Acclaimed Saskatchewan photographer Thelma Pepper dies at age 100


A Saskatchewan photographer renowned for capturing the lives of everyone from farmers to seniors in nursing homes in her portraits has died.

Thelma Pepper, who died on Tuesday, was 100 years old.

“Mom meant so much to so many people in this province,” Gordon Pepper, one of her four children, said in an email to CBC News.

“She touched and inspired everyone she met. She loved talking to people, learning about them, and ultimately, in her own quiet and confident way, making all she met feel better about themselves and their own lives.

“There was no one like my Mom. I am going to miss her so much. So many people are.”

Thelma Pepper was born in Kingston, N.S.

She met her husband, Jim, while in Montreal, where she obtained an master’s degree in botany from McGill University.

Thelma and Jim moved to Saskatoon, where they started their family.

Though her father was an amateur photographer, Thelma didn’t pick up a camera until she was 60.

She spent the last 40 years photographing and capturing the lives of people on the Prairies.

One of Thelma Pepper’s portraits. The photographer said she always tried to gain the trust of her subjects. Then she took the picture. (Thelma Pepper)

Pepper published four photography books and was a strong advocate for arts and culture in Saskatchewan.

She was recognized for her work by being awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit and the Saskatchewan Arts Board Lifetime Achievement Award.

Pepper’s work has been exhibited across Canada and Europe. 

Amy Jo Ehman, who released a biography titled Thelma: A Life in Pictures earlier this year, said she was caught off guard by Pepper’s death.

“I kind of felt like she would live forever, at least long enough that, you know, I could see her again after these pandemic times,” she said.

Ehman only met Pepper when the photographer was 98.

“I only knew Thelma as a very senior lady who had given so much of herself to her family and her community and her passion for photography,” Ehman said. “And yet at that age, I found her to be so gracious and so interested in other people.”

Ehman said that even though they were working on a book together, Pepper didn’t want to talk about herself. 

“She was really interested in other people and politics. And your thoughts on the world. She’s just such an interesting, knowledgeable and caring person that I just enjoyed spending time with her so much.”

Thelma Pepper received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit. (Submitted by Gordon Pepper)

Ehman said as an outsider coming to the Prairies, Pepper was moved by her subject’s stories of how families struggled in the early days on the farm and how women did so many small, little heartfelt things to hold their families and communities together.

“She just wanted to give those women their due that she felt they had not received during the course of their lifetimes.”

Ehman said we’ll remember the stories in the faces of the women Pepper photographed.

On Saturday Ehman is scheduled to give a Zoom talk through the Regina Public Library Project.

“[This has] been set up for a while, although now it suddenly seems quite a bit more poignant. The theme of the talk is the things that we could learn through Thelma’s story, through to the biography of her life,” she said.

“I just hope I can get through it without crying. I’m sure I can’t, but I don’t think that that will detract from the conversation that we can have about Thelma and her life.”

The Morning Edition – Sask7:38100-year-old photographer of Saskatchewan women documented in new book

Photography became a late-in-life obsession for Thelma Pepper. She didn’t start taking photos professionally until she was 60. Now, at the age of 100, she has four books to her name, and she has spent a good part of her life documenting the lives of women who lived on farms across the province. Finally, someone has decided to document her life. 7:38

Other tributes came in from the arts community across Saskatchewan.

“Our hearts go out to the friends and family of Thelma Pepper,” tweeted the Saskatchewan Arts Board. “She left an indelible mark on our arts community and will be greatly missed.”

A celebration of her life will be held next year to coincide with an exhibition of Pepper’s work at Remai Modern in Saskatoon. 

“Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of artist Thelma Pepper,” tweeted Remai Modern. “Known for her black and white photographs, Pepper documented the lives of prairie women and men, putting their experiences and resilience into focus.”

Thelma Pepper’s work captures the unique qualities of people who live in Saskatchewan and help tell the stories of women who might not otherwise have a voice. (CBC)

“I know she will be there in spirit and with all of the visitors as they experience her photographs,” Gordon Pepper said.

“Mom’s work, as we all know, will last forever and will gather more and more significance in years to come.”

The Sunday Edition25:08The long, lovely view of Thelma Pepper (reprise)

She didn’t pick up a camera till she was 60, but since then, she’s taken thousands of striking portraits. At 100, she’s still passionate about photography, creativity and the beauty and strength of ordinary people – on Saskatchewan’s backroads and in nursing homes. David Gutnick’s documentary profile of Thelma Pepper is called, “These Women Live On.” 25:08



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *