Graeme

Canadian Tattoo History

24 posts in this topic

A while ago I came across this newspaper article about Nick Wasko, who tattoos at Port Side Tattoo in Vancouver (actually, just checked that and it looks like the shop just closed down and it's not clear if/where he's tattooing now), and his attempts to document the history of traditional tattooing in Vancouver.

Tattoo Historian Follows Ink Trail of Art

It's a cool article about a subject that it seems like not many people know that much about. The most famous old-school tattooer in Vancouver is probably Doc Forbes (the pin-up article at tattooarchive.com claims that Sailor Jerry considered Doc Forbes one of his big influences in his pin-up designs), and there are plenty of pictures of him and his tattoos around. There are some here on the Old Tattoo Photos thread, and I recall seeing a bunch in Hanky Panky's 1001 Tattoos book as well. Wasko has gone a lot deeper than that though and is trying to find as much as he can about tattooers that there is seemingly very scant information on. The article is brief, though it hints at a lot.

As far as I can tell from my own research, the designs in "traditional Canadian" tattooing aren't remarkably different than those in traditional American tattooing. The Lucky Supply Tattoo Museum has a dozen sheets of Doc Forbes' flash up for viewing on their site and the designs closely follow the traditional canon of roses, daggers, ships and anchors, eagles, snakes, dragons, ladies, etc. As an aside, this was the root of my interest in the subject...eagle tattoos are awesome, but what did Canadians traditionally get? Moose? Beavers? No, they got eagles. Though in Carol Clerk's Vintage Tattoos book I'm pretty sure that I saw some WWII-era Canadian naval designs that had beavers on them.

Thomas Lockhart's West Coast Tattoo in Vancouver also has a tattoo museum and there are a couple of examples of old Canadian flash, one by F.A. Baldwin (described there as one of Canada's first tattooists) dating back to 1910-1920:

fabaldwin1910_15.jpg

I've gathered other tiny bits of information about the history of tattoos in Canada--for example, Amund Dietzel ended up in North America after being shipwrecked off the coast of Quebec; Betty Broadbent apparently tattooed in Montreal (I would guess as a travelling carnie thing?)--but nothing systematic. I don't know, I'm a nerd about this kind of stuff.

Does anybody have anything else? Most of the information we have seems to be about Vancouver, which isn't surprising since that's probably the Canadian city with the most important tattoo scene both because it's a port and because geographically it's on the West Coast and is connected with West Coast tattooing generally (eg D.E. Hardy tattooed in Vancouver for a while), but what about Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax? These cities must have tattoo histories as well, probably especially Halifax (probably worth looking into Sailor Jerry Swallow here). Is "Canadian traditional tattooing" distinct enough to merit discussion on its own instead of just being part of "American traditional tattooing"?

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Nick Wasko was at Sacred Heart in Vancouver a year or so ago I think, and still really into the history. At Sacred Heart on Nelson St they would probably know where he is now at these days.

Paul Jeffries' Smilin Buddha book has a bit about the history of tattooing in Vancouver and Calgary (which didn't seem to have much going on there until he moved there from BC).

Sailor Jerry Swallow was working for the Dutchman in Burnaby a couple of years ago but may be back east now - he'd definitely be someone to talk to as an example of living history - started tattooing in 1960 and has known a lot of people! Would have so many stories.

Dave Shore in BC passed away recently so hope soneone like Nick (or yourself!) documents some of these characters and their tales while they are still around. From the little I know don't think traditional Canadian tattooing has been much different from American.

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Port Side used to be Sacred Heart's Davie Street location. I was in Vancouver at the end of August and I passed by it after it was closed and it looked from the outside like a pretty nice shop, but when I went to add a link to Nick Wasko from the shop's site it turns out that it just closed down at the end of September and on the Facebook page for the shop they said that they weren't sure what Nick was up to at the moment. He just posted some flash on Instagram today but I don't know if he's working at a shop now or what. He seems to do some pretty solid traditional, would love to chat with him one day and get tattooed by him.

I should get that Smiling Buddha book. Any talk of tattoos in Canada should talk about Paul Jeffries for sure.

I think that Sailor Jerry Swallow is in Victoria right now and as far as I know, he's still tattooing. A guy I work with went to Halifax to get tattooed by him...I should talk to him about that.

