By: Pat Antliff
Pat Antliff was seven when her mother gave her a Brownie Hawkeye box camera, sparking her interest in photography. Nowadays, a camera – or two – is never far from reach. Photography has become her passion and creative outlet, enabling her to document travel, street scenes and landscapes. Her family lives in a lakeside community and like most parents, she enjoys capturing milestones and special moments as her children grew. While photographs have always connected her to the memories of her own past and shared moments with relatives and friends, she wasn’t prepared for the journey of discovery that arrived a couple of years ago by way of an old suitcase inherited from her father.
This suitcase revealed a treasure trove of old family photographs and took her on a journey into the distant past. Relatives of Irish and English origins gazed out at her from formal portraits and, later, in snapshots. They posed in horse-drawn carriages, long gowns, and with children whose life stories have now been written. Amongst these photographs, one stood out: her Grandmother’s graduation picture, taken by the famed Notman Studio. Pat had only ever known her Grandmother, Greta Dougall, as a child but never understood her as a person. She discovered they had both chosen non-traditional careers; Greta’s dream was to become a businesswoman. In 1921, Greta was the first woman to graduate from McGill University’s Bachelor of Commerce program. However, her ambitions were thwarted by a male-dominated industry. Pat has been a Cyber Security Professional for the past 30 years, an industry with only 11% female representation. Although they are from different eras, through the photos and narrative of her Grandmother’s life, Pat came to recognize and relate not only to the professional challenges Greta faced but also her tenacity, courage, and resilience in response to these challenges.
Pat's photos and interview can be accessed in The Family Camera Network public archive at the Royal Ontario Museum.