Waterloo Region Generations
A record of the people of Waterloo Region, Ontario.
James Henry Esson

James Henry Esson[1]

Male 1853 - 1933  (80 years)

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  • Name James Henry Esson 
    Born 10 Aug 1853  Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
    Gender Male 
    Business 113 Queen Street, Cambridge, Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location 
    photography studio 
    Advertizement on back of an Esson photo
    Advertizement on back of an Esson photo
    Occupation 1881  Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [4
    Photographer 
    Business 1884  105 King Street, Cambridge, Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location 
    photography studio 
    Hall of Fame - Waterloo Region
    • James Esson; Inducted 1995

      James Esson was born on 10 Aug 1853, one of six children of noted Preston photographer George Esson and his wife Jane. The elder Esson opened a daguerre type gallery in about 1852 and continued with it until 1870 when his son James took over the business apparently first operating it from the family home on Queen Street.

      James Esson quickly made a name for himself as an "artist", that is, someone who "creates" a picture as opposed to someone who merely "takes" a picture. His first subjects were architectural and scenic views, subjects which later formed the basis of his famous stereoscopic views that were so popular in the late 19th century.

      In 1878 an advertisement in the "County of Waterloo Gazetteer and Directory" announced "James Esson Photographer, Publisher and dealer in Stereoscopic Views, C.D.V. Statuary, Monumental and Headstone Designs. Queen Street - Preston - Ontario." Within three years Mr. Esson had added "portrait artist" to his list.

      In 1884, at the age of 30, Mr Esson opened a studio at 105 King Street naming it the Atelier. So excellent was his work that he soon attained a reputation for excellence and attracted to his studio patrons of political and social distinction from as far away as Ottawa and Montreal. The Marquis of Lorne and Princess Louise, members of the Senate and Commons, famous stage artists and prominent ladies and gentlemen were numbered among Mr Esson's clients.

      His reputation brought Preston, which was elsewhere described as "not indicative of much energy or enterprise", a certain distinction and his famous "Atelier" became one of Preston's prominent commercial buildings. As such, it was featured as an individual illustration on a bird's-eye view map of Preston published c.1895. In May 1892 the Atelier was described in "The Canadian Photographic Journal" as "three storeys high, built of red brick and trimmed with Credit Valley brownstone". Visitors to the Atelier first entered the office, which is described as "a cosy cheerful looking" fairly spacious room. "The counter, desk, screen and wainscotting, all of which are quartered oak, are beautifully carved from special designs". A "massive oak stairway" led to the bright studio with ample natural light allowed to enter through a skylight of "ground glass". Mr Esson's exclusive use of natural light added a special feel to his photographs and earned him the nickname "The Lightman".

      In the late 1870's and the early 1880's, Mr Esson travelled across Canada and the United States taking hundreds of stereoviews of landscapes, buildings, street scenes and parks that were arranged into some 15 geographic or thematic series including cities such as Toronto, Guelph and Galt and scenes of the Muskoka District, the Northern Lakes, the Thousand Islands, Central Park in New York, and what he described as "Picturesque America", "Picturesque Canada" and "Gems of Statuary".

      Mr Esson used a binocular camera fitted with two lenses several inches apart to record the same scene from slightly different angles roughly corresponding to the perspective of human eyes. The resultant double image would then produce a three-dimensional result when viewed through a stereoscope, a common appliance in Victorian households. It has been noted that Mr Esson was one of only a very small number of Canadian photographers to produce the stereoviews that were common in both Britian and the United States at the time. It is estimated that Mr Esson's collection, including stereoviews, numbered in the vicinity of 5000 images, of which only a fraction now remain.

      Through these stereoviews Mr Esson gained a "world-wide" reputation as a landscape photographer and these photographs combined with his portrait photographs created a body of work that placed him, in the eyes of many, among the foremost photographers of his day.

