Curiosity that began in the deep south has wound its way up to one of the highest points in West Trail.
At the centre of the story is an image of the good ol’ days in Trail.
It’s a black and white photo of the Old Trail Bridge that captured a single second in time, though its nostalgia continues to captivate people today.
But who took the picture?
That’s the question Denise DeRosa Liset, a Trail native who has lived in New Orleans pre-Katrina, asked the Trail Times to look into. She was curious about the photographer and the story behind the snapshot.
Denise first saw the photo on Facebook, another former Trailite was back home for a visit when she picked up the print from Artisan in downtown Trail.
So the Artisan was the first stop in tracking down the image’s history – anything sold at the downtown co-op would certainly have contact information about the person selling copies of the black and white picture.
That visit led to Bruce Steffan, also a Silver City native.
He found his way back to West Trail after retiring from the Canadian Armed Forces Air Division and until four years ago, a job working maintenance on the Rocky Mountaineer rail cars in Kamloops.
After living from Vancouver Island to Gander, Nfld, Bruce always wanted to come back to the mountains. And he always wanted to devote time to restoring old family photos that begin post WWII and number in the thousands – all taken by his dad and avid photographer, Ambrose Steffan.
It is Ambrose (known around town as Andy) who took that shot of the Old Trail Bridge circa the 1950s.
Ambrose “Andy” Steffan
Ambrose was a veteran, husband, father of three, and retiree from the Cominco phosphate plant. He was a man who loved to tinker, collect things like stamps and coins, and film colourful parades that wound through the city. But above all else, he loved to load a roll of 35 mm (later 55 mm and 75 mm), then walk around town and take photos that he later developed in his own dark room.
When Ambrose passed away in the early 2000s, the family home on Wilmes Lane was cleared out and sold.
At the time, Bruce took the aging canister his dad stored all the negatives in, and tucked it away for a day when he had time to go through the reams of old film.
“My dad always loved photography as a hobby,” says Bruce. “The earliest pictures are from before he mustered out in the military ‘Sig Cor,’ (signalman) which had him doing everything from photography to communications, so he loved that.”
He recalls his father always having a camera in hand to shoot the “Topping Street” gang and scenic landmarks like Central School and a skating rink where Jubilee Manor now stands. But as the Steffan kids grew, Ambrose’s picture taking habit waned somewhat.
“He used to take a lot, but by the time I started to go to school, money was tight,” said Bruce. “So he pretty much gave it up, and he put all his equipment away partly because I think he was worried about us kids getting into it.”
The subjects in the images Bruce has recovered thus far vary – there’s some from historic Trail flooding, neighbourhood children wearing saddle shoes and riding high-wheel tricycles, panoramic angles taken from upper West Trail, and of course, the Old Trail Bridge.
Topping Street gang
“He threw away all the photos and just kept the negatives,” Bruce explained. “Dad was a good photographer but he threw all the negatives in a metal container and a lot of them weren’t stacked vertically. Therefore they are all curved, so when I scan them now, they are out of focus.”
West Trail young lady
That’s how modern technology has come into the picture – Bruce uses a special holder for the negatives that forces a focal point when he scans each cell to his desk top.
“The process isn’t difficult, but <span class="n_ 666