|William Notman: The construction of Victoria Bridge, Montreal, Canada (1854-1859) |
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William Notman emigrated to Canada in 1856 and became one of the preeminent Canadian photographers taking cityscapes of Montreal and intriguing photocollages of large groups. He had studios in various Canadian cities including Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Halifax. The Victoria Bridge being constructed in Montreal was a significant civil engineering project for Canada and the British Empire and so Notman documented the progress of the construction. Within the collection at the McCord Museum of Canadian History there are salted paper prints along with coloured ink drawings made from some of them allowing for comparative analysis between two distinct modes of documentation.
The following contemporary account from 1859 describes this engineering marvel:
THE VICTORIA BRIDGE.
This account specifically refers to the photographs of William Notman.
This gigantic undertaking forms one of the most interesting and wonderful features connected with the city, at Point St. Charles.
It is being built for the purpose of enabling the Grand Trunk Railway to form a continuous railroad communication with the railroads of the United States, instead of passengers being obliged to cross the river in steamers, as at present
The width of the river where the bridge is being built is very nearly 2 miles.
The current of the river is very rapid—with a depth of from 4 to 10 feet, excepting in the main channel, where it is from 30 to 35 feet deep.
In the winter, the ice is formed into a great thickness, and frequently immense piles accumulate—as high as 80 to 40 feet Thus piled up in huge boulders, the water rushes through them at a fearful rate, driving the blocks of ice along, and crushing all before them.
The bridge will consist of 24 strong piers, standing 242 feet apart, excepting the entire span, which is 339 feet wide. They are all perpendicular on three sides, and slope down to the water-edge against the current, so as to withstand the force and action of the floating masses of ice, on its breaking up. Each pier is estimated to withstand the force of 70,000 tons of ice at one time.
Resting on these piers, and running from abutment to abutment, is the bridge, which consists of a hollow iron tube, 22 feet high, and 16 feet wide.
The entire span is to be 60 feet above the average level of the water, thence sinking towards each end 1 foot in 130, thus making the height of the abutments about 37 feet
The estimated cost is about £1,250,000 stg. The weight of the iron in the tubes will be 8,000 tons, and the contents of the masonry will be about 3,000,000 cubic feet The whole will be completed in the autumn of 1859 or spring of 1860. As is well known, the engineer of this greatest bridge in the world is Mr. Robert Stephenson of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
The whole of the views of Montreal, as given in the accompanying pages, were taken for this work by Mr. Notman, photographer, Montreal, and the clear and sharp photographs supplied by him for the purpose of engraving from, affords the best evidence of his being a first-class artist.
- Λ Stanley Triggs, Conrad Graham, Brian Young & Gilles Lauzon, 1992, Pont Victoria: un lien vital = Victoria Bridge: the vital link, (Montreal: McCord Museum of Canadian History) [Exhibition catalogue]
- Λ Examples of where there are surviving William Notman photographs and other modes of illustration in the McCord Museum of Canadian History (Montreal, Canada) include:
example 1: Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process, "Large boulder raised from coffer dam, Victoria Bridge, Montreal, QC" (VIEW-7570.0) / Ink on paper - Wood engraving, "The Removal of a Large Boulder during the Construction of the Victoria Bridge" (M15934.21)
At times there are differences in the numbers of people shown and their positions and this might indicate an amount of artistic license by the artist when copying the photographs.
example 2: Silver salts on paper mounted on card - Albumen process, "Framework of tube and staging no. 8, Victoria Bridge, Montreal, QC" (N-0000.193.127) / Print, "Laying Bottom of Tube" (M15934.30)
example 3: Silver salts on paper mounted on card - Albumen process, "Centre tube, Victoria Bridge, Montreal, QC" (N-0000.193.135) / Coloured ink on paper, "Centre tube in progress" (M15934.28)
- Λ The New World in 1859 being the United States and Canada, Illustrated and Described (London: H. Bailliere, ca. 1859), Part Third, Upper and Lower Canada
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