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HALIFAX the CRADLE: Photography Introduced to British North America

Dale Wilson Canada Canadian Dartmouth Heritage Museum Dr Golding Bird Evergreen House Halifax historical photo processes Nova Scotia photography The Colonial Pearl The Rooms at Evergreen William Valentine

Quebec Gazette, 15 April 1839

The first known reference to “The New Art of Sun-Painting” appeared in the 15 April, 1839 issue of the Quebec Gazette. An article also appeared in the 10 May, 1839 issue of the Halifax broadsheet The Colonial Pearl, under the same headline as that of the Quebec Gazette. At this time research has not located the original published document, but it is most assuredly arrived in Lower Canada and Nova Scotia via an Atlantic packet sailing from England.

These early articles published in both the Quebec Gazette and The Colonial Pearl did not include any instruction on the making of “Photogenic Drawings.” That would change with the 31 May, 1839 issue of the Colonial Pearl. “We have been sadly puzzled ourselves to obtain an intelligible view of the new art of photogenic drawing. The treatise of Dr. Bird is, however, so plain and easy to be understood, that we feel assured our readers will receive much satisfactory information on the subject from the annexed extracts.”

Cover of Journal that published Dr Bird's account of Talbot's treatise.

This is the first reportage that counsels the reader through both the photogenic drawing —as Talbot called his contact prints—and the use of the camera obscura to make light drawings of larger objects such as trees. Dr Golding Bird, the noted English botanist, would write a Letter to the Editor of the Magazine of Natural History on 25 March,1839 (published April, 1839 issue of that Journal)  and it was this letter that was reprinted in The Colonial Pearl.

It is most unlikely the editor of The Colonial Pearl was aware of the historical significance when he wrote in the following week issue, 1 June, 1839: “We are glad to find that our notice of the new art of sun painting in our last, has excited considerable interest among our readers. One of our friends who read the article has since formed several photogenic pictures with ease and success.”


This is the earliest known recorded reference to a photographic image having been made in British North America, some 28 years prior to Canadian confederation and two months before the daguerreotype process was announced to the public. As a result, Halifax can lay claim to being the cradle of photography in current day Canada.

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