This former N.W.T. pilot's photo collection captures 50 years of history

Tim Garrish first started flying in Fort Simpson in 1973 and spent decades capturing his experience on film. He recently donated his entire collection the N.W.T. Archives.

Tim Garrish donated 1,000 photos and some videos to N.W.T. Archives

A man sits on a lawn chair in front of an airplane on a runway.
Tim Garrish sits on a lawn chair in front of a Conair Piper Aerostar in Yellowknife in 1983. (NWT Archives/Timothy Garrish fonds/N-2023-002: 0895)

The N.W.T. Archives has a new collection of photos that capture nearly 50 years of aviation in the North.  

Retired pilot Tim Garrish recently donated about 1,000 photos to the archive. 

Garrish first started flying in Fort Simpson in 1973 and spent decades capturing his experience on film.  

He said he always seemed to be carrying a camera with him while flying, and he slowly built up a collection of photos over the years. 

"I had boxes and boxes of them in storage," Garrish said. 

"One starts to reflect and I thought, well, if I don't do something with them one day, somebody's going to come in and just take them to the dump." 

A winding river with large, snow-covered mountains in the background.
Looking upstream to the southwest on the Liard River with Nahanni Butte in the distance. (CREDIT: NWT Archives/Timothy Garrish fonds/N-2023-002: 0833)

Garrish said he contacted the N.W.T. Archives who were immediately interested in his photos. 

The collection includes everything from landscape shots, to community photos, to firefighting operations.

Garrish said some of his most treasured photos were taken while flying through Nahanni National Park, especially in the winter where he captured a frozen Virginia Falls. 

He said those images capture parts of the territory that many people may not have seen.

"These great, vast areas with very few people, or no people," he said. 

"There's not that many places left in the world where you can do that."

A huge frozen waterfall seen from an aerial view in the winter.
An aerial view of Virginia Falls in the winter. The falls never completely froze over with water running under the ice. (NWT Archives/Timothy Garrish fonds/N-2023-002: 0108)

Rebecca Mahler, a senior archivist with  N.W.T. Archives, worked with Garrish to digitize all of his photos. 

"They're beautiful. They're esthetically just very pleasing," she said.

Mahler said she especially liked working with Garrish on the descriptions for each photograph, something that doesn't always happen when photos are donated. 

"Sometimes things are just scribbled on the back," she said. 

Mahler and Garrish worked together to write captions for each photograph based on Garrish's notes and memory of each moment. 

"It provides this historical record that is so deep," Maher said."To get such a variety of information, was a privilege." 

Garrish's collection also includes videos, which were recently added to the N.W.T. Archives website. 

He also captured slice-of-life moments in Fort Simpson, where he was based for much of his career including as a medevac pilot. 

Many communities didn't have power or phone lines at the time, he said. 

"At the time, they're just everyday events," he said. "They're just everyday life that are long gone now."

Despite also flying in other parts of the country, Garrish said it was good to come home. 

"The N.W.T. was always the place that was good to get back to for flying," he said.

A cloud of red water drops from a small red plane in the sky
An Avalon Aviation Ltd. Canso airplane demonstrates a practice drop of fire retardant in Yellowknife. (NWT Archives/Timothy Garrish fonds/N-2023-002: 0758)

Garrish said he's happy that people can now look through his photo collection online. 

"The main thing was just to see the photo collection go somewhere where people can see it and maybe get some enjoyment out of it."

"I hope it gives them some perspective on what's in the Canadian North."

Anyone can view Garrish's collection on the N.W.T. Archives website.

Timothy (Tim) Garrish is a retired pilot. He donated more than 900 photos to the NWT Archives. He joined Hilary Bird to talk about them.


Emma Tranter

Senior writer

Emma Tranter is a senior writer with CBC North in Yellowknife. She worked in journalism in Nunavut for five years, where she reported in Iqaluit for CBC, The Canadian Press and Nunatsiaq News. She can be reached at

With files from Hilary Bird