      A fall suffered in 1916 forced Mr Esson into retirement and he asked his nephew, Elliot Law to take over his business. In 1920, Mr Esson decided to leave Preston, sold his "Atelier" and moved to Toronto. He died there on 12 Sept. 1933 and is buried in Prospect Cemetery.

      Cambridge Archives and Records Centre
    Occupation 1891  Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [7
    photographer 
    Residence 1891  Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [7
    Methodist 
    Occupation 1901  Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    Photographer 
    Esson,James-00001-DogSterographicCard.jpg
    Esson,James-00001-DogSterographicCard.jpg
    Occupation 1911  Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [5
    Photographer 
    Residence 1911  Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [5
    Catholic 
    Died 12 Sep 1933  Toronto, York Co., Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [8, 9
    Cause: Cause: Senile Decay (4 years) - Bronchitis (2 years) 
    Buried 14 Sep 1933  Prospect Cemetery, Toronto, York Co., Ontario Find all individuals with events at this location  [8
    Hall of Fame - Waterloo Region Bef 2012  , Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [10
    Interesting photography 
    Eby ID Number 00023-1753.1 
    Person ID I17007  Generations
    Last Modified 22 Apr 2021 

    Father George Esson,   b. CALC 28 Mar 1816, , Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 11 Mar 1893, Walkerton, Brant Twp., Bruce Co., Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age ~ 76 years) 
    Mother Jane Jordan Elliott,   b. CALC 30 Jun 1827, , Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 19 Jun 1919, Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age ~ 92 years) 
    Family ID F252089  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family 1 Martha Anne Clemens,   b. 1850, Hespeler (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Married 6 Feb 1876  Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [7, 11
    Last Modified 23 Apr 2021 
    Family ID F4470  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family 2 Janet B. "Jennie" "Jennet" Burkland,   b. 1867, Windsor, Essex Co., Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Married 3 Mar 1913  Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [12
    Last Modified 23 Apr 2021 
    Family ID F252091  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Photos
    James Esson
    James Esson
    from Waterloo Region Hall of Fame

  • Notes 
    • James like his father was a photographer, he taking over from his father in 1874. He was known as an artist photographer and took many stereoscopic pictures that were very popular in the 19th century. He portraits were reknown and many of Canada's elite chose him to make their formal photographs. He left Preston in 1920 after a fall in 1916 forced his retirement.


      Cambridge Mosaic , Jim Quantrell, 1998, City of Cambridge [abbreviated snippet from original text in book]

      _________________

      James Esson of Preston was one of Canada's best known and most accomplished portrait photographers. His father, George Esson, was one of the first photographers in Canada in the 1840s.

      His first studio was in the old family homestead, 113 Queen Street. In 1884 he built at 105 King Street one of the finest portrait studios in Canada at that time. He travelled to many parts of Ontario taking architectural and scenic views for stereopticons.

      Before the days of the automobile, distinguished people of many professions came to have their portraits taken by him. He also did miniatures on ivory for lockets and brooches after the style of the seventeenth century.

      He photographed the Marquis of Lorne and the Princess Louise while the Marquis was Governor-General of Canada and while they were visiting at Cruikston Park. Esson retired in 1916.


      Waterloo Region Hall of Fame

      _________________

      Eason, James, portrait and stereoscopic artist, dealer in stereoscopic views, &c. Is a Canadian by birth, and has resided here since 1855.

      Illustrated Atlas of the County of Waterloo, H. Parsel & Co., Toronto - 1881 (Village of Preston entries)

      _________________________

      ESSON'S ATELIER, Preston, Ontario

      It is fact beyond dispute that this is one of the best equipped galleries in the Dominion, and for fine work is unsurpassed in America. It is patronized by the best people from all parts of the Dominion. Mr. Esson enjoys the distinction of being photo artist to royalty, hence for fine work, there is no reason why we should go elsewhere. He has the high reputation for producing the finest steroscopic views of natural scenery, and his comic slides are in great variety, so with his rare novelties in the photographic art line, and like his Atelier, enjoy a wide popularity in Canada and Great Britain. Call and see his work. You are welcome. Private engagements if required. Telephone and electric car convienence.

