William Notman National Historic Person (1826-1891)

Historic black and white photo of a man
William Notman, photographer, Montreal, QC, 1868
© McCord Museum / Object Number : I-30283
Commemorative plaque
Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada bilingual commemorative plaque for William Notman National Historic Person (1826-1891), located in Montréal, Quebec

William Notman (1826-1891) was designated a national historic person in 1975.

Historical importance: Famous Canadian 19th-century photographer.

Commemorative plaque: 51 Sherbrooke Street West, Montréal, Quebec Footnote 1

Here lived William Notman, one of the most successful Canadian photographers of the 19th century. Born in Scotland, he came to Montréal in 1856 to work in a dry goods firm, but a photographic studio opened as a side line soon commanded his full attention. His photographs of the Prince of Wales’ visit in 1860 won him the title “Photographer to the Queen,” and assured the firm’s success. Eventually, there were Notman studios in Ottawa, Toronto, Saint John, Albany, and Boston. By the time of his death in Montréal, Notman had photographed most of the leading Canadian personalities and events of his time.

William Notman (1826-1891)

  • William Notman was one of the most successful Canadian photographers of the 19th century;
  • Notman was born in Scotland and he emigrated in Montréal in 1856. He first worked for a wholesale dry goods firm. Having practiced photography as an amateur in Scotland, he took a leave of absence from work to start a photographic business and it soon commanded his full attention;
  • Notman’s first major commission was from the Grand Trunk Railway, which in 1858 asked Notman to photograph the construction of its Victoria Bridge in Montréal. The bridge was considered a great feat of engineering, and Notman’s photographs of all stages of its construction earned him an international reputation;
  • Notman photographed the Prince of Wales’ visit in 1860, and at the request of the government, prepared for the prince a gift of photographs of the visit in an ornate maple box. This earned him the title of “Photographer to the Queen,” which helped to ensure his photography firm’s success;
  • His studio soon flourished, and eventually there were Notman studios in Ottawa, Toronto, Saint John, Albany, and Boston. In addition to photographers, he also hired artistic painters whose work allowed him to offer life-sized enlargements of portraits;
  • Photographic portraits were one focus of his work, and he photographed many notable figures of the 19th century. He also became well known for his photographs of Canadian scenes and life. His studio also produced composite works, which were made up of individual photographs cut out and pasted onto a background;
  • Notman remained active as a photographer until his death. Two of his sons then carried on the firm long after his death, until his son Charles Frederick sold it in 1935.

 

A historic black and white image of a man
William Webb ice skating, Notman staff photographer, Montreal, QC, 1867
© McCord Museum / Object Number : I-29600.1
 
A historic black and white image of a woman
Mrs. Thomas Davidson, Montreal, QC, 1870
© McCord Museum / Object Number : I-45253.1

 

A historic black and white image of a woman
Miss E. Duffey, Montreal, QC, 1876
© McCord Museum / Object Number : II-42549.1
 
A historic black and white image of a man
J.G. Shipway, auctioneer, Montreal, QC, 1867
© McCord Museum / Object Number : i28750

Backgrounder last update: 2017-10-26

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