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As You Were: Objects, Stories, and the Colebourn Family Archive

Colebourn Family Archive Collection

Selections from the Colebourn Family Archive

Kate Addleman-Frankel, Co-Curator of Remembering The Real Winnie; PhD student in Art History, Department of Art, University of Toronto; MA, Film and Photographic Preservation and Collections Management, School of Image Arts, Ryerson University.

Objects have long been understood as access points to the “faraway”—to people and cultures at a temporal or spatial remove, or to wondrous natural phenomena not yet explicable by science. In the thirteenth century, humanists began to assemble object collections that prefigured those found in today’s museums and archives. Curiosity about the world had reached extraordinary new levels, and more objects meant more material for study and observation. They facilitated the exploration of still-mysterious realms.

Present-day researchers continue, in many cases, to be led by the material. Objects compel our attention because of the innumerable questions they raise about their origins, use, significance, and the cultures or forces that produced them, and because they also embody the answers. How tantalizing a prospect: that to understand an object we have only to make it speak. Or, rather, we have only to listen.              

Photographs figure prominently in the Colebourn Family Archive. They span a wide range of years and vary in form. Those that belonged to Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian and military officer who served with the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps during the First World War, include pre-war card-mounted studio portraits; snapshots from training camps in Winnipeg, Valcartier, and Salisbury Plain, England; and publicity images of a black bear named Winnie that belonged to Colebourn before he deposited her in the London Zoo in 1914, when he left Salisbury Plain for the war’s front lines. The photographs that belonged to Fred Colebourn, Harry’s son, are colour prints from the later years of the twentieth century. They show the younger Colebourn speaking to school groups about his father.