Leasider Richard Harrington captured the north with his “box”

“AMONG ESKIMO NOSE-RUBBING IS LIKE KISSING BUT ONLY AMONG OLD AND YOUNG” PADLEI, NWT, CANADA, 1950. © ESTATE OF RICHARD HARRINGTON / COURTESY STEPHEN BULGER GALLERY
“AMONG ESKIMO NOSE-RUBBING IS LIKE KISSING BUT ONLY AMONG OLD AND YOUNG” PADLEI, NWT, CANADA, 1950. © ESTATE OF RICHARD HARRINGTON / COURTESY STEPHEN BULGER GALLERY

Richard Harrington had been living in North Leaside for more than 50 years when he died 18 years ago. But it’s entirely possible that none but his closest neighbours realized the remarkable talent of their neighbour.

Richard Harrington was born in 1911 in Hamburg, Germany, and came to Canada as a teenager. He worked a variety of jobs before landing steady work as an X-ray technician in Toronto. At the same time, he was taking photos as an amateur.

Turns out this amateur possessed the talent of a professional. A New York agent saw a photo he had taken of a tiger in a zoo, and phoned him up to ask if he had any more shots like it. Well, yes, he did. Soon, he was able to make more money as a photographer than as an X-ray technician, and developed a rare talent for capturing Inuit life.

He self-financed five separate dog-sled journeys to the Canadian Arctic between 1948 and 1953, covering more than 5,600 kilometres to photograph the Inuit way of life. He was known as “Adderiorli,” or “the man with a box,” because he always carried his camera close to his body to keep it as warm as possible. His most noteworthy journey during this time was in 1950, when he journeyed to Padlei, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, where people were starving because the caribou didn’t follow their usual migration path. When he returned to the south, he tried to make others aware of the dire situation in the north by speaking out, and by showing the dramatic photos he had taken.

Richard’s widow, Margaret Harrington, says her favourite photograph was from this period. The note accompanying it says: “A young Padleimuit Eskimo girl and her sister asleep under the caribou furs inside their igloo.”

“Asleep Under Furs in Igloo” Padlei, N.W.T. [now Nunavut], 1950© ESTATE OF RICHARD HARRINGTON / COURTESY STEPHEN BULGER GALLERY.
“Asleep Under Furs in Igloo” Padlei, N.W.T. [now Nunavut], 1950 © ESTATE OF RICHARD HARRINGTON / COURTESY STEPHEN BULGER GALLERY.
In recent years, Library and Archives Canada has worked on Project Naming, working with Indigenous people to put actual names to the more than 500 photographs taken on those earlier journeys in the north.

Richard took photographs around the world in more than 120 countries over the years, published in prestigious magazines like Life, Look, The National Geographic, Paris Match, Stern, and Parade magazine. In his last few years, you could still find him out with his camera and his walker, taking photos of his street.

In 2001, he was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada. Good friend Av Isaacs, who often exhibited Richard’s photographs in his gallery, was a Member of the Order of Canada. Richard was quite chuffed about his higher ranking, and often teased Av about it. And yet, as Margaret recalls, when a North Leaside neighbour, who knew about the award, asked Richard if he could see it, Richard had to go looking “upstairs in a drawer.”

During his lifetime, he had many books of his photographs published. The latest, from Firefly Books, published in 2023, is “Richard Harrington Arctic Photography 1948-53 with photographs from the Stephen Bulger Gallery and a Forward by Gerald McMaster.” In the dedication, his widow, Margaret Harrington, who still lives in Leaside, says: “This book is dedicated to the Inuit, whose skills, courage and endurance enabled them to survive in the North Richard loved.”

About Lorna Krawchuk 174 Articles
Lorna Krawchuk is publisher of Leaside Life. She is actively involved in St. Cuthbert’s Church. Her volunteer activities with the Leaside Property Owners’ Association led to her being elected a Councillor in the Borough of East York for 9 years before amalgamation in 1998. She also held a variety of volunteer leadership positions with the Girl Guides of Canada for over 30 years. Lorna has been a Leasider since 1968.