Photojournalism in Streetsville-Mississauga: The Al Betts fonds 

Earlier this year the Archives was thrilled to accept a significant accrual of photographs to our Al Betts fonds. Betts was a prolific and skilled photographer based out of the Town of Streetsville (now an area of Mississauga), active from ca. 1963 to ca. 1982. His fonds consists of ca. 11,500 black and white and colour photographs that he took during his time as a professional photographer, including wedding and passport portraits, photographs of various industrial and commercial properties, and perhaps most interestingly of all, many photographs taken for the local Streetsville Review newspaper.

The photographs in the fonds offer significant and invaluable documentation of events, citizens, properties, locales, and organizations/businesses within the Town of Streetsville, the Township of Toronto, the Town of Mississauga, and the City of Mississauga. The local news photographs in particular are among good company here in the Archives, as we already hold a great deal of complementary photographic material taken throughout Peel, including:

  • Russell Cooper fonds: Cooper was a photojournalist who took photographs for various newspapers in the area, including the Toronto Telegram; he covered all of Peel from the late-1940s up to the early-1960s (when the main Betts coverage begins!)
  • Brampton Guardian fonds (photo morgue): Prints: 1966-1975; Negatives: 1964-1975, April 7, 1976 to Nov. 30, 1976, Aug 1, 1977 to Dec. 27, 1996
  • Brampton Conservator/Brampton Times/The Daily Times (photo morgues): Charters Publishing fonds negatives: 1938, 1946-1954; Brampton Times and Conservator fonds negatives: 1967-1975, 1979-1988
  • Bolton Enterprise fonds (photo morgue): Negatives: 1963-1988, incomplete range

Here are some of the gems one can find in the Betts fonds:

Streetsville fire department truck, 1965

Demonstration with Town of Mississauga fire truck in the background, [between 1968 and 1973]

Interior of the Palace Restaurant, Streetsville (Britannia and Mississauga Road/Queen Street), 1970

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chungking Restaurant, Streetsville, 1971 or 1972

Interestingly, the geographic coverage of the material is not limited to the Mississauga area. This is the case because one of Betts’ major commercial clients was the Toronto-based foundry and engineering company John T. Hepburn Ltd., and they sent him to document their projects throughout Ontario, including some in Burlington, Milton, Georgetown, Etobicoke, and Toronto, amongst others.

Example of a Hepburn project in Peel: Building the Meadowvale Town Centre (second section expansion), Mississauga, Apr. 1980

Interior shot of the Meadowvale Town Centre under construction (expansion), Apr. 1980

The acquisition of this fonds means that we have greatly increased our photographic documentation of the Mississauga area in the mid-to-late 20th century, and I suspect that these photographs will be of much use and interest to our researchers as well as the general public! Here are some more gems:

Oblique (angled) aerial shot of Streetsville, with the Vista Heights subdivision prominently featured (located between Erin Mills Parkway and Thomas Street), 1967.

Eden United Church, 1968 (was located near Derry Road West and Copenhagen Road in Meadowvale)

Local government at work – Township of Toronto or Town of Mississauga council chambers during a meeting (Robert Speck presiding), [ca. 1967]

Close up of some interesting Township of Toronto recreation banners in a classroom, 1965

Headquarters of the Streetsville Review newspaper, Streetsville, 1970

Alfred William “Al” Betts, February 3rd, 1924 – January 20th, 2017

Betts was born in the City of Toronto on February 3rd, 1924 to Fred and Violet Betts. He was named Alfred like his dad; however, to avoid confusion he was called Al. He spent his formative years growing up in the north part of the city.

Betts enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1943. He trained in Medicine Hat, AB, Chatham, NB, and Charlottetown, PEI as a Navigation-Bombardier on the Lancaster bombers. During the Second World War he was stationed in Bournemouth in the south of England.

Betts’ passion was photography. Family legend has it he became interested in photography when he scooped up an old Kodak “Brownie” camera that had been tossed away. Always the curious individual he took it apart, repaired it, and started experimenting with photography.

After the Second World War he began working at Toronto Western Hospital where he met the love of his life, Helen Colville. They wed in 1950 and lived in Toronto before leaving the city in 1956 for the Town of Streetsville, then in the Township of Toronto (now Mississauga).

In 1958 Betts was working at A.V. Roe in Malton. Here he had the privilege of working on the Avro Arrow project in the Photography Department. He took several of the iconic pictures of the Avro Arrow in production and in flight. This job was short-lived, however, with the cancellation of the Avro project in 1959. And unfortunately none of those pictures are found in the fonds.

Betts started A. Betts Photography in Streetsville around 1963. He gave back to the town by initiating the Bread and Honey Festival, helping with the Boy Scouts, and being the official photographer for the local Streetsville newspaper. He was active as a professional photographer until ca. 1982.

Betts passed away peacefully, with family by his side, on Friday, January 20th, 2017, at the Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga. In the following years his family were kind enough to donate his records to the Region of Peel Archives at PAMA, an act that we (and posterity) are most grateful for.

Kyle Neill, Senior Archivist

6 responses to “Photojournalism in Streetsville-Mississauga: The Al Betts fonds 

  1. I n the photos you posted from 1980 named construction of Meadowvale Town Centre are incorrect. They .were Erin Mills Towne Centre photos. Meadowvale Towne Center opened March 1978.

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    • Thank you for reading our blog! The Meadowvale Town Centre was built in at least two phases, with the first phase indeed opening in 1978, and the second phase opening at some time in 1980. That is likely why the famous Meadowvale clock tower in these photos is already complete, with work progressing on steel framing for the second section. Betts dates these specific photos to April of 1980, which does align with the known history of the mall: https://heritagemississauga.com/business/the-rise-of-the-shopping-centre/meadowvale-town-centre-3/ (5th paragraph down). Thanks again for your interest!

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  2. Great collections such as this and the others you mention do not just land on the doorstep of the Archives but are usually the end result of a relationship developed between the donor, or the donor’s family, and archivists. It can take years to build the trust and respect necessary for people to make such important donations. And years to process them to a level at which the public can use them. Congrats on this important acquisition!

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    • Thank you very much! Just like with Cooper, we are hopeful that this fonds will prove to be of much use to many of our patrons!

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  3. I really enjoyed seeing these pictures! My father and grandfather were born in Streetsville and I lived there too for many decades. I attended Eden Church, remember family meals at Chung King, the second phase of Meadowbank town Centre, Bentley Hardware (behind the fire truck). Thanks for sharing these! Are these archives available for viewing at the Library perhaps?

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    • Thank you very much for reading our blog Cathy, and I am very happy to hear that you enjoyed the post! The thousands of amazing photographs in the Betts fonds are in our custody here at the Region of Peel Archives at PAMA. In normal, non-pandemic times, you could arrange to come to our Reading Room to look through the files. Unfortunately, the pandemic and a looming vault renovation project here make that impossible for the moment. But we do hope to re-open the Reading Room next year; more information on the construction project and timelines can be found here: https://pama.peelregion.ca/en/pamascollection/archivesresearch.asp. The exciting thing about the fonds is also one of its interesting challenges – many of the truly amazing shots are found within files simply labeled “News Review” (with a date), comprised of often numerous photographs taken for the local paper. These files can be rather thick, and we often do not know what to expect. As a result, I am certain that there are all sorts of wonderful Streetsville/Mississauga gems tucked away among the records! If you contact us via email I can send you the draft listing that does exist for the fonds, if that would be of interest: PAMAArchives@peelregion.ca. Thanks again! Cheers and stay safe.

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