The Notman Studio stamp on the reverse of a printed photograph
In the mid-1860s, Montréal photographer William Notman decided to expand his business to other cities. His first branch studio was established in Ottawa, which had become the nation's capital when the Dominion of Canada was formed in 1867. Perhaps Notman chose Ottawa because it was to be the seat of the country's federal government-the branch office was built directly across the street from the Parliament Buildings.
The man Notman chose to manage his Ottawa branch was William James Topley, who was only 22 years old when the studio opened in January 1868. Topley had already worked at least two years as a professional photographer in Aylmer, Quebec, before moving to Montréal in 1864, where he worked at apprentice wages for the Notman studio. Not only was Topley a good photographer, but he also had a keen entrepreneurial spirit. In 1872 he bought Notman's Ottawa branch and operated it as a franchise. Then, in 1875, he opened a studio under his own name-a name that would be known on the Ottawa scene until September 1923, when the studio closed.
The Notman Studio, Wellington Street
Between 1868 and 1872
During a half-century of operation, the Topley Studio produced hundreds of thousands of images-of the famous and unknown, royalty as well as commoners, of Ottawa as it developed, and of much of the rest of Canada. That half-century saw radical changes in the way photographs were produced. At the beginning of William Topley's career, the process was sufficiently complicated that only a professional photographer could make photographs. The controlled environment of a studio was required to carry out the laborious coating, sensitizing and developing of each glass plate negative in the photographic process. By the time the Topley Studio closed in 1923, it was catering largely to the amateur photographer who took "snapshots" by simply pressing the button on a camera-which was likely purchased at Topley's-and then returned the film to the studio to have it developed and prints made.
The public reception area of the Topley Studio, probably 104 Sparks Street
Between 1878 and 1888
When the Topley Studio first opened, photographs printed in books, magazines and newspapers were unknown. Black and white photographic materials had difficulty in accurately capturing the entire spectrum of light. When the studio closed in 1923, television was in an experimental stage, and colour products had been commercially available for almost two decades.