Capital City Portraits: Faces from the Topley Collection

One of the most popular collections at Library and Archives Canada is the William James Topley photograph collection, acquired in 1936. The Topley collection is comprised of over 150,000 glass plate and nitrate negatives, in addition to 68 studio proof albums, daily assignment logs and account books.

Dating from 1868 to 1923, the large collection illustrates the prolific career of Topley, a Montréal-area native, who began his solo career by opening a branch of the William Notman studio on Ottawa’s Wellington Street. Having worked in Montréal for a number of years as an apprentice to the well-known photographer, William James Topley, would eventually drop the Notman name and run his own studio from a series of Ottawa addresses, moving from Wellington Street to the corner of Metcalfe and Queen, and finally to two separate addresses on Sparks Street.

The photographs produced during Topley’s lengthy career serve as a fascinating visual reference to life in Ottawa, as well as other Canadian cities and towns. His images include street scenes documenting daily life, commissioned photographs of store fronts, Parliament Hill before, during, and after the 1916 fire, and perhaps most compelling, his portraits of citizens, both famous and otherwise.

By 1872, the Topley studio was attracting more than 2,300 sitters a year, including prime ministers, governors general, members of Ottawa’s high society, businessmen, and average citizens. He created his famous composite image of the first major Canadian fancy dress ball, hosted by the Earl of Dufferin and his wife, in 1876.

Many of Topley’s clients were the families of Ottawa’s movers and shakers. Being the capital city, it was common for relatives of politicians, land owners and lumber barons to make their way to Topley’s studio at some point, to sit for a portrait. In the early nineteenth century, it was still a somewhat prestigious event to have your portrait taken, and wives, children, and even pets were photographed at the studio, some of them multiple times over the years.

In viewing these wonderful portraits, it is fascinating to see the clothing, hairstyles, and expressions of Ottawa’s earlier citizens, and interesting to see the faces of people for whom some of Ottawa’s streets, parks and schools are named.

Miss Powell, 1870

Miss Powell, 1870 (MIKAN 3479280)

Miss E. Pattie and cat, 1873

Miss E. Pattie and cat, 1873 (MIKAN 3461227)

Mr. Brewer, 1875

Mr. Brewer, 1875 (MIKAN 3433630)

Miss Sparks and Miss Magee, 1889.

Miss Sparks and Miss Magee, 1889 (MIKAN 3448969)

Mrs. Bronson, 1869

Mrs. Bronson, 1869 (MIKAN 3478860)

Other local portait sitters

For further research

War Brides of the First and Second World Wars

Wars are tragic events but they sometimes have an unexpected silver lining. During the First and Second World Wars, Canadian soldiers often found love overseas, got married and brought back their loved ones to Canada.

We are happy to advise you that we have added a new page to our Military Heritage section about the foreign women who married Canadian soldiers, the war brides. They shared a common experience of leaving their country and heading for Canada on long journeys, first by ship and then by train. They faced many challenges as they settled into a new country, a different culture and sometimes even a new language.

War brides, en route to Canada aboard S.S. Letitia, waving goodbye to families and friends.

War brides, en route to Canada aboard S.S. Letitia, waving goodbye to families and friends. (Source Mikan 3352285)

On this new page, you will find records from a variety of sources. The majority are found in the records of National Defence, Department of Employment and Immigration, Department of External Affairs, the Directorate of Repatriation, and the Canadian Wives′ Bureau, but many also come from private organizations.

Visit the War Brides page to explore the printed and archival resources available at Library and Archives Canada.

Notarial Records

Would you like to know more about the daily lives of your New France and Quebec ancestors? Then you might be interested in looking at notarial records, where you can find a wealth of information about your ancestors’ goods and properties, and any transactions they may have entered into with others. The oldest known notarial record dates back to 1635.

A notarial record is a private agreement written by a notary in the form of a contract. Some of the most common ones are marriage contracts, wills, estate inventories, leases, and sales contracts.

Notarial records are held by the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ), but Library and Archives Canada holds copies of some records in the collection, Fonds des greffes de notaires du Québec. You can also use the advanced search to look up the name of an individual or a notary.

Sale made by Nicolas Réaume and Charles-Noël Réaume to their brother Alexis. Notary F. Le Guay, May 9, 1781. Library and Archives Canada, MG18, H-44, vol. 8, 4 pages.

Sale made by Nicolas Réaume and Charles-Noël Réaume to their brother Alexis. Notary F. Le Guay, May 9, 1781. Library and Archives Canada, MG18, H-44, vol. 8, 4 pages. (e000102246)

How to search for notarial records

You can use a variety of tools to search for notarial records. For the oldest records from 1635 to 1784, consult the Parchemin database, developed by the Archiv-Histo historical research society (French only), which provides an abstract of each notarial record (date of the record, name of the notary, names of the parties, etc.). Parchemin is available at BAnQ, and in some public libraries, and archives.

You can also consult several name indexes (French only) for various regions in Quebec. Through a large-scale digitization project, you also have access to online directories and indexes of notaries from all regions of Quebec up to 1933 through BAnQ’s Archives des notaires du Québec (French only).

Once you have found a reference, you can consult the original record on paper or on microfilm. You may even be able to consult it online as BAnQ, in collaboration with FamilySearch, will eventually have all the records available online.

A paradise for genealogists: Quebec’s civil registers

As any genealogist will tell you, researchers whose ancestors lived in Quebec are fortunate. The sheer volume of surviving civil registers and the manner in which both Catholic and Protestant registers were kept make them a valuable resource. In fact, Quebec has been called “a genealogist’s paradise!”

