Taking It All In: The Photographic Panorama and Canadian Cities Exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada

Most of today’s digital cameras come with a simple, point-and-shoot mode for creating panoramic images.

But back in the days of film cameras, creating a panoramic photograph meant either spending hours in the darkroom, painstakingly stitching images together by overlapping exposures onto the finished photo paper or buying an expensive panoramic format camera.

Possibly members of the Benjamin Low family on a passenger steamer showing various types of cameras, including a panoramic camera, 1904.

Possibly members of the Benjamin Low family on a passenger steamer showing various types of cameras, including a panoramic camera, 1904 (MIKAN 3191854)

A new exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa showcases panoramic photographs of Canadian cities from the 19th century. These images, which come from the collections of Library and Archives Canada, document how early photographers used this wide format to capture and celebrate the rapid urban development of their time.

Panoramic photographs exaggerated a town’s size and accentuated its landmarks. This made them useful promotional images and much sought-after travel souvenirs.

The following image is part of a rare panorama of Toronto from 1856. The full panorama (consisting of 12 images) was intended to be used in the city’s bid to be named the capital of the United Canadas. At the time these images were created, photography was a cumbersome and expensive practice.

A view from the Rossin House Hotel, from King Street West to York Street North, Toronto

A view from the Rossin House Hotel, from King Street West to York Street North, Toronto (MIKAN 3194746)

To take this view of the city, the photographer had to lug heavy equipment and chemicals to the rooftop of the Rossin House Hotel. The slow emulsion and wet collodion process required long exposures, which resulted in blurred movement and rendered busy streets into seemingly quiet, deserted spaces.

In 1887, Canadian photographer John Connon patented a panoramic camera, which permitted a continuous, near 360-degree exposure. Capturing images on waxed paper negatives, Connon’s camera rotated on a turntable.

Page from John Connon’s patent application for panoramic camera, 1888

Page from John Connon’s patent application for panoramic camera, 1888 (MIKAN 4628414)

Connon probably used his new camera to take this view of the Canadian Pacific Railway as it passed through the town of Fergus, Ontario.

View along the rail line, Fergus, Ontario, ca. 1886–1887

View along the rail line, Fergus, Ontario, ca. 1886–1887 (MIKAN 4488786)

In addition to being used to capture urban development, panoramic photography was used to take photographs of landscapes, significant events and portraits of large groups.

Visit the exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada or check out our Flickr set to see other panoramas in our collection!

2 thoughts on “Taking It All In: The Photographic Panorama and Canadian Cities Exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada

  1. Library and Archives Canada has the John Robert Connon Fonds. It contains some textual records as well as 751 photographs. Some of the photographs are available online, but many aren’t digitized yet.

    There’s also Made in Canada: Patents of Invention and the Story of Canadian Innovation which features Connon’s panoramic camera

    In terms of external sources, the Archives of Ontario have the Connon Family Fonds.

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