For other old guys here, Tony D'Annessa (started tattooing in 1958 in New York) still tattoos at PSC Tattoo in Montreal. Got a little snake and rose from one of his old roll-up flash sheets around Easter time this past year after a consult with Dave Cummings there...definitely a neat experience and I got a solid, really bold tattoo. Going to be spending a lot of time at PSC next year, hopefully I'll get to hear some good stories from Tony. The PSC website has an interview with Tony from Tattoo Artist Magazine that's worth a read.

Heard about Dave Shore's passing, don't know much about him but I know a bunch of people who got tattooed by him or at his shop. I should ask around...

Thanks for the reply!

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Port Side used to be Sacred Heart's Davie Street location. I was in Vancouver at the end of August and I passed by it after it was closed and it looked from the outside like a pretty nice shop, but when I went to add a link to Nick Wasko from the shop's site it turns out that it just closed down at the end of September and on the Facebook page for the shop they said that they weren't sure what Nick was up to at the moment. He just posted some flash on Instagram today but I don't know if he's working at a shop now or what. He seems to do some pretty solid traditional, would love to chat with him one day and get tattooed by him.

I should get that Smiling Buddha book. Any talk of tattoos in Canada should talk about Paul Jeffries for sure.

I think that Sailor Jerry Swallow is in Victoria right now and as far as I know, he's still tattooing. A guy I work with went to Halifax to get tattooed by him...I should talk to him about that.

For other old guys here, Tony D'Annessa (started tattooing in 1958 in New York) still tattoos at PSC Tattoo in Montreal. Got a little snake and rose from one of his old roll-up flash sheets around Easter time this past year after a consult with Dave Cummings there...definitely a neat experience and I got a solid, really bold tattoo. Going to be spending a lot of time at PSC next year, hopefully I'll get to hear some good stories from Tony. The PSC website has an interview with Tony from Tattoo Artist Magazine that's worth a read.

Heard about Dave Shore's passing, don't know much about him but I know a bunch of people who got tattooed by him or at his shop. I should ask around...

Thanks for the reply!

Nick is a friend of mine. He is a really good dude, and he knows a lot about Canadian tattoo history. He also just purchased a whole bunch of Don Nolan flash that I am going to take a look at next week. Nick is still tattooing in Vancouver, and I can put you in touch with him if you are interested.

Jerry Swallow has been back east for awhile, but he shop in Victoria is called Government Street, and Chris David and D-Boy Sanchez work there (or own it, I am not sure which) and they put out some great tattoos.

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Nick is a friend of mine. He is a really good dude, and he knows a lot about Canadian tattoo history. He also just purchased a whole bunch of Don Nolan flash that I am going to take a look at next week.

And Don Nolan is still going and putting out great work, at Acme in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I got a tattoo from him earlier this year. Worked with Sailor Jerry, Bert Grimm, Zeke, Danny Danzl, travelled around the world on a boat trading tattoos for supplies...Someone needs to make a film about him!

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Nick is a friend of mine. He is a really good dude, and he knows a lot about Canadian tattoo history. He also just purchased a whole bunch of Don Nolan flash that I am going to take a look at next week.

And Don Nolan is still going and putting out great work, at Acme in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I got a tattoo from him earlier this year. Worked with Sailor Jerry, Bert Grimm, Zeke, Danny Danzl, travelled around the world on a boat trading tattoos for supplies...Someone needs to make a film about him!

How about a photo?

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@Avery Taylor Being in touch with Nick would be awesome! I'm super interested in this stuff, but not being a tattooer myself, I don't spend enough time around this stuff to get the stories, to see old tattoos and flash and photographs and it doesn't seem like much, if anything, has been written about any of this. I could be wrong. Anyway, PM me?

@Energy Seriously, photos!

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im up in edmonton alberta right now doing a guest spot at urge. ive been coming here for the last four years. canada has a lot of great stuff going on as far as tattooing goes.

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photo_00003_thumb.jpg

@Energy Seriously, photos!

I'm the last person standing to not have a camera, or even a phone that takes pictures. Here's a blurry pic of the Don Nolan tattoo using my laptop. It was a souvenir piece from him (I figured for a Sailor Jerry style piece who better than someone who knew Jerry?) but he is still doing large scale Japanese style work!

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@Energy That is great and it sounds like it was a super cool experience as well.

I've found a bit about Haida tattooing as well, which is another subject entirely, but there's a bit of decent information out there.