The careful recording of vital statistics in Quebec is largely due to a series of religious and civil ordinances and regulations originating under French rule.

The historical influence of France

The year 2014 marks the 475th anniversary of the Ordonnance de Villers-Cotterêts [Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts] (in French only), signed in August 1539 by the King of France, Francis I, in what is now the department of Aisne. Under this edict, priests were required to register baptisms and burials. In 1579, another ordinance signed at Blois required that marriages be registered.

With the Council of Trent (1545–1563) and the publication of the Rituale Romanum de 1614, [Roman Ritual of 1614], the Roman Catholic Church further emphasized the importance of civil registration, specifying how to record the names of the godfather and godmother, witnesses, parents, etc.

Finally, in 1667, the Ordonnance de Saint-Germain-en-Laye [Ordinance of Saint-Germain-en-Laye] introduced the practice of keeping duplicate copies; one copy was kept by the priest and the second was filed with civil authorities at the end of the year. This ensured the preservation of innumerable registers that could have been destroyed or lost forever had only one copy existed.

Applications in New France and modern Quebec

These regulations took effect in New France in 1621 and were enforced by local authorities. Following the Conquest of 1760, the British authorities chose to retain it, recognizing the value of this system.

In Quebec, civil status registers have the following characteristics:

  • There are three types of acts: baptism, marriage and burial.
  • The acts are drawn up by parish priests.
  • They are presented chronologically, usually within a single register.
  • They are subject to two separate regulations: ecclesiastical and civil.

See Vital Statistics: Births, Marriages and Deaths to learn more about these documents and how to consult them.

Happy searching!

William Redver Stark: Restoring the Sketchbooks

Different approaches have been tried over the years for conserving sketchbooks or bound volumes. For a long time, the works were simply detached in order to remove the binding. Nowadays, the historical and archival value of the binding is widely recognized. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is no exception in this regard, and conservation treatments are now designed to preserve the work in its entirety, including the binding.

In a previous article, we introduced you to the work of soldier William Redver Stark. The sketchbooks that are part of the William Redver Stark fonds were never repaired or preserved, and were beginning to show signs of wear:

  • Tears and holes
  • Pages detached, missing or in the wrong order
  • Broken binding threads
  • Covers weakly bound to pages or completely detached

The sketchbooks therefore are undergoing various conservation treatments, undertaken by a team of LAC’s highly specialized conservators in the field of book conservation and restoration. These conservators worked with the collection managers and archivists to respect the integrity of Stark’s work, and to give him his full moment of glory.

The drawings and watercolours in this collection are in very good condition. Some even look like they might have been completed only a few days ago. It should be noted that the sketchbooks remained closed for nearly a hundred years, and that the pages were rarely exposed to air or light. Thus, to study a Stark work is to travel through time, to see the work of an artist exactly as it was created a hundred years ago, during one of the most deadly and crucial wars of our time.

In sum, the restoration work done by LAC‘s conservation and restoration team will make it possible to stabilize the condition of the sketchbooks in order to ensure that they will withstand the ravages of time, and will allow future generations to have access to an important part of our history.

Example of a required restauration treatment: the adhesive tape must be removed.

Example of a required restauration treatment: the adhesive tape must be removed.
© Library and Archives Canada

Another example of a required restauration treatment : the cover must be sewn back on.

Another example of a required restauration treatment : the cover must be sewn back on.
© Library and Archives Canada

See Also:

Summary of comments received in French between July 1, 2014 and September 30, 2014

  • A reader from Wimereux (France) thanks LAC for its work on the restauration of William Stark’s sketchbooks. It turns out that William Stark was stationed in Wimereux and made a lot of sketches of the surroundings. The reader was able to identify some of the sketches and he is offering his work to LAC.

William Redver Stark, the Soldier and the Artist

Canada’s experience of the First World War was captured by officially commissioned artists such as A.Y. Jackson and David Milne from 1916 onwards through the Canadian War Memorials Fund. However, many other artists—amateur and professional—captured their experiences of the war while they were busy fighting, building roads, transporting goods or providing care to others, but still creating vivid imagery of the world around them.

The William Redver Stark fonds at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is a rare illustrated record of one of these undeclared artists’ lives in the military. Through 14 sketchbooks of remarkably well-preserved drawings and watercolours, we discover the life of a soldier through his eyes, which were closer to the action than those of his official counterparts, and which provide a more spontaneous, intimate perception of how day-to-day activities may have looked.

In these sketchbooks, we find images of soldiers at work and at rest, captured German prisoners and artillery, landscapes through which battalions moved, and sights at the London Zoo where Stark went while on leave. The illustrations serve as a rich and indispensable complement to the artist’s military file, to his battalion’s history, and to our visual understanding of a serviceman’s experience during the First World War.

William Redver Stark with cat. Courtesy of Veterans Affairs Canada.

The William Redver Stark fonds was donated to Library and Archives Canada in 2005 by his nephew, Douglas Mackenzie Davies and his family: his wife, Sheila Margaret Whittemore Davies, and their two sons, Kenneth Gordon Davies and Ian Whittemore Davies.

How to search the sketchbooks

All 14 sketchbooks of the William Redver Stark fonds have been individually described and digitized, making it easier to search for themes or types of scenes. For example, you can search the fonds for all images that contain bridges or construction.

To search the sketchbooks, go to the advanced archives search and in the drop-down menu under “Any Keyword,” enter either the archival reference number (R11307) or the MIKAN number (616998). If you want to narrow down your search even more, enter a keyword such as “bridges” in the second box.

Other related materials:

Be sure to read William Redver Stark: Restoring the Sketchbooks to learn more about the work done by LAC’s conservators to restore the sketchbooks.