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When capturing Canada in photos didn't show instant results

The coffee table book A Day in the Life of Canada started with 100 photographers snapping thousands of photos that didn't see the light of day for months.

Over 100 photographers aimed to capture Canada's essence on a single day in June, 1984

From a lighthouse in foggy Newfoundland to a Toronto fashion show, a photography project takes shape in 1984. 1:31

The coffee table book A Day in the Life of Canada started with more than 100 photographers snapping thousands of photos that didn't see the light of day for months.

June 8, 1984 was a Friday. The movies Ghostbusters and Gremlins opened in theatres and Jean Chretien and John Turner were campaigning to lead the Liberal Party of Canada.

Elusive sunrise 

But the day started in Cape Spear, N.L., where photographer Boris Spremo's plan to capture the rising sun was foiled by thick fog.

"If it's fog, if it's rain, if it's snow, I don't care ... I'm still going to make the picture," Spremo told reporter Dan Bjarnason after capturing the lighthouse and its keeper instead.    

Spremo was just one of over 100 professional photographers from 19 countries hired for the project, which would produce a large format book with the results.

Photographer Charles Gander snaps photos outside a Montreal fruit market. (The National/CBC Archives)

In Montreal, 19-year-old shutterbug Charles Gander of Michigan arranged three employees of a fruit market in front of their shop. 

And a shopping mall fashion show was immortalized on film by "glamour photographer" Douglas Kirkland.

Sophistication? In Toronto?

Traders on the floor of the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange were captured in action by photographer and project lead Rick Smolen. (The National/CBC Archives)

"I'm looking to show sophistication, which exists here in Toronto," he said. "And I don't want people to think that Canada's only the RCMP riding across the tundra on a dogsled."

Rick Smolen, who was also the project's coordinator, took his camera to the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange as traders shouted and gestured.

Months later, the book is ready

The book could only hold 255 photos, so many more go across the country on a national tour. 1:44

By November 1984, some of the 100,000 pictures that had been taken that day could be seen in the pages of the newly published A Day in the Life of Canada.

Just 255 photos made it into the book, and Smolen said it had been heartbreaking to choose them.

A photo of two children and a cat was chosen for the cover of the coffee table book. (Newshour/CBC Archives)

"What do you leave out of a book like this?" he asked reporter Cathy Legedza. "It's like you're on a boat, the ocean liner is sinking and you can only take three of your kids and there's six kids on the boat." 

At the time Smolen was speaking at an exhibition of 250 of the photos, many of which didn't make the cut, and would be on tour for the next five years. 

And he revealed that the fog in Newfoundland had been a harbinger for the rest of the country that day.

"Somebody told us it was the worst weather in June in like 18 years in Canada," he said. "In a way it almost made the pictures more intimate, because it made people go indoors."