Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada

February 23, 2009 08:30 ET

Putting a Face to Canada's Past: Library and Archives Canada Announces Launch of Virtual Exhibition

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Feb. 23, 2009) - On this day, in 1876, Governor General Lord Dufferin held a fancy ball. Thanks to photographer William James Topley's work, in recreating the ball in his studio and darkroom, we know today what many of the guests looked like and what they wore. Now, all Canadians have access to these photographic images as Library and Archives Canada offers some of the photographer's finest photographs through a virtual exhibition entitled William James Topley: Reflections on a Capital Photographer.

This virtual exhibition presents photographic images from the William James Topley collection held at Library and Archives Canada. It documents life in the Ottawa area as well as people, places and events in most Canadian provinces from 1868 to 1923. The website features essays about the photographer's life and work, including a section about the care and preservation of the Topley Studio collection.

"The William James Topley photographic collection is one of the most important visual records of Canada during the first 50 years after Confederation," says Ian E. Wilson, Librarian and Archivist of Canada. "These images help us envision Canada's past as they are some of the most widely consulted sources of late 19th and early 20th century photographs held in our collection."

Accompanying the exhibition is a searchable database to more than 107,000 caption entries, including over 11,000 records with digitized images. An educational resource with a smaller database for student research will be added.

Attended by the affluent of Ottawa society, Governor General Lord Dufferin's fancy ball of February 1876 was a great success and for 20 years was the standard by which similar balls were measured. Because pictures could not be taken inside Rideau Hall, Topley recreated the event in his studio by photographing several hundred formally attired guests in compositions reminiscent of the ball. He then published the images as oversized photographs, hoping to sell as many copies as possible.

This project was made possible with the assistance of the Department of Canadian Heritage through its Canadian Culture Online Program. For more information, visit:

About Library and Archives Canada

The mandate of Library and Archives Canada is to preserve the documentary heritage of Canada for the benefit of present and future generations and to be a source of enduring knowledge accessible to all, thereby contributing to the cultural, social and economic advancement of Canada. Library and Archives Canada also facilitates co-operation among communities involved in the acquisition, preservation and diffusion of knowledge, and serves as the continuing memory of the Government of Canada and its institutions.

Contact Information

  • Library and Archives Canada
    Isabelle Gaudreau
    Media Relations Officer