and each one has been given a unique serial number. The physical slides have been stored away in numerical order. The digital images, carrying the same serial number as the original slide, have been sorted into various categories, either by locations, events, or subject matter. Now, if an original slide needs to be found so that it can be rescanned at a higher resolution, it is only a matter of a few minutes before it can be located. Any of the scanned images from the old slides that are used publicly are watermarked with, “J.W. King Photography Collection ©”.

Since the time that I began the digitization process of Dad’s slide collection, I have shared literally hundreds of the pictures online, mainly in various Facebook user groups. Permission has also been granted to both the Thousand Islands Boat Museum and the 1000 Islands History Museum to use some of the images in their displays. Several photographs have been featured in articles in Thousand Islands Life magazine over the years, too. In fact, it was some of Dad’s pictures of the old Gananoque tour boats that inspired me to write my first article for TI Life back in 2011.

I recently found a few boxes of slides that hadn’t been scanned yet, and I was delighted to find photographs of some of my parent’s old friends and their families. I copied several of the newly digitized photos to a thumb drive and mailed them to the daughter of the now deceased friends of my parents. One of the pictures was of the daughter, to whom I sent the photos, with her own infant daughter in her arms on the day of her Christening. I was informed that the “baby” just celebrated her forty-fourth birthday! It is certainly very gratifying to bring unexpected delight to others by sharing Dad’s images from many years ago.

Although it has been a huge undertaking to preserve my father’s old photographs, it has definitely been worth it. One of Dad’s biggest joys in life was being able to share his pictures in such an entertaining way, with the various groups to whom he showed them. By bringing his collection into the digital age, I feel I am just carrying on what he originally intended, only this time for a whole new audience. Thanks for all of these priceless memories Dad, and I’ll certainly keep sharing them, and spreading the associated happiness, for as long as I am able.

By Tom King

Tom King and his wife Marion have lived in Milton, Ontario, for the past 37 years, where they both worked and raised their family of three children: Kris, Mike and Becca. Tom has captured the history of the tour boat industry as well as giving us the best spider story in the past 17 years!

Read more articles by Tom King here in our new format for TI Life, and more articles on our old site.

[Editor's Note: Tom has presented this article to coincide with Father's Day - what could be more appropriate to be thanking a Dad and at the same being a very proud son! Thanks Tom.]

Posted in: Volume 19, Issue 6, June 2024, People, Places, Photography

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Tom King

Tom King and his wife Marion have lived in Milton, Ontario for the past 30 years, where they both worked and raised their family of three children; Kris, Mike and Becca.

Read more articles by Tom King and there may be more articles on our old site. Click here to visit our old site.