Chasing a portrait of the past

Special to Western NewsThe fates of famed London photographers Harry Hines, lower left, pictured in 1928, and Bill Hines, lower right, pictured in 1970, have remained a mystery to many. Top photo, Regina Alberta Shildrick, wife of Bill Hines, is pictured with the couple’s two boys. In 1929, Bill left Regina and the children to establish a new studio in Harrisburg, Pa., where he lived with ‘wife’ Jeanne.

When former Western staffer Alan Noon started to wonder about the disappearance of Harry Hines, an iconic London photographer, he had no idea the hunt for that story would last the better part of half a century, ending only recently in a clearer picture of the man and of life in London in the earliest part of the 20th Century. This week, Noon writes of his journey of discovery that started in the basement of a Western professor’s home nearly 50 years ago.

*   *   *

The mystery began in 1950 when Mrs. Guthrie sold her house at 31 Victoria St. to Western horticulturist John Johannesen. Stored in one corner of the mud basement were a dozen cardboard boxes, each containing 100 photographic glass-plate negatives.

In 1971, several boxes were removed following a flood. When I examined some of these damaged negatives, while working as a Media Specialist in Photography, I determined they were likely from a professional studio and covered a period from 1907-30.

I inherited the task of identifying the photographer, restoring the images and documenting the collection.

How and why the negatives came to reside in the Victoria Street basement is unknown. Of the originals, more than 200 were beyond repair. Others were so badly damaged  they couldn’t be printed. The collection yielded slightly more than 400 usable images of working-class London – streetscapes, stores, streetcars, family weddings and funerals.

Only one photography studio coincided with the location and timeframe of the collection – Hines Photo Studio. Established by Harry Hines and his son Bill in 1905, the studio was a stone’s throw from Dundas and Adelaide streets.

For several years after the initial discovery, I produced paper prints and showed them around London, particularly to senior citizens and businesses in the east end. In 1978, Western professor emeritus Helen Battle,  recognized a portrait of herself taken in 1926 by the Hines Studio. Ken Tye, a genealogy researcher confirmed the origin of the negatives when he discovered several photographs bearing the Hines Studio embossed stamp that matched negatives found in Guthrie’s basement. Professor Fred Armstrong, Glen Curnoe, Guy St. Denis and Arnold Nethercott made important contributions to the ongoing research about the studio.

But it soon became apparent this was going to be a difficult task.

In the fall of 1987, a public display of the restored images entitled East of Adelaide was mounted at the London Regional Art Gallery. Although a great deal of new information was gleaned from visitors, Harry and Bill Hines remained somewhat shrouded in mystery. The Minister of Culture and Communications for the Ontario government subsequently offered financial support for the publication of a book featuring selected images from the Hines Collection. With a matching grant from the London Public Library Board, the book bearing the same title as the exhibit was published in 1989. In 2005, the Hines negatives, along with some original prints, were placed in the Western Archives.

Last November, I heard from Nichole Vanover, the great-great-granddaughter of Harry Hines. She was compiling a family history, but knew little about Harry, Bill or the London photo studio. We decided to make a joint effort to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Harry Hines.

Several established business owners in east London, who would have known both the Hines photographers, claimed they did not remember them. The proprietor of Ashplant Shoes Store, which once shared a building with the studio, was so incensed at the mention of the name ‘Hines’ he physically removed my researcher from his premises. The Rev. Benny Eckert of The Church of Christ Disciples, located just down the street from the studio, stated bluntly he did not know anything about any ‘Mrs. Hines,’ and not to call again. While showing some of the Hines photos to residents of the Dearness Seniors Home, one gentleman grabbed a particular print depicting the Hines studio and the nearby Fawkes Bakery, pointed to the bakery and said, “I used to work there as a young boy. When Mrs. Hines came into the store, the boss told me to wait on the sidewalk until she left.”

Working with Vanover, I eventually came to realize earlier attempts to find Harry Hines had failed because researchers were looking in the wrong place.

People were reluctant or refused to discuss the family. There had been several references to a ‘Mrs. Hines’ by various researchers, but it was not clear which one: i.e. Gertrude, wife of Harry, or Regina, wife of Bill. Numerous errors contained in public documents further complicated the search.

Finally, in September, the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Harry Hines was solved along with probable reasons why the search had been so difficult.

In August 1894, 19-year-old Harry Hine married 23-year-old Gertrude Schulte in St. Louis. Their son, William (Bill), was born in January 1895.

In 1899, Harry, Gertrude and Bill headed north to London, Ont. and changed their family name to Hines. Harry became a conductor for the London Street Railway but somewhere along the way, he learned about commercial photography. In 1906, he opened a small studio in east London. Two years later, his son joined him as a full partner. In 1919, he married 17-year-old Regina Alberta Shildrick of St. Thomas who lied about her age and listed a variation of her name (Ru-Jena) on the marriage certificate. The couple had two sons.

In 1929, Bill left Regina and his children to establish a new studio in Harrisburg, Pa., where he lived with ‘wife’ Jeanne. His prominent position and influence in the business was reflected by his 1953 election as President of the Professional Photographers Association of Pennsylvania.

Nine years later, he left Jeanne. When contacted in the early 1970s Jeanne Hines initially refused to be interviewed, mistaking the researcher for a bill collector. Eventually convinced otherwise she said, “Bill took all my money and ran off with another woman.”

That other woman was Dorothy Hines. The couple moved to St. Clair, Pa., and opened a studio specializing in factories and commercial work.

Bill died in 1979 and was interred in the German Protestant Cemetery, Mahanoy City, Pa.

In 1930, the Hines London studio closed. Harry and Gertrude began to experience difficulties with their marriage and eventually separated. In 1933, Harry was arrested and convicted for three fraud charges, but was given a complete discharge, after which he slipped out of London. Research now confirms he did not travel south of the border to join Bill but instead, moved to St. Catharines, Ont., where he began working as a photographer for the Peninsula Photo Company. The 1936 city directory lists him as living in a rooming house on Lyman Street with his ‘wife’ Helen.

In 1937, Harry suffered a fatal heart attack.  Declared destitute, he was interred in Victoria Lawn Cemetery in a single unmarked grave, his burial paid for by the City of St. Catharines.  Gertrude Hines died five years later in London and was interred in St. Peter’s Cemetery.

Regina Hines remained in London although there was little contact with her estranged husband or children. In 1933 she gave birth to a daughter MariLynne Luella who was later to write:

“All my mother’s children were born in London, Ont. She had several more than us three but they all died as infants. When I was 5 or 6 my mother told me that I was not a Hines.  My biological father was a prominent London physician. She persuaded the registrar to write in Hines so that all her children had the same name. In those days, it was a terrible thing to be illegitimate.”

In a separate note, MariLynne provided the ‘smoking gun’ which helped to explain the widespread reluctance of people to discuss the family. “My mother Regina was quite a lady around town and had many suitors.  My father Bill was a woman chaser.”

Regina died in Victoria Hospital in 1962, aged 60. The disconnect within the family is quite evident when reading her obituary, which lists the family name as Hinds, her husband Bill as ‘deceased’ and misspells the name of her daughter MariLynne as Marlyn.

The Hines Studio, like its contemporaries, did not photograph for posterity but almost inadvertently has left us a remarkable record of the urban working class of the period. And by following new leads, our knowledge of the talented photographers, Harry and Bill Hines, have brought a satisfying conclusion to their families and myself.