This post takes us all the way back to the late 1800s, when photography was just emerging and Canadian publishing was in its infancy. An enterprising man by the name of John McConniff appears to have been wearing two hats; one as a publisher, and another as a travel agent. As a travel agent, he worked out of the Union Ticket Agency in the Rotunda of the Windsor Hotel in Montreal. This hotel first opened in 1878 and is often considered to be the first grand hotel in Canada. While working in this environment, he produced at least 9 illustrated souvenir books of the most prominent cities in Canada. He offered these books for sale by mail or through local booksellers in each city. I believe these titles were published circa 1890-1893.
John McConniff must have been something of a renaissance man because these books were not your typical promotional tourist literature; he clearly wanted to produce books of the highest possible quality. He licensed images from early photographers such as William Notman (who was also one of the founding partners of the Windsor Hotel Company), he sought out superb illustrators and book binders, and he selected a local writer from each city to write about their region’s history, institutions, and places of interest.
What titles did he choose for his books? Drumroll, please!
- Illustrated Quebec, the Gibraltar and Tourists’ Mecca of America
- Illustrated Montreal, the Metropolis of Canada
- Illustrated Halifax, the Garrison City by the Sea
- Illustrated Toronto, the Queen City of the West
- Illustrated Ottawa, the Capital of Canada
- Illustrated St. John, the Loyalists’ City
- Illustrated Winnipeg, The Prosperous Prairie City
- Illustrated Vancouver, Golden Gate of the Pacific
- Illustrated Victoria, City of the Setting Sun
Of these nine titles, four are now available on archive.org; Illustrated Quebec and Illustrated Montreal are available in full colour, and Illustrated Halifax and Illustrated Toronto can be seen in black and white (from microfilm). Alas, the remaining five titles are missing in action, and Illustrated Vancouver is alarmingly absent!! This could be the very first edition of such a title, and given this historical significance, all efforts must be made to locate a copy! It does not appear that the VPL, the Vancouver Archives, the BC Archives, or UBC Special Collections have a copy, so perhaps we must rely on private collectors to locate Ottawa, St. John, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Victoria. If you come across one of these missing titles, please consider scanning it and uploading it to the Internet Archive, or donating it to a local museum that could do the same.
There are a couple similar titles that I would like to point out; an earlier edition of a book titled Illustrated Toronto; Past and Present was published by Peter A. Gross in 1877. It is also available on the Internet Archive, and it features over 60 fantastic lithographs of the city. The colours have faded somewhat, but this is still a glorious publication, for those who have a fondness of early Toronto. Closer to home, we are lucky that Greater Vancouver Illustrated published circa 1906-1909 by Dominion Illustrating Co. survives in a number of local collections, MoV, VanArchives, and VPL to name a few. And if you’re interested, David Mason in Toronto may still have a copy for sale. I believe this title is primarily photographic, but it’s still an artfully produced publication.
I’m sorry I can’t show you the one title that would mean the most here, but I’m counting on the Internet to crowd-source us a copy of all five missing publications soon! These may be old, but they are not the oldest publications ever to mention Vancouver in print. That honour will be saved for another upcoming post!