McCord Museum of Canadian History
The Photographic Studio of William Notman

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A Strong, Personal Gaze
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The Man and the Studio

Stanley G. Triggs

Portrait of William Notman

William Notman's career as a photographer in Montreal spanned thirty-five years. During that time he built up the largest photographic business in North America, establishing at one time or another seven studios in Canada and, counting seasonal studios at several colleges, nineteen in the north-eastern United States. Over this large enterprise his rule was firm but benevolent. By careful training and selection of managers, operators and support staff, he was able to maintain a consistently high quality of product, one of the key factors in his success. Add to that a wide variety of services, a price range to accommodate everyone, a canny sense of timing when expanding the business, and the winning personality of a man known in his community for his good works, and you have the major ingredients of a success story, one which continued long after Notman's death until 1935, when his surviving son Charles sold the business and retired.

Notman possessed another characteristic that put him far ahead of anyone else in his field: a keen desire to work, to devote long hours of effort to his enterprise. Perhaps in the end this was his undoing. In mid-November 1891, at the age of sixty-five, he contracted a cold which he ignored, continuing to go to work every day. As his condition worsened his doctor ordered complete rest, but it was too late. Notman died of pneumonia on November 25, 1891.