William E. Covert
Photographer of Forgotten Towns
William E. Covert, an early Bulkley Valley photographer, gave us some of our finest views of settlements which have been long-since abandoned.
Born in the United States in 1877, Covert moved to Canada with his family around the age of eight and grew up in the Kootenay region, where his father was a farmer. Sometime in the early 1900s he moved to the Bulkley Valley and took up farming himself. Beginning around 1913, Covert operated a photography business out of the small town of Aldermere, located on a bluff slightly southeast of Telkwa. He photographed many of the Valley's young communities, including Smithers, Telkwa, and Lake Kathlyn. His work can be identified by a distinct 'WEC' signature, with the W and E conjoined.
Some of Covert's most interesting photographs are of Hubert, "the little town that was never finished." This spot, on the west bank of the Bulkley River about 5km east of Telkwa, was chosen as the future site of the GTP Railway's divisional headquarters between Prince George and Prince Rupert. The townsite was heavily promoted, and a train station, church, hotel and other buildings sprung up quickly. However, speculation drove up the cost of the land so much that the GTP turned to Aldermere instead. After the Aldermere Board of Trade rejected their offer, the GTP purchased land at the foot of Hudson Bay Mountain and founded the settlement of Smithers to serve as its headquarters. Hubert and Aldermere soon fell into irrelevance, with both becoming ghost towns by the mid-1910s.
A brief glimpse of Covert comes from Nan Bourgon's memoirs, "Rubber Boots for Dancing," an anthology of stories about early settlers in the Bulkley Valley (see pages 74-75). She writes that "Ed" Covert was an artist and photographer who owned one of the few cameras in the Valley at that time. His departure from the valley seems to have been just as abrupt as that of Hubert and Aldermere: "He disappeared. No-one seemed to have missed him or thought anything of the fact. The only reminders of him are the little lake on the property called Covert Lake and some old photographs with the name "Covert" stencilled in the corner." Covert Lake was apparently located "right behind Quick Church" (St. John the Divine) near Round Lake, though it seems that this name has fallen into disuse.
According to the Interior News, "Ed Covert" left for the Peace River Country in May 1915. The 1916 Census of the Prairie Provinces places him in Bear Lake, Alberta, working in a photography studio. This suggests that he had made a transition from streetscapes into formal portrait photography. After this, like the little towns he photographed, William Covert vanishes into history.