DUNDAS 175: RS Brooke produced the first photographic image of Dundas

A photograph, taken by RS Brooke, is recognized as the oldest known photograph of Dundas.
  • Stan Nowack.

In the 1850s, King Street was a mud road with hitch posts along the plank sidewalks. “The Checkered Grocery” (now the Char-broil restaurant) at King Street and Miller’s Lane was a dominant feature of the town center with its unique wall motif.

Can you just imagine it? Well, you can do more than just imagine it – you can see it. On a beautiful day in 1856, a man stood at the corner of King Street and Sydenham Road, looked east toward Hamilton, and did a remarkable thing: he took a photograph. This photograph, taken by RS Brooke, is recognized as the oldest known photograph of Dundas. Brooke was the first photographer to settle in Dundas.

What he photographed in 1856, and for over 30 years after, is recorded for posterity in our historical periodicals, our public library, our local businesses and our Dundas Museum and Archives, where you can view Brooke’s works and many other early photographic works, in the current exhibition, “Deep Focus: Dundas Glass Negative Photography.”

“He was the first to introduce ambrotype to this part of the province” (Dundas True Banner: January 24, 1862). An ambrotype was a cheaper alternative to the daguerreotype and became the dominant form of portrait photography in the 1850s. Basically, it is an underexposed negative on glass, mounted on a black background to give a positive illusion. By 1862 Brooke was working with both ambrotypes and photographs.

Richard Sarly Brooke was born in 1828, in Yorkshire, England. He arrived in Dundas in 1855 after his military service in South Africa. He presented himself as an “artist photographer” from 1856 to 1887.

His studio, “RS Brooke’s Portrait Rooms,” was on the north side of King Street, near the corner of King and Sydenham streets, where the Bank of Montreal is now.

Brooke died on September 28, 1896, and is buried, with his wife Elizabeth, in Grove Cemetery. His legacy is the photographic record that captures the earliest images of Dundas from less than a decade after the city’s incorporation to 20 years after Confederation.

Check out “Deep Focus” at the Dundas Museum and Archives, 139 Park St. W., on view now through January 14, 2023.

Stan Nowak is a Dundas resident and historian. This article has been updated from the original article published October 10, 2003 in the Dundas Star News.

Michael E. Marquez