Collections and Research
The Notman Photographic Archives on UNESCO’s Canada Memory of the World Register
Since August 2019 the Notman Photographic Archives, held by the McCord Stewart Museum, have been listed on UNESCO’s Canada Memory of the World Register. This singular honour, bestowed only rarely, is awarded to documents of great significance to Canadian history that, having been digitized, are accessible to people all over the world.
In a unanimous decision, the jury of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO acknowledged that the photographs taken by William Notman and his sons between 1856 and 1935 shaped the vision of Canada’s identity during this pivotal period in its history.
The collection contains iconic images of every facet of Canada. It documents the expansion of the country’s territory over the course of the 19th century, its villages and cities – notably Montreal, hub of the country’s economic development – and its population, composed when Notman opened his studio largely of Indigenous people and citizens of French and British descent. As a product of its time, the Notman collection constitutes a vast field for research into the social and political relations of the period.
Since McGill University acquired the archives of the William Notman & Son studio in 1956, the approximately 400,000 photographs then included in the collection have been the object of an ongoing cataloguing process. Close to 200,000 Notman artefacts are currently listed in the photography collection’s database and can be studied via the Museum’s Archives and Documentation Centre.
In addition, a major digitization project was launched in 1998 aimed at making this invaluable heritage accessible to as wide an audience as possible. Over 83,000 photographs can be viewed in the database, and 67,000 of these are also accessible online via the McCord Museum website. .
In 2017 the Notman collection was showcased in the exhibition Notman: A Visionary Photographer, presented at the McCord Museum and subsequently at the Canadian Museum of History. The exhibition earned an Excellence Award from the Société des musées du Québec. An abundantly illustrated book with the same title, edited by Hélène Samson and Suzanne Sauvage, received an Excellence Award for research from the Canadian Museums Association.