William Walker Wrathall

A Family Legacy in the Northwest

One of the Bulkley Valley's earliest professional cameramen, William Walker Wrathall established a family tradition of photography that would last for 70 years.

Born in England in 1886, William Wrathall immigrated to British Columbia with his family as a child. He moved to the Bulkley Valley as a young man in 1907, working for the Dominion Telegraphy Company in Hazelton alongside his brother Jack. The following year he set up his first photography business, the Omineca Photo Supply Store. In addition to these two jobs, he also served as the District Representative for Stewart & Mobley Groceries and Produce.

William W. and Jack Wrathall - Khatada Lake 1925

William Wrathall and son Jack at Khatada Lake, 1925. Courtesy of the Prince Rupert City & Regional Archives and Museum of Northern B.C., Wrathall Collection, WP997-93-13780 / JRW269.

Wrathall was a prolific photographer, with about 280 of his pictures being held in the Bulkley Valley Museum's collection. Although his photos tended to focus on the Skeena River and Hazelton area, he visited Smithers several times and took many photos of the young community. Landscapes, buildings, bridges, social gatherings, methods of transportation, and the Indigenous Gitksan people all commonly appear in Wrathall's photography. Many of his prints were sold as postcards of the area. He usually signed his photographs with his name or the initials 'WWW.'

In 1912 William Wrathall and his family moved to Prince Rupert, where he opened Wrathall's Stationery, a combined drug, stationery, and photography store, on 3rd Avenue West. He also established the long-running business Wrathall's Photofinishing around 1916, and continued to work as a telegraph operator. Three of his six children - John (Jack), Vivian, and Audrey - later joined him in the photography business. In fact, several of Jack Wrathall's prints are also held by the Bulkley Valley Museum. Jack was stationed with the 102nd Royal Canadian Artillery in Prince Rupert during the Second World War, and was an active member of the Elks and Moose Lodges and the Royal Canadian Legion. 

William Wrathall died in 1957 at the age of 72; his son Jack died in 1995. The family’s contribution to northwestern British Columbia is felt significantly in Prince Rupert, where their photofinishing business operated until 1978. The Wrathall Photofinishing Ltd. Fonds are held by the Prince Rupert City & Regional Archives, while his photography equipment is held by the Museum of Northern British Columbia, also in Prince Rupert.

William Walker Wrathall