Notman and Montreal
Currently on view at the McCord Museum is the exhibition Notman, A Visionary Photographer. This was my second time visiting the exhibit, the first being at the opening and the second time was last weekend. (Good exhibition are always worth seeing at least twice, especially if your first time is opening night).
I have to start right away that I am a groupie of everything Montreal. Being born here and living here the majority of my life, I am interested in how the city was before me, how it came to be what it is now, and who are the people who made Montreal so great. I will never forget the class on Montreal I took during my undergrad; my professor, Dr. Jean Bélisle (the best teacher ever) would take us in different neighbourhoods and areas in Montreal and would give us an interactive course of the city. We went to Sault-au-Récollet, walked from Old Montreal to Ahunstic (and yes, walked the 13km of boulevard Saint-Laurent from de la Commune to Gouin) and saw buildings inspired by Le Corbusier (so.many.schools.in.montreal). I love imagining how the map of Montreal grew to be what it is now.
I am also interested in the worst of the city: the exhibition Quartiers Disparus at the Centre d'Histoire de Montréal revealed a series of neighbourhoods and communities that do not exist anymore, because the mayor at the time (Jean Drapeau) wanted to "clean" the city of its slums. Everytime I walk by the Radio-Canada / CBC tower, I think of all these row houses that have been destroyed for a huge parking. Buildings and houses that would be traces of Montreal's architecture have been replaced by nothing, or modern buildings design by companies and people with no soul who are obviously not architects.
Anyways, back to the Notman exhibition. I've known the work and importance of William Notman since doing my undergrad: we would visit the archives of the McCord a lot, and I even made a research paper / movie on the Victoria Bridge. Even before going to university, McGill College avenue would present outdoor exhibitions of Notman's photographs of the city. For the current exhibition at the McCord, they focused mostly on his portraits, cartes de visite, composites, as well as photographs of the Canadian landscape. There were also books, catalogues, cameras and furnitures he had used.
When visiting this exhibition, I was mostly interested in two things: finding if the buildings used still exists (I was google mapping a lot during my visit), and understanding the presence of Black and Indigenous people in Montreal, as represented by Notman. Would they be erased? Were they not photographed because they did not have the financial means to be immortalized? Unfortunately, I did not find much, or should I say, I have found has much of what was made available / relevant at the time: I found 4 Black people: a jockey, 2 maids, and a woman who luckily, were identified by name. I also found a photo of the Montreal Lacrosse team (all Indigenous men), and a "young Blackfoot brave". There was a white man with an Indigenous costume (obviously).
I also looked for the men who gave their names to Montreal streets and different places. The McCord's exhibit was more of a didactic exhibition than an actual photography one, so I spent my time overlapping the past with the present as my way to learn from this show. I had a great time, and I would recommend people who love history to go and see it. Everyone goes to the museum for different reasons: tracing back Montreal, looking for my people as well as the people the island was stolen from were my reasons. What will be yours?