Collections and Research

Harry Houdini, Princess Theatre, Montreal, October 1926. M2014.128.694.133.2 © McCord Museum

Magic in Montreal

In 2015, the McCord Museum announced the acquisition of a remarkable collection of magic posters and numerous archival items documenting the career of Harry Houdini (1874–1926), the most famous magician of the modern age. One of the extraordinary features of the Allan Slaight Collection is its magnificent, unique posters.

A combination of art and advertising, these illustrations employ phantasmagorical imagery to depict acts beyond the understanding of the average person. Created primarily during the Golden Age of Magic, from the 1880s to the 1930s, these works fired the public imagination even as they fulfilled their marketing goals.

Early analysis indicates that the collection not only perfectly complements the Museum’s other collections, it also helps contextualize and illustrate various chapters in the history of stage magic in Montreal during the 19th and 20th centuries, revealing the art of wonder and its role in the leisure pursuits of Montrealers. Montreal has always been a captivating city, thanks to its vibrant culture. Its uniqueness stems from its combination of European roots and North American dynamism.

From the early 19th to the early 20th century, nearly fifty theatres and performance halls were established in Montreal. Throughout this period, these entertainment venues presented diverse programming that included magic acts. The first recorded magic show in Montreal goes back to 1820 when magicians performed in the theatre Mansion on College Street. From the late 19th century until the 1930s, Montreal welcomed the world’s greatest magicians: Alexander and Adelaide Herrmann, Harry Kellar, Samri S. Baldwin, Anna Eva Fay, Harry Houdini, Howard Thurston and Harry Blackstone.

To learn more about the history of magic in Montreal, watch the lecture given by Christian Vachon, Curator, Paintings, Prints and Drawings.

Not to be missed!