A Tribute to Budd Watson (1929-1988)

One of Canada's Finest Landscape Photographers
by Robert Berdan

(Last Updated Oecember 12, 2018)



Budd Watson Split Rock Sunset - photo by staff photographer Midland Free Press

Budd Watson with his photo "Split Rock Sunset" - Staff Photographer Midland Free Press

It's a shame how some talented people in Canada get forgotten and just disappear. One of these was photographer Budd Watson. Budd owned a photography store and gallery on King street in Midland, Ontario and his passion was photographing the landscape around Georgian Bay. I first met Budd when I walked into his photography store in the 1970's.  I was just a teenager at the time, but keen to learn everything I could about photography.  As I strolled through his gallery of photos, many of them several feet high,  I was impressed at both their beauty and impact. One photo in particular captured my imagination "The Golden Wye River". It had a sullen mood and a sense of depth that drew me in and I would stare at the image for a long time.  I often returned to his store to look at his photographs for ideas and inspiration and when Budd was present I fired questions at him and occasionally he would smile and answer and then sometimes he wouldn't.  I am sure he didn't think a young teenager was really that interested in photography and I certainly did not have money to purchase one of his fine prints or take one of his workshops.  Many years later my father purchased "The Golden Wye" for me as a present and it hangs prominently over my desk and it still inspires me today.

Golden Wye River by Budd Watson

The Golden Wye River by Budd Watson

Budd used primarily a large format cameras (4 x 5 and 8 x 10 Linhoff) for making his large prints and he told me he photographed primarily using Kodak colour negative film as it was easier to control during printing. His prints were lavishly framed and coated with lacquer to preserve their colour and protect the print surface. The lacquer also added a texture that resembles the surface of a painting.  The most striking aspect of his photos was how he captured the essence of light. His sunsets were not cliches, but carefully composed shots including silhouettes of white pine on granite islands near monument channel.  I remember a photo of a barn with storm clouds taken in Lafontaine and wondered how he could get his camera set up quickly enough to capture such a fleeting moment.  I also remember a photo of the suns rays peaking through the clouds on a winter day near Indian Harbour - called Winter Freeze Up . I wish I had known Budd better, his photos still linger in my mind, and although I have encountered the works of many of the best photographers from around the world somehow Budd's photos still stand out. It is regrettable that Bud did not publish a book of his photos, though my father mentioned that Bud had wanted to.  The only photos that I could find are a few printed on small  postcards which I have scanned for you to view below.

Split Rock Sunset by Budd Watson   Brebeuf Pines by Budd Watson

Split Rock Sunset


Brebeuf Pines

Winter Freeze Up by Budd Watson
Muskoka Pines by Budd Watson

Winter Freeze Up


Muskoka Pines

I believe Budd's photos are a valuable treasure and part of Canada's history like those of the paintings by the group of seven.  In 1973 and 1979, Budd Watson had exhibits at the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg, Ontario. Budd is one of the few photographers to have his work shown there. In 1967 Budd Watson toured the country with a photography presentation and slide show which gave him national and international acclaim. In 1976 he held his first photographic seminar in Toronto and it attracted more then 1,200 photographers.  In 1985, one of Budd's photos was also selected for the cover of Bell Canada's phone book. 

Budd Watson and his Linhoff 8 x 10 camera  
Budd Watson Camera store by Jennifer Harker

Budd Watson and his 8 x 10 Linhoff Camera - Midland Free Press staff photographer.


Budd Watson Camera Shop in Midland - Photo by Jennifer Harker with permission

In spite of Budd's great talent, his work is not well known or recognized. In fact when I searched the Internet I could not find examples of his pictures or even a short biography (except see links below). I only found a few blogs where other photographers that knew or met Budd mentioned how significant his work was and how it inspired them as photographers. I have contacted galleries, museums and I am trying to contact some of his relatives to find out where his images might be and to officially get permission to show his images.

Mural showing Budd Watson and John W. Bald by Karl Berdan

Mural in Midland Ontario honoring photographers Budd Watson and John W. Bald - photo by Karl Berdan

Gallery of Budd Watson photographs in Photo Decor

Budd Watson photographs on the wall from Kodak Publication Photo Decor 1982

Budd Watson photograph in Photo Decor

Photograph of Barn in Lafontaine by Budd Watson taken from Kodak Publication Photo Decor 1982

Budd Watson two trees

Two Trees by Budd Watson - a gift of appreciation to my father Karl Berdan (see Letter PDF)

Budd Watson Gallery photography by William Smith ©

Budd Watson Gallery on Hugel Avenue West was built out of the old YMCA and operated until 1988 - photograph
by William Smith © by permission from the Book Midland on Georgian Bay An Illustrated History of Midland Ontario by W. Northcot and W. Smith 2008.

