1947 Henry Busse, Photographer

Hans Heinrich Maximilian “Henry” Busse was the Northwest Territories’ most famous resident photographer.

Born in Germany in 1896 Henry Busse came to Canada in 1927. During the 1940s he was working as a pipefitter’s helper at the Eldorado Mine at Port Radium (map) on Great Bear Lake when the mine manager suggested he join the mine's camera club. Some of his earliest photographs of the mine were good enough that Eldorado bought them for display in their head office in Ottawa.

At the urging of Father Gathy, a Roman Catholic Priest from Yellowknife, Busse invested his savings to establish a photographic studio in Yellowknife’s Old Town. He was able to make enough money from his studio to allow him to travel throughout the north taking his award winning photographs.

The image called “Facing the Elements”, prominently displayed at the 1955 Brussels World Fair, brought international recognition and acclaim but almost cost him his fingers. Busse and a friend were travelling by dog team northeast of Yellowknife and while crossing a lake were overtaken by a blinding blizzard. The dogs refused to go on even though there was shelter in some trees just a hundred yards ahead. Busse got out his camera, took off his mitts, started to take pictures, and almost lost his fingers to frostbite!

Tens of thousands of photographs later Busse accepted, in September of 1962, a photo assignment to take pictures in the valley of the South Nahanni River. On Friday, September 22 Henry Busse, pilot Ken Stockall, and two of Busse’s friends, left Yellowknife in a Cessna 185.

The group didn’t return as scheduled and a massive air search conducted throughout October and November failed to find the missing airplane. In June of 1963 a Yukon pilot spotted wreckage near the head of a dead-end valley in a little traveled area of the Nahanni. An investigation revealed that Stockall had flown his Cessna up the valley and when he turned to fly back the wing hit the top of a tree sending the plane into a spin and it crashed and burned on the valley floor.

Henry Busse left behind an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 photographs of the north now housed in the Northwest Territories Archives. For more, check out the Busse online exhibit here.