Canadian Souvenir View Albums
Home Introduction Index by:
Publisher / Printer
About Français

Souvenir View albums from the 1880s and 1890s were published by Canadian stationers and booksellers, and by the railways for whose clientele they were destined. (Those travelling by steamer were another audience for the view books, as later would be those touring by automobile.) Most of the volumes from this period appear to have been printed in the United States for the Canadian publishers. The albums share common characteristics: The photomechanically reproduced drawings (which appear to have been based on photographic views), occasionally coloured, are printed on a single accordion-folded sheet, encased in blind stamped, sometimes gilded, cloth covers. The artists who produced the drawings for these publications are not credited.

By the turn of the century, a range of new photomechanical processes had been introduced to the view book, including photogravure, half-tone and artotype; many of the publications assume the format of the photograph album. Text is usually limited to an introduction and captions for the images. The quality of design, reproductions and printing ranges from the modest to the elegant. Although the local or itinerant photographers often remain anonymous, in the early years of the century, they begin to be identified. Accomplished photographers such as the Livernois Family of Quebec City and William Notman of Montréal are among them. The albums can provide unique evidence of the growth of the photography profession across the country, and occasionally serve to identify little-known regional photographers and their work.

The view albums from the early twentieth century were made to appeal not only to tourism, but to settlement and investment as well. The albums from Western Canada in particular contain high-spirited statistics on such factors as population growth, the number of building permits issued, and the number of miles of paved sidewalks and streets, along with inventories of urban amenities: schools, banks, hospitals, churches, hotels, abattoirs, hydrants, newspapers; and "gents' clubs." The covers and title pages of the publications reflect this civic pride and boosterism, proclaiming: The City Phenomenal; The Wonder City; The Celestial City; The Electric City; Steady Growth Means Solid Prosperity; Its Present Greatness, Its Future Splendor; and Has Never Known a Set Back.

Artists' utopian views of the potential and progress of the new cities grace the covers of many of the albums. A flurry of superlatives announces that there is not a city in the Dominion that is not matchless, glorious, irresistible, majestic, delightful, picturesque, sublime, unsurpassed, prosperous, marvellous, prominent, handsome or busy - a mecca, hub, gem, bull's eye, metropolis, queen, gateway, or doorway - well-situated, well-lighted or well-drained. Ottawa is saluted: Fair City, Crown of Towers, and Victoria is hailed: The Empire's City of Pacific Destiny.

Eden, European Kingdoms, Babylon, Switzerland, Naples, the Rhine, Gibraltar, and the Tropics are evoked by way of comparison. Cities vie in claiming the most churchgoers, the most ambitious youth, the fewest uncouth individuals, the most fire alarm systems, and the most right-angled intersections. One urban centre asserts that it is the most "airminded" (in reference to aeroplanes); another, that its climate is the most praised, although its summers are impossible to describe.

The twentieth century titles were issued by both Canadian and American firms that specialized in the publication of view albums: Valentine & Sons, Montreal; W. G. MacFarlane, Toronto; the Photogelatine Engraving Company, Ottawa; and the Canadian Promotion Company, Winnipeg. Printing for the Canadian firms was frequently executed in the United States, Great Britain or Germany. One of the most prolific publishers of Canadian view books was the James Bayne Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan, its volumes invariably displaying the photographs in collages of elaborate cartouches. Few of the Quebec albums were issued in the French language, which reminds us of English dominance of commerce in the province at the time.

Many of the albums are undated (a probable decade of publication has been supplied). Further research into the construction dates of buildings and monuments (or their destruction), and details such as the mode of transportation depicted (horse-drawn vehicles, the horseless carriage, the automobile), or the style of clothing of the figures, can lead to more precise dating.

Albums were sent to friends and family as gifts or souvenirs, as is testified by the inscriptions they bear: To Margaret from Flossie; With Best Xmas Wishes; A Merry Christmas to May from Addie; Harold, with love, Myra; With Kind Regards; En souvenir des bonnes causeries. The popularity of the souvenir album had waned by the late 1930s, perhaps because the Depression affected the mobility of the population, and a period of immigration and prosperity was concluded.

These publications are of great interest to the historian of Canadian art, architecture, urban development, and photography. They have immense appeal as witness to a period in a young country's history that was characterized by rapid growth and grand ambition.

Searches of the collections can be performed by place, by photographer, and by publisher/printer.  Bibliographical data are taken from the catalogue of the National Gallery of Canada Library.

National Gallery of Canada This digital collection was produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital Collections initiative, Industry Canada.

© National Gallery of Canada 2001

Canada's Digital Collections