J. W. Freeston and a California Shoe Company Outing


CVA 1504-10 - [An unidentified shoe company's annual family outing] ca1920 J W Freeston

CVA 1504-10 – Emil Olcovich Shoe Company’s Labour Day picnic in Santa Monica canyon, California. 1919. J W Freeston, photo.

The panorama image shown above was made by B.C. professional photographer, John W. Freeston (1887-1923) in 1919.

From what I’ve been able to determine¹, Freeston had a brief and unhappy life. There is evidence that he lived in California; one account maintains he had an early marriage that ended in divorce in that state. He seems to have been married to Florence Hall (ca1881-1944) around 1906 (although there is no evidence of a B.C. marriage certificate). He and Florence had two daughters (Elsie May and Kathleen Mary) and one son (Eric Walter). U.S. Census records put John and Florence in California during 1920-21, adding more strength to my hypothesis that the panorama shot was made in California.

Indeed, Robert Moen has found that the shoe company of which the subjects of the panorama were employees was the Emil Olcovich Shoe Company of Santa Monica. The photo appears to have been made in the Santa Monica Canyon on Labour Day, 1919, when the company was there for a staff picnic.

Early in May, 1923, Freeston was admitted to the New Westminster Hospital for the Insane (known by locals today by the shorthand, “Woodlands”).  He was diagnosed pretty soon thereafter with General Paresis. He slept poorly throughout his stay at Woodlands and rest was possible primarily through medication. Although his physical condition was considered good when he was admitted, scarcely two months later, it had deteriorated significantly. By the afternoon of July 30th, 1923, he was dead. He was 39 years old. Cause of death was recorded as “Exhaustion of General Paresis”.

Note that Freeston appears at both extremities of the panorama. The images are both of him, but his pose is quite different. In the leftmost portrait, he is holding the umbrella with both hands; however, in the rightmost one, his right arm is raised (in greeting?) while his left arm seems to be supporting the umbrella. I have been asked by a couple of people how Freeston was able to pull this off. I believe the answer is in this link. I think this still applied in 1919, when Freeston made this image. 


¹I’m indebted to David Mattison of Camera Workers, Robert Moen of WestEndVancouver and Peter Findlay for their generous assistance with this post.

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5 Responses to J. W. Freeston and a California Shoe Company Outing

  1. Sheila says:

    Great stuff, M. Wonder how they won the ribbons pined on their lapels?

  2. lhhouben says:

    I love the panoramic photo! It’s so interesting to zoom in on all those fashions. What a mystery. I had to look of the word Paresis on Google. The things I don’t know would fill volumes, but that’s why I enjoy reading your most interesting posts.

  3. Peter Findlay says:

    The year is 1919, judging by the CAL licence plate that has a star on it. The star was a tag that was added to the plate for the year 1919. This a great photo for anyone interested in period attire, like my wife. It’s interesting to see all ages represented and what appears to be a range of economic levels. Thanks for posting it!

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