View Brochure for Budd Watson's My Canada Page 1 and Page 2 (JPG files)

Download more information about Budd Watson from Midland Free Press (PDF May 25, 1988).

Budd Watson on top of the Hog Bay Trestle in Port McNicoll by Karl Berdan ©

Budd Watson carrying his camera gear on top of the Hog Bay Trestle, Port McNicoll, Ontario ca 1970 photo by Karl Berdan.

Hog Bay Trestle by Budd Watson 1969

Hog Bay Trestle photo by Budd Watson - courtesy of Bob Black

Budd Watson and large format camera by George Hunter ©

Photograph of Budd Watson by photographer George Hunter R.C.A. . Visit George's web site: georgehunterphotography.com

Budd Watson Official Biography

Budd Watson, A.R.P.S, E.F.I.A.P.

The great Canadian landscape photographer Budd Watson, was born in Brampton, Ontario, and lived in Midland Ontario from 1936 until the time of his death in 1988.

Budd Watson first received international recognition from the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, earned the designation of EFIAP -“excellence ”- of the Federation Internationale De L’Art Photographique, Berne, Switzerland, and was named a Master of the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain.

In 1967, he was commissioned to do a special exhibit, “My Canada”, with shots from across Canada to celebrate Canada’s Centennial.

In 1973, the McMichael Canadian Collection of Kleinburg, Ontario, had a year long exhibit of Budd’s work entitled “ My Canada “ featuring photographs from each province, the Yukon and Northwest Territories. In 1979 he returned with a new show “The Seasons … Georgian Bay “. At that time, he was the only photographer ever invited to show at the McMichael Galleries, renown for its paintings of the Group of Seven.

Budd conducted lectures and seminars for several Community Colleges of Applied Arts, the Ontario College of Art, the Toronto Camera Club, the Professional Photographers of Canada and New York, as well as the Rochester Institute of Technology and Photographic Arts. He held numerous one man shows including the Tom Thomson Museum of Fine Art in Owen Sound, Ontario and the Kodak Gallery in New York City.

In 1972 Budd opened his first gallery in a self-restored old stagecoach hotel in the hamlet of Wyebridge. He followed this success with the purchase of the former Midland Y.M.C.A. building and opened what is believed to be the largest, privately owned, large format photography gallery in North America (accordingly to an article published by Kodak in 1987).
A two-story high enlarger, with a unique, huge, “Tetter-Totter”, 10 foot tray with 5 gallons poured for each solution, was mounted in the old gymnasium,. The prints produced were often large scale, measuring 8X10 feet. Budd Watson used a 5x7 and 8 x 10 Linhof Master Technika camera. His photographs are included in many private and corporate collections.

  • Budd Watson gallery continued to operate successfully until 1997. The gallery always was intended to be an active community resource, including a school of photography, seminars and weekend workshops. Without Budd's involvement, these programs largely were no longer available, hence the decision to finally close the gallery

  • Mrs. Watson advises that the response has been very strong to Budd's prints and that the prints have increased in value compared to the prices charged in the 1980's-1990's.

  • Budd Watson published two small books of photographs, "Sainte-Marie Reborn" (softcover only) and "My Canada" (at the time, available in both hard and soft cover).

Summer Storm by Budd Watson ©

Summer Storm by Budd Watson (image provided by Neil Sanders)

Budd Watson photographing from the roof of a car in 1979 ©

Budd Watson on car roof photographing a home on the Gibson River, 1979 (image provided by Norm Sanders)

Budd Watons shooting in the 30,000 islands

Budd Watson shooting with 35 mm camera on a scouting trip in the 30,000 Islands, 1981 (photo by Norm Sanders).

Island in winter by Budd Watson ©

Island in winter photo by Budd Watson (image provided by Neil Sharpe).


Stormy Weather by Budd Watson 1978


" STORMY WEATHER " Taken in Southern Georgian Bay on November 1978 (image provided by L. Andrews)

Addition Links & References:

If you have any information about Budd Watson or his photos and would be willing to share your story or a scanned image - I would appreciate hearing from you. I thank those that have provided images and permission to use them for this tribute. Please note I can not provide you with an estimate of the value of Budd's prints, you need to seek a professional evaluator for this.

Robert Berdan


Q. Is it possible to still buy some of Budd Watson's prints and who has his negatives?

A. Budd's wife Lylie Watson passed away in 2016 - she had the negatives. I would recommend checking with Huronia museum in Midland - they might have or know where the negatives are being kept.


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