      1897 Jubilee Souvenir of Galt

  • Sources 
    1. [S3] Book - Vol I A Biographical History of Waterloo Township and other townships of the county : being a history of the early settlers and their descendants, mostly all of Pennsylvania Dutch origin..., 417.

    2. [S204] Census - ON, Waterloo, Preston - 1901, Preston (Village) F-2 Page 14.

    3. [S105] Census - ON, Waterloo, Preston - 1871, Pg. 51.

    4. [S297] Census - ON, Waterloo, Preston - 1881, Page 10.

    5. [S1669] Census - ON, Waterloo, Preston - 1911, Div. 24 Pg. 16.

    6. [S1473] Census - ON, Waterloo, Preston - 1861, Div. 1 Page 9.

    7. [S2441] Census - ON, Waterloo, Preston - 1891, Section 1 Page 60.

    8. [S2910] Ontario, Toronto Trust Cemeteries, 1826-1989.
      Name: James Esson
      Event Type: Burial
      Event Date: 14 Sep 1933
      Event Place: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
      Event Place (Original): Toronto, Ontario, Canada
      Age: 91
      Birth Year (Estimated): 1842
      Birthplace: Preston Springs Ontario
      Death Date: 12 Sep 1933
      Death Place: Toronto
      Cemetery: Prospect Cemetery
      Relative's Name: J E Esson
      Relative's Address: 96 Keewatin Avenue
      Plot Owner's Name: Jennet E Esson
      Page: 126
      Volume Date Range: Volume 04, 1930-1937

    9. [S116] Vit - ON - Death Registration.
      Name:James Esson Gender:Male Birth Year:abt 1842 Birth Place:England Age at Death:91 Death Date:12 Sep 1933 Death Place:York, Ontario, Canada

    10. [S220] Waterloo Region Hall of Fame Waterloo Region Hall of Fame.

    11. [S4] Vit - ON - Marriage Registration.
      Name:James Esson Age:23 Birth Date:abt 1853 Birth Place:Preston Marriage Date: 8 Feb 1876 Marriage County or District:Waterloo Father:George Esson Mother:Jane J Esson Spouse:Martha Anne Clemens Spouse's Age:25 Spouse Birth Date:abt 1851 Spouse Birth Place:Hespeler Spouse Father:John Clemens Spouse Mother:Mary Ann Clemens

    12. [S4] Vit - ON - Marriage Registration.
      Name:James Esson Age:56 Birth Date:abt 1857 Birth Place:Preston Marriage Date:3 Mar 1913 Marriage County or District:Waterloo Father:George Esson Mother:Jane Sadan Elliott Spouse:Jennie Forbes Spouse's Age:45 Spouse Birth Date:abt 1868 Spouse Birth Place:Windsor, Ontario Spouse Father:Richard Burkland Spouse Mother:Annie Doane

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBorn - 10 Aug 1853 - Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsBusiness - photography studio - - 113 Queen Street, Cambridge, Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsMarried - 6 Feb 1876 - Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsOccupation - Photographer - 1881 - Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsBusiness - photography studio - 1884 - 105 King Street, Cambridge, Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsOccupation - photographer - 1891 - Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsResidence - Methodist - 1891 - Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsOccupation - Photographer - 1901 - Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsOccupation - Photographer - 1911 - Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsResidence - Catholic - 1911 - Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsMarried - 3 Mar 1913 - Preston (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDied - Cause: Cause: Senile Decay (4 years) - Bronchitis (2 years) - 12 Sep 1933 - Toronto, York Co., Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsBuried - 14 Sep 1933 - Prospect Cemetery, Toronto, York Co., Ontario Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsHall of Fame - Waterloo Region - Bef 2012 - , Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Earth