William Notman of Montreal, Part 1 & 2

William Notman, self-portrait. 1868.1-30283. McCord Museum.

William Notman, self-portrait. 1868.1-30283. McCord Museum.

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He arrived in Montreal in 1856 as a fugitive from the law. He became Canada's most successful photographer. A rare combination of canny businessman and master craftsman, William Notman embraced the wondrous new medium of photography and left us a unique record of Canada's social history. A portrait by Montreal writer Elaine Kalman Naves.


At the age of 30, William Notman was a new immigrant to Montreal. He'd been a travelling salesman in the family dry goods business in Scotland, but something had gone terribly wrong.  There was no hint when the anxious young man stepped ashore in Montreal that he would soon become a world-renowned photographer. 

On the lam from the law, William Notman remade himself in Montreal.  He saw his chance and quickly mastered the brand new art of photography. His timing couldn't have been better.  Fascination with the astonishing new medium was sweeping Europe and North America - never before had it been possible to create a permanent image without an artist's pencil or paintbrush or engraver's tools.  Eventually, William Notman would own the largest photography business in North America, with branches across Canada and the United States. From his studio in an elegant greystone in the heart of Montreal's business district, Notman immortalized the faces of the city's merchant princes and their families.  He also recorded the lavish trappings of their high Victorian lifestyle in the opulent palaces they built for themselves in Montreal's famous Golden Square Mile.

Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill posed for him, as did the Fathers of Confederation.  Royalty, trades people, caribou hunters, lacrosse teams and visiting celebrities  - William Notman recorded them all and left us a priceless legacy of his times.


William Notman Photo Gallery



All photographs appear courtesy of the McCord Museum.



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