Pioneer photographer book in works

Duane Hicks

If you’ve seen photos of the early days of Rainy River District, you’re likely to have seen the work of William Tener (Tenner).
Examples of Tener’s photography currently are on display at the Fort Frances Museum as part of its portrait exhibit, which runs until the end of March.
Now local historian Merv Ahrens wants to put together a book on the pioneer photographer in time for Canada’s 150 birthday in 2017.
“As part of ‘Canada 150,’ we need to celebrate our heritage, and certainly Mr. Tener left a fantastic portrait trail for this district,” noted Ahrens.
Ahrens said he was impressed by a book put out by the museum in Kenora several years ago entitled “Lake of the Woods Through the Lens of Carl G. Linde,” and would like to do the same for Tener.
Ahrens is aware there probably are 400 photos which were taken here by Tener (who sometimes is referred to as William Tenner).
These captured life in Rainy River District—from Lake of the Woods to Mine Centre—in the early 20th century.
Back in 1972, Willard Price gave the Fort Frances Times a collection of glass plates bearing Tener’s photos.
The Times reproduced the photos and sent the glass plates to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. These now are on file at the Archives of Ontario.
Meanwhile, the reproductions were given to the Fort Frances Museum.
The 15-20 Tener photos currently on display there are portrait photos, but the museum has many more in storage.
From his research, Ahrens said there also is information about Tener available, including a Tener Blue Book (a “Blue Book” being a social register of prominent families) and “a lot of family pride.”
Tener passed away at his home in Devlin on June 10, 1948 at the age of 88.
What Ahrens would like to gather for the book is any information about Tener that district residents may have.
“He must have relatives, blood relatives, in the area and I would like to attempt to invite contact with them,” he remarked.
“I ask anyone who as any stories to tell, any photos, any memories related to Mr. Tener, to kindly share those,” added Ahrens, noting photo descriptions also would be helpful.
Anyone with information is urged to e-mail
According to his obituary, “[Tener] was an ardent and artistic photographer and many pictures of steamboat navigation on the Rainy River, as well as many other scenes of early pioneer life, remain as a token of his memory.
“Hundreds of his glass plates portraying these early scenes have been preserved by W.G. Bartley and Pat Kerr of Fort Frances.
“[Tener] was born in County Tyrone, Ireland on Dec. 3, 1860, and came to the United States at the age of 23. He travelled extensively in the United States, recording his progress with his camera, before coming to the District of Rainy River, where he took up farming in Roddick township on May 10, 1898.
“After farming for two years, he moved to Emo and shortly thereafter to Devlin, where he engaged in farming until illness forced him to retire. He continued to reside in Devlin until his death.
“On May 7, 1924, he was married to Miss Rhoda Abbie Lodder of Devlin, who survives. Other survivors include a sister, Mrs. Feachtinger of Chicago, and a cousin, John Kinley Tenner, who served as Governor of Pennsylvania from 1911 to 1915.”
To see some of Tener’s portrait photography, drop by the Fort Frances Museum.
More examples of Tener’s photos can be found at the Archives of Ontario ( if you search under “Tenner.”