William James Topley

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William James Topley

Birthplace: Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Death: November 16, 1930 (85)
Vancouver, Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (Old age)
Place of Burial: Ottawa, Ottawa Division, Ontario, Canