Library and Archives Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Institutional links

ARCHIVED - Framing Canada:
A Photographic Memory

Archived Content

This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.


Photographic Collections

Photograph of the ruins of the Molson family brewery, Montréal, after the fire of 1858
Ruins of the Molson family brewery after the fire of 1858
Montréal, Quebec, July 1858
Photograph attributed to Thomas Coffin Doane


Early Canadian Photography

Some 150 rare daguerreotypes (one of the earliest photographic formats) are preserved by Library and Archives Canada (LAC, previously the National Archives and National Library of Canada). Though most are by anonymous photographers, and have subjects that cannot be identified, there are also significant, well-documented portraits of prominent politicians and ordinary citizens alike. These "one of a kind" photographs are valued for their presentation of both famous and anonymous Canadians prior to Confederation. Included are an exquisite locket containing an 1840s portrait of Kingston lawyer and future prime minister, John A. Macdonald; a marriage portrait of Samuel Leonard Tilley and his wife; a portrait of Louis-Joseph Papineau; and a portrait of Ojibway Chief Maun-gua-daus (also known as George Henry). On rare occasions, photographers ventured beyond the studio to capture city or landscape views; the LAC's holdings include a daguerrotype of the aftermath of the disastrous fire at the Molson Brewery in Montréal in 1852 and another of Allan's Mill, in Guelph, Ontario.

By the time the Fathers of Confederation met in Charlottetown, advances in photographic technology permitted multiple paper prints to be made from a single glass-plate negative (a technique known as the collodion process). This led to an explosion of commercial photography in the 1860s as hundreds of people set up studios to create and sell a variety of photographic formats, such as ambrotypes, tintypes, albumen prints, cartes-de-visite, cabinet cards and stereoviews. One series of stereoviews was taken in Montréal by William Notman, of the 1860 construction of the Victoria Bridge, which was considered an engineering wonder of its time. LAC's holdings also include numerous impressive albums assembled by colonial officials, naval officers, successful businessmen and ordinary men and women; these offer further insight into the subjects and events deemed worthy of preservation by earlier generations of Canadians.

As the 19th century progressed, new developments in photographic processes liberated the photographer from the studio and revolutionized the practice and purpose of photography. In Canada, one of the most significant applications of this new photography was capturing the geographical character of the country. Albumen prints of Newfoundland taken by French photographer Paul-Émile Miot between 1857 and 1859 give us important early views of St. John's as well as various French fishing outports of the time and document the French presence on the island. A significant resource for the study of Canada's expanding frontiers during this period is the collection assembled by Sandford Fleming, the engineer and businessman who coordinated many official government expeditions. Fleming's collection includes photographs  --  by such pioneers as Humphrey Lloyd Hime, Benjamin Baltzly, Charles Horetzky and Alexander Henderson  --  that document exploration, surveying and railway construction. Also scattered throughout a large number of collections are more than 2,000 photographs by the renowned studio of William Notman, which was based in Montréal from 1856 until about 1935. Notman's photographic empire included more than 21 branches in Canada and the United States and typified the exuberance and ambition of the period. It was the Notman firm that produced the first photographic views from the newly opened Canadian Pacific Railway, promoting an image of Canada's abundant resources and natural beauty. Notman's studio operators in various cities often embarked on long and successful careers of their own  --  typical was the Topley Studio of Ottawa, whose collection would eventually become one of the first major private collections acquired by the National Archives.

Similarly, the collection of photography by Jules-Ernest Livernois, containing 1,500 glass negatives by the renowned Quebec photographer, includes many views of buildings, towns and the surrounding countryside of 19th-century Quebec, as well as the daily activities of citizens of that province.