Frank E. Garber (1877-1964)
Bridgewater's Town Photographer
Frank Elam Garber was born in Newcombville in 1877 to Emanuel and Mary Eliza (Hebb) Garber. From a young age, Frank Garber showed artistic abilities as seen in his early charcoal self-portrait, a skill he later applied to his hand-coloured photographic scenes. Records suggest Garber learned to take photographs from his Newcombville neighbour, Henry West. In 1904, Garber established a photography studio in a second-floor office at 559 King Street. For nearly 50 years, he recorded the visual history of his community and its residents.
Like many professional photographers, portrait sittings were the bread and butter of Garber's business. His studio portraits portrayed the essence of the people of the community, and he had a talent for capturing a child's innocence, as seen in his early romantic photos. Throughout his career, Garber advertised his business in the local newspaper and the annual high school yearbook. He photographed weddings and graduations and recorded the community's events, festivals, activities, and milestones. There are few people of Bridgewater who were not photographed by Garber. His studio was available day or night.
Garber loved to photograph the islands at the mouth of the LaHave River from his little skiff, Rambler, which was outfitted with a powerful Acadia engine that "took no back seat for speed or beauty." Garber's frequent travels were often reported in local newspapers. The November 12, 1906, issue of New Germany News reported Garber taking photographs of Morgan's Eddy and the town from Feindel's Hill in New Germany. The resulting photographs were described as "up to Mr. Garber's well-known standards." As a commercial photographer, he was regarded a "master craftsman." He regularly promoted himself as a photo artist, advertising his photography business in the Bridgewater Bulletin. His 1941 ad noted "a photo for every occasion." Many of Garber's scenic images were sold to the public in the form of prints and postcards. According to his nephew, Robert, "Garber made a good living at photography and never did anything else."
Garber was regarded as an able businessman and was involved in many aspects of the community. He sat on the Bridgewater Town Council for three terms from 1934 to 1939, and was a major supporter of Bridgewater's hydroelectric plant. An ardent curler, Garber was a founding member of the Bridgewater Curling Club, serving as its President from 1938-39. As a young man, Garber joined the Canadian Order of Foresters, and throughout his life, was active in the St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Bridgewater, singing in the choir.
Garber was a quiet, friendly man. In 1902, he married Martha Helena Wile. They had two children, a son, Ray, and daughter, Fern. Martha died in 1918 from the Spanish Influenza epidemic that swept the country. In 1922, Garber married Hilda Maude Conrad of Conquerall Bank. He and Hilda had his third child, Lowry.
On September 24, 1952, Garber's studio and office was destroyed in a fire. The loss was a shock not only to Garber but also to the community, given his irreplaceable photographs and negatives, which recorded the visual history of the town. He had captured life in Bridgewater and surrounds through two world wars, two depressions, plus the introduction of the automobile, movies, and television. Following the fire, Garber went into retirement but continued to photograph some from his home at 255 King Street.
Frank Garber died June 3, 1964. In the Bridgewater Bulletin from August 3, 1988, it was noted that "his physical presence is gone, but his photographs can be found on the walls and in the albums of many homes, businesses and public buildings in Lunenburg County." A large number of Garber’s photographs are held in the DesBrisay Museum’s collection.