Robert Gordon Wilson: Father. Photo historian. Collector. Author. Born July 25, 1943, in Hamilton; died May 8, 2019, in Toronto, of pancreatic cancer, aged 75.
Bob Wilson lived life in three dimensions. At the celebration of his life, visitors were offered 3-D glasses so they could enjoy the stereoscopic photographs he had taken with a camera that he had built himself. His collection of early Canadian stereoscopic images is likely unique in the country.
Bob studied chemical engineering at McMaster University and earned a PhD from the University of Alberta. He loved sports, especially basketball, and played on the McMaster team – but only for one year. He left the team to concentrate on his studies. He worked for Union Carbide in Montreal, before doing graduate work in Alberta and coming to Toronto in 1979 to work for Imperial Oil. At least that was his day job, his first dimension.
His second dimension was his passion for the history of photography. He connected with fellow enthusiasts through the Photographic Historical Society of Canada. Bob would rise early on Sundays to go to “church” – he was a faithful attendee at the weekly antiques and paper show at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. His motto: “Get there first.” That’s when the real discoveries could be made and he was known for his discerning eye as a collector of early Canadian images. He travelled to libraries and archives across Canada and to meetings of the Daguerreian Society in Paris and the United States.
In retirement he had more time to research the lives of those behind the camera. In 2013, he published Secure the Shadow: The Life of Benjamin Franklin Baltzly, the story of a doctor-turned-photographer who captured early images of British Columbia. Bob also published dozens of articles, mainly on early photographic equipment, which formed a big part of his collection.
Bob’s talent for research even extended to a detailed history of the family cottage on Lake Muskoka that could have passed for a master’s thesis.
The third dimension of Bob’s life was his family and friends. While at McMaster, he met Lorraine Hill, a fellow student, on a blind date. They were married at the McMaster Chapel right after graduation, on a day when the temperature was 101 degrees F, as Bob’s brother recalls. When Bob and Lorraine were unable to have children of their own, they decided to adopt, and in August, 1976, welcomed young Brian into their lives.
Bob and Brian spent hours developing film and photographs together in their home darkroom. Every Christmas, Bob would set up a tripod to ensure Christmas dinner was “properly” photographed. Bob even built a stereo camera using duplicate digital cameras so he could make stereocard collections for his grandsons, Tyler and Russell. These collections expanded every year with the latest homemade stereocards, and remain as keepsakes with Bob’s grandsons.
When Lorraine became seriously ill, he cared for her selflessly until her death in 2011. Several years after Lorraine’s death, Bob and a long-time family friend, May Maskow, began to travel together, visiting Costa Rica, Dubai and New Orleans. Bob and May had different interests but they meshed. May’s volunteer development work took the couple to Haiti and Iqaluit, while Bob’s photo history interest took them to conferences in Paris and New York.
Bob was comfortable wherever he went: riding in the back of an old pickup in Haiti, working on the roof of a Habitat for Humanity building in Iqaluit or riffling through daguerreotypes in a back room of the Louvre. He was a gracious host at May’s many feasts and gatherings: calm, thoughtful and generous. Fully three-dimensional.
May Maskow is Bob’s partner; Philippa Campsie is a family friend.
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