McCord Museum of Canadian History
The Photographic Studio of William Notman

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A Gift Fit for a Prince : Notman’s Maple Box

Robert G. Wilson

A Royal Inauguration

The first decade of growth for railways in Canada occurred in the 1850s when a number of companies built lines in both Canada West (now Ontario) and Canada East (now Quebec). By late 1858, there were rail lines from Windsor and Sarnia in Canada West to the ice free port at Portland, Maine with the exception of a bridge across the St. Lawrence River. This last link in the continuous line to the ocean was completed on 17 December 1859, when the first official train passed over the newly completed Victoria Bridge which crossed the St. Lawrence River at Montreal. In the summer of 1860, Queen Victoria’s son, Albert Edward, H.R.H. the Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne, visited Canada to officially open the bridge. To commemorate the visit, the Canadian government presented the Prince with a portfolio of photographs taken by William Notman.

Being a good businessman, Notman understood the promotional possibilities that these photographs represented, and made a duplicate set which he retained. He also photographed the set in stereo, which was listed in his 1860 catalog and could be purchased for 40 cents each or $4.50 a dozen. Notman sent his duplicate presentation set to the 1862 International Exhibition in London, where he was awarded a medal “for excellence in an extensive series of photographs.” After the exhibition, it was returned to Montreal where it was on display in the Notman studio in 1864. It remained in the Notman collection through several studio moves. When the Notman family sold the company in 1935, they retained the set and eventually donated it to the McCord Museum of Canadian History in Montreal in the mid 1950s, where it is now part of the Notman Photographic Archives.