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
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.