Notman’s Canada


From 1856 to the time of his death in 1891, William Notman ran the most important photographic studio in Canada. It is said that he is the most successful photographer in all of North America. In 1873 alone he produces 14,000 images. Some are treasured private possessions. Others are reproduced in the thousands and are sold around the world.

He came to Canada as a fugitive from the law and quickly built a thriving business in the then ‘new art’ of photography. He wanted to be a successful businessman. What he became was the architect of one of North America’s most important historical records.

An entrepreneur and master craftsman, he also trained a generation of Canadian and American photographers who ran his satellite studios in Halifax, St. John, Boston, Albany, and New York. He captured the social life of Canadian and international elite as well as the family life of both the rich and the ordinary. He artfully recorded the settlement of the west, the growth of bustling cities and the fading of a way of life as aboriginal peoples moved onto reserves. Thousands of men and women, both famous and ordinary, live on for us through William Notman’s work.

Notman’s Canada evokes the social and cultural life of Montreal and Canada in the last half of the 19th century. The photographs themselves form the main visual source, supplemented with original shooting including minimal recreation in Montreal and other historically significant locations. Filmed interviews with Notman enthusiasts and experts provide context. Diaries, letters, and songs of the time are also used to bring alive an era in which the photograph was an exciting new medium of enormous social and cultural importance.


1 x 60 minutes


Director: Murray Battle
Writer: Barbara Sears
Director of Photography: John Tran
Editor: Timothy Pocious
Composer: Hugh Marsh


Nomination for Best History Documentary - Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television Gemini 2004