Elaine Kalman Naves
In the winter of 1868 a name Montreal society associated with art, good breeding, and culture became fodder for scandal mongers. The Notman name, synonymous with fine photography, was suddenly making headlines featuring the words "abortion" and "suicide."
A dozen years earlier, two brothers fled their native Scotland . They were attracted to Montreal by its reputation for making the fortunes of go-getting Scotsmen. One was destined for fame, the other for notoriety.
William Notman, the older brother, eventually owned the largest photography business in North America. His subjects ranged from royalty, Governors General, and the Fathers of Confederation to Sitting Bull and Harriet Beecher Stowe. His studio immortalized the faces and baronial mansions of the merchant princes of Montreal's legendary Golden Square Mile-the Molsons, Redpaths, Allans, and Van Hornes.
By contrast, Robert, the younger brother, was drawn into a drama which shook up Montreal's polite society. After he seduced the beautiful and ambitious Margaret Galbraith, a student at the McGill Normal School, he arranged an abortion for her with an up-and-coming young doctor who soon after committed suicide.
The subsequent trial of Robert Notman became cause-célèbre in the newly minted Dominion of Canada in 1868. Portrait of a Scandal depicts a society that distanced itself from sexual misconduct, while it lapped up its every detail.
Includes 20 William Notman photographs.
Award-winning writer and journalist Elaine Kalman Naves is the author of six books, among them the critically acclaimed memoirs Journey to Vaja and Shoshanna's Story.She reviews regularly for the Montreal Gazette and is a frequent contributor to CBC Radio's Ideas.