Haida Tattoo - The Bill Reid Centre - Simon Fraser University

The above, from Simon Fraser University's Bill Reid Centre, provides an overview of Haida tattooing, including some late 19th century photographs of tattoos.

Haida Tattoo Gallery - The Bill Reid Centre - Simon Fraser University

And this is a collection of photos but mainly drawings of Haida tattoo designs, again from the late 19th and early 20th century.

There's also this site about Bill Reid that discusses how the Haida style of formline drawing had nearly been lost due to British colonial rule and Canadian law (which is why it probably isn't right to discuss this stuff in a post about "Canadian" tattooing, though it falls there geographically, so...) and that Reid learned to draw in that style through studying tattoo designs collected in books and in museums. I didn't know the importance and influence of tattoos here, so I just learned something.

- - - Updated - - -

I hope this works, but here's a 1986 newspaper interview with Keith Stewart, who then owned Point Saint Charles Tattoo, and organised the first tattoo conventions in Montreal:

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1946&dat=19861016&id=8FQ0AAAAIBAJ&sjid=grkFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1683,3002603

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My friend has a backpiece, chestplates and half sleeves (w/ full sleeves just outlined in) completed by Paul Jeffries. It's pretty epic.

Edited by tammy
OP asked 2nd paragraph to be deleted

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tattooflashbooks.com - Paul Jeffries - SMILIN' BUDDHA: A 25 Year History

This book might be of interest to you!

- - - Updated - - -

Mike Bialek, a tattooer from Toronto, has a treasure trove of old tattoo photos...some Canadian, some not...on his Instagram:

Mike Bialek's Instagram

A friend of mine is getting his sleeve done by him right now! Looks great!

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I've been looking for a forum about tattoos, this seems like a good one. I'm looking at getting more ink, and soon.

In any event while searching the forums I found this thread. I'm posting a link to Dave Shores' memorial facebook page. Its hard to find a lot of info on him, but whenever his name is mentioned to local artists it is received well. He did all the work I have thus far, not alot. I got my first tattoo at 18 on my arm. Then another a few years after that I got a dragon on my forearm. I waited quite a few years before I got the other part of the design I wanted finished. Fortunately for me I got Dave to finish it a few months before his passing. I spent about 8 hours in the chair over a month and a half period. I got to hear some interesting things from him. Was a very cool guy and funny.

I'm posting the link because this is a history thread. Thomas Lockhart among others posted some stories that go along with the theme of this particular thread. Also, there is a tribute for Dave in April. I'm assuming they will be showcasing his art and by the looks of it, auctioning some pieces off. Tattoo fans in the area may want to check it out. You have to scroll down a ways to find some of the history part, but thought people might want to take a boo.

http://www.facebook.com/groups/132402280234104/

Of course if the link doesn't work or its not cool to post in threads. Just a simple search for Dave Shore Memorial should get you to the page easy enough.

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I've been looking for a forum about tattoos, this seems like a good one. I'm looking at getting more ink, and soon.

In any event while searching the forums I found this thread. I'm posting a link to Dave Shores' memorial facebook page. Its hard to find a lot of info on him, but whenever his name is mentioned to local artists it is received well. He did all the work I have thus far, not alot. I got my first tattoo at 18 on my arm. Then another a few years after that I got a dragon on my forearm. I waited quite a few years before I got the other part of the design I wanted finished. Fortunately for me I got Dave to finish it a few months before his passing. I spent about 8 hours in the chair over a month and a half period. I got to hear some interesting things from him. Was a very cool guy and funny.

I'm posting the link because this is a history thread. Thomas Lockhart among others posted some stories that go along with the theme of this particular thread. Also, there is a tribute for Dave in April. I'm assuming they will be showcasing his art and by the looks of it, auctioning some pieces off. Tattoo fans in the area may want to check it out. You have to scroll down a ways to find some of the history part, but thought people might want to take a boo.

http://www.facebook.com/groups/132402280234104/

Of course if the link doesn't work or its not cool to post in threads. Just a simple search for Dave Shore Memorial should get you to the page easy enough.

That is a great link, thank you for posting it. And welcome to LST!

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Thought it would be cool to bump this up. If this has been posted elsewhere, I apologize. Just happened upon this last night.

