Duffin, Simon (1844-1900), photographer

Simon Duffin was born in Ireland and when young moved to Upper Canada, working as a merchant in Odessa before eventually settling in Winnipeg about 1872. He opened a photographic studio on south Main Street becoming one of the first resident photographers in Manitoba. Although he started with limited capital, within four years he was able to advertise that his gallery had “the largest assortment of views in the Province and North West Territory.” During the years 1878 and 1879 Duffin was joined in his studio by W. Caswell and they did business under the name of Duffin and Caswell.
By 1881 Duffin had become the senior photographer in the province and had extended his business to include photographic supplies, outfitting many photographers throughout Manitoba and the northwest. He had also built an impressive three-storey building on Main Street to house a new studio, his dealership, and a family residence. At the height of his photographic career in the 1880s, Duffin was described by his contemporaries as “a genial, courteous gentleman, honorable and fair in all transactions.” A leader in his field, he headed in 1885 a delegation of professional photographers that requested the Winnipeg City Council to levy a tax on itinerant photographers to protect the established businesses.
Duffin was highly successful as a photographic supplier in the 1880s. The introduction of dry-plate negatives allowed photography to be more easily and more widely practised. In 1888 he relinquished his studio work to the firm of Steele and Wing to devote himself more fully to his supply business, which could completely equip a photographic studio “from the carpet to the most delicate photographic instruments.” After his death the business was continued as Duffin and Company by his son-in-law, Newman Fletcher Calder, until it was sold about 1926.


Duffin was a member of the Winnipeg Camera Club, founded in 1892, and was a long-time active member of the freemasons. At his death he was one of the oldest master masons in western Canada. His contemporaries remembered him primarily as a successful businessman. His true legacy, however, is his own photographic record, perhaps the best-known examples of which are his view of the St Boniface cathedral and a portrait of Gabriel Dumont, and the record of the countless photographers across western Canada who were able to carry on their business with the equipment supplied by his company. The surviving photographs are often our most tangible link with our past urban environment, our rural heritage, and our ancestors. 

Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Manitoba Photographers Index


Picture: View of the Duffin photography studio on Winnipeg’s Main Street, late 1870s. Source: University of Alberta Archives