Manitoba Photographers: Simon Duffin (1843-1900)
Born in Ireland in 1843, the oldest of six children of Patrick and Mary Duffin, his family immigrated to Canada when Simon was a young child, settling at Odessa, Ontario. He married Martha Lewis there on 5 April 1864  and they had a daughter, Josephine, the next year. He operated a general store and photography caravan until 1872. Leaving for western Canada later that year, or early 1873, Duffin went as far as possible with his equipment in a wagon, then sold the wagon, and brought the rest of the photographic gear overland.
Arriving in Winnipeg in 1873, the Manitoba Free Press announced that “Mr. Duffin, the well known Photographic Artist from Ontario, has opened a Gallery opposite the Queen’s Hotel” [1A] on Garry Street, “on the old ground, between Henderson’s store and McMicken’s new bank.”  He offered a wide variety of “views of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the North-West” , including residences and businesses as well as landscape photography. His photographs, along with those of James Penrose, were featured in the 28 November 1874 issue of the Canadian Illustrated News:
By March 1875, Duffin had moved to new studio space:
A few days later, the paper reported that “S. Duffin, photographer, can now be found in his new quarters, one door south of McVicar & Blackburn’s old store. He is always in good humor, and can give you a fine photo. Picture frames, etc., always on hand, very cheap.”  By mid-1877, his photography gallery had “removed to rooms over Fisher’s Store, one door south of Ashdown’s.”  By July, a local newspaper reported that:
This building was precursor to the “Duffin Block” that he was to build in 1881 at this corner on Main Street, and which remains to this day. [6B]
In December 1877, Duffin took on William Caswell as a business partner. Caswell had formerly operated photographic studios at Duluth, Minnesota and Grand Forks, Dakota Territory, and his “skills as a photographer has made his name a household word throughout the civilized world. Mr. Caswell will take charge of the operating department.”  Despite the initial enthusiasm, however, the partnership dissolved by 1880, and no further indication of Caswell has been found after this date.
Duffin’s wife had died at some time before 1879. He married again, on 15 September 1879, to 29 year old Sarah Jane Calder of Churchville, Ontario.
He was actively involved in community works, allowing his studio to be used to display plans for a new church in Springfield  and to advertise piano lessons by Mrs. Searl, wife of his employee George W. Searl.  But he ran afoul of the law occasionally, such as in May 1880 when he petitioned the Winnipeg City Council,
He also tangled with photographic colleagues. In July 1880, the Manitoba Free Press reported:
In addition to his photographic work, Duffin appears to have speculated in agricultural land during the Winnipeg boom years of 1881 and 1882. In early 1882, he offered to sell land parcels west of Winnipeg in the vicinity of Portage la Prairie, perhaps for money to launch his next business venture. Leaving one of his employees (possibly George Searl) in charge of his Winnipeg photography studio, Duffin and his wife travelled south to Dakota Territory where, in the capital city of Bismarck, they boarded the steamboat Butte for a trip up the Missouri River to Fort Benton in Montana Territory.  In December 1882, a local newspaper reported that:
Duffin’s community-mindedness continued at Fort Benton, where he offered the front room of his studio for use as a town library.  Few photos from this period in Duffin’s career survive, mostly portraits.  In early November 1883, Duffin sold his studio to another local photographer, and he and his wife returned to Winnipeg.  They arrived back in the city via Toronto in January 1884, accompanied by Duffin’s daughter Josephine, who was visiting Manitoba for the first time, having been educated at the Whitby Ladies’ College in Ontario.  In December 1886, Duffin became a father for the second time, with the birth of his son Earle Calder Duffin.  His wife died three weeks later, probably as a result of childbirth complications. 
By 1888, Duffin had sold his photographic gallery to the firm of Steele & Wing in favor of selling wholesale photographic supplies. He died at the Winnipeg home of his daughter on 26 July 1900 and was buried in St. John’s Cathedral Cemetery. [19A] His photo supplies business was purchased by his son-in-law Newman Fletcher Calder who operated it until 1908, when it was incorporated as Duffin & Company with Calder as its president, and Duffin’s son as vice-president. The firm operated in Winnipeg, with a branch office in Calgary, until 1926 when it was purchased by Eastman Kodak. 
1A. Manitoba Free Press, 15 November 1873, page 1.
2. Manitoba Free Press, 10 January 1874, page 2.
3A. Manitoba Free Press, 19 December 1874, page 6.
4. Manitoba Free Press, 9 March 1875, page 3.
5. Manitoba Free Press, 18 March 1875.
6. Manitoba Free Press, 8 June 1877, page 3.
6A. Manitoba Free Press, 21 July 1877, page 7.
6B. Birt’s Saddlery (Former Baker and Duffin Blocks), Winnipeg Historical Buildings Committee, www.winnipeg.ca/ppd/historic/pdf-consv/Main468-long.pdf. Duffin reported in an advertisement in the Winnipeg Times (6 June 1881) that he had moved his studio to temporary quarters at the corner of Main and Rupert Streets during construction of the Duffin Block. The new studio opened on 19 December 1881 (Manitoba Free Press, 28 March 1882, page 1).
7. Manitoba Free Press, 26 January 1878, page 2.
9. Manitoba Free Press, 20 March 1880, page 8.
12. Butte Cabin Register, 28 June 1882. I thank Ken Robison of the Overholser Historical Research Center (Fort Benton, Montana) for providing information on Duffin’s time in Montana.
15. Personal communication from Ken Robison of the Overholser Historical Research Center (Fort Benton, Montana).
17. Manitoba Free Press, 18 January 1884, page 4.
19. Death registration [Sarah Jane Duffin], Manitoba Vital Statistics, 24 December 1886.
19A. “Obituary” [Simon Duffin], Manitoba Free Press, 30 July 1900, page 4.
20. Birt’s Saddlery (Former Baker and Duffin Blocks), Winnipeg Historical Buildings Committee, www.winnipeg.ca/ppd/historic/pdf-consv/Main468-long.pdf.
Biographical information on Duffin can be found in Manitoba Pictorial and Biographical, Volume 1, S. J. Clarke Publishing, 1913, page 99, as well as in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography XII, 275.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 1 August 2023