I've known the name Joe Prokopowitz since I was a kid. He was pretty much the only, or at least best known, above ground tattooer in this little corner of southwestern Ontario (Kitchener/Cambridge/Guelph) for many years up to the late 70's. I remember fantasizing about getting a tattoo as a kid and looking at the one listing under "Tattooing" in the yellow pages. Right between "Tarps" and "Taxidermy". Hahaha.... No shit ! ;) I saw lots of his work as a kid on cool older kids and bikers. I had a friend in high school that grew a full beard at 15 and got tattooed by Joe. And I still know some people with some his work from way back. The bold has 'holded' lol Always wanted to get something from him but never did. Shame on me. So,this was a cool read for me. The only info I could previously find on him was a small blurb on a local Navy Veterans Club website.

Joe Prokopowicz | Canada's Original Tattooist

This blog also has an article on Bill Baker, which is very cool. It is pretty much a rewrite of the Swallows and Daggers interview with Bill with a few extra anecdotes. A good read if you haven't read the interview but, I highly recommend the interview. If you don't know Bill Baker, you should :)

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Posted (edited)

hey just resurrecting this thread

my local watering hole Lucky Strike Tattoo has been documenting some of the Edmonton, AB connection to the Canadian tattoo history. They have some articles written up and posted up on their shop walls along with old photos and flash of Pat Martynuik, Zipp, Roy Johnson, Doc Forbes...

13551711_1646775745643889_1594819720_n.j

 

Rockin' Roy Johnson of Roy & Sandy's Tattoo on 118 Ave ...

13413225_249200478795748_720049928_n.jpg

Kudos to Sam and the Lucky Strike crew for taking the time to put this together. In the past you've had to go get tattooed and hear the stories to try and piece together the oral history so it's nice to have a story written out, to read and enjoy. Especially cool to see the hometown connection. cheers

Edited by bongsau
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Posted (edited)

The Interview with Bill Baker by Tattoo Artist magazine has some really interesting history in it - Bill's been behind some of the great shops and mentored others  who have opened great shops in Toronto, Hamilton and Vancouver.

http://tattooartistmagazineblog.com/2013/10/28/bill-baker-interview-part-1/

 

Edited by El Dolmago
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14 hours ago, El Dolmago said:

The Interview with Bill Baker by Tattoo Artist magazine has some really interesting history in it - Bill's been behind some of the great shops and mentored others  who have opened great shops in Toronto, Hamilton and Vancouver.

http://tattooartistmagazineblog.com/2013/10/28/bill-baker-interview-part-1/

 

That interview is truly great.  I think we would all have worse tattoos than we do if it wasn't for Bill.

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4 hours ago, Graeme said:

That interview is truly great.  I think we would all have worse tattoos than we do if it wasn't for Bill.

I think it would be easy to underestimate how important he's been to building Canadian tattooing and showing how to run a great shop - plus he's just a super sweet guy.

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2 hours ago, El Dolmago said:

I think it would be easy to underestimate how important he's been to building Canadian tattooing and showing how to run a great shop - plus he's just a super sweet guy.

He really is, and he's full of great stories.  We lived behind the shop he used to work at in Montreal, Tatouage Artistique and they have a bunch of his flash hanging in the racks still.  It's great stuff, mostly 80s fine line kind of biker stuff if I remember correctly. 

I really love that wrestling flash he did and I'd love to get something from it from him one day.

Have you read his new zine, Rough Outline?  It's worth getting a copy.
 

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49 minutes ago, Graeme said:


Have you read his new zine, Rough Outline?  It's worth getting a copy.
 

Ha - no but I've certainly chatted to him about the new ventures - I'll make sure to see if there is a copy next time I'm at the Pearl.

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Posted (edited)

It's nice to see this thread get bumped again after a time. I'm glad that Bill Baker interview is getting around. Truly an unsung hero. I'd love to get tattooed by him but I don't think it's easy.

I posted a link above a while back about Joe Prokopowitz who was one of the first tattooers in this area of southern Ontario. I met a man in a local sub shop the other day with some old tattoos. He was a friendly fella and we fell into a quick and easy, but all too brief, chat. I knew even before I asked that his work was done by Joe. It had the look. Sure enough, he said " You're too young to remember Old Joe" To ask random strangers to take pictures of their tattoos is kinda beyond my introverted comfort level but, I really would like to make a record of Joe's work that I see because it's becoming more rare by the day. This gentleman would have been game. I'm gonna work on that.

 

Here's a page on IG that features work by current Canadian artists. 

https://www.instagram.com/great_white_north_tattoos/

Edited by guitguy
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