Text from the Atlas

Images of Canada, 1810-1894

During the 19th century many artists travelled within Canada, recording their sense of its diverse landscapes. A young Swiss immigrant, Peter Rindisbacher, recorded his arrival aboard the ship Wellington at Fort Churchill in 1821, following this with a series of detailed images tracing his overland travels to the Red River colony. Paul Kane and W.G.R. Hind crossed the country before the arrival of the railway and the land survey, representing the land in works which were both sensitive to the Native inhabitants and also reflective of the changes attending the arrival of another culture.

Born in Ontario and essentially self-taught, Lucius R. O'Brien became the first president of the Royal Canadian Academy (RCA) in 1880. J.A. Fraser, also a charter member of the RCA, emigrated from England in 1858 after receiving instruction at the South Kensington School. O'Brien was trained as a civil engineer while Fraser began by tinting photographs in the Montreal studio of William Notman. Their emergence as professional landscape painters paralleled the evolution of the technologies which launched their careers. The locations of the O'Brien works shown on this plate suggest a relationship between his fascination for the railway and the views he captured. Both O'Brien and Fraser lived in the East, where topography, light, and colour differed dramatically from the West, to which they travelled on the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). On the way they created regional images of the country which strongly affected the perception of Canadians for the next two generations, before the Group of Seven.

Fraser and O'Brien are known to have copied the work of photographers like Alexander Henderson and Frederick Dally. Henderson chronicled the construction of the Intercolonial Railway and took views of the West after 1885, before establishing the photography department of the CPR. Dally took up photography in 1866 and by 1870 had created an extraordinary portfolio documenting coastal and interior British Columbia. Charles Horetzky, an immigrant of Polish and British extraction, learned photography from a group of amateurs in Moose Factory. As an exploratory engineer on the CPR Survey from 1871 to 1881 he pioneered the use of collodion dry-plate technology. Employing the more cumbersome wet-plate process, the Royal Engineers photographed the length of the 49th parallel in two separate expeditions between 1858 and 1874. Images in the far North include those captured by the box camera of J.B. Tyrrell during his tenure (1881-98) with the Geological Survey.

The Look of Domestic Building, 1891

In 1891 the built landscape of Canada's settler society encompassed a wide variety of structures old and new. As cultural mixing occurred throughout the century, various house-building approaches gave way to a few regional prototypes. Their histories followed a typical sequence in which various immigrant housing forms, many of them based on old world folk-culture types, were tested and refined in response to regional and local experiences.

Whereas old dwellings had been simple in plan, typically consisting of one to three multi-purpose rooms, vernacular housing (as this new dwelling type came to be called) provided a more complex floor plan emphasizing a lifestyle lived in functionally specific rooms, eg, kitchen, bedroom, and parlour. During the 19th century the nature and form of the vernacular dwelling became more standardized and international, as pattem-books gained currency and mass-produced design components, such as doors and trim, revolutionized the technology of construction. Thus, the vernacular designer was able to mimic the style of the elite who employed architects to reproduce aesthetically correct high-style designs. In this way ordinary people sought to use housing to display taste and social achievement. Distinctions also increased between houses in rural and urban areas, reflecting differences in class, the exposure to new ideas, and the requirements of municipal fire and other regulations. Despite these many differences, regional types evolved both in towns and in rural areas. By the end of the century the built landscapes of Newfoundland, the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario, and the West could be distinguished from one another.

Main Streets: The juxtaposition of buildings in smaller urban places frequently produced a characteristic townscape, a visual profile or signature that was regionally distinct. Arrayed along a typical 'main street' were manufacturing establishments, commercial and institutional buildings, residences and other components of the municipal apparatus. Even when expressed as a composite of a larger reality, the streetscapes, as shown here, with their accumulations of structures spanning several years, attest to a dynamic process of growth. There was still no cohesiveness or planning control in the design of Canada's urban places. Instead, towns developed organically by integrating a complex matrix of individual economic, political, and aesthetic decisions.

Printed Historical Atlas of Canada source:

Images of Canada, 19th Century (Volume II, Plate 1; Concise Plate 29)
The Look of Domestic Building, 1891 (Volume II, Plate 6; Concise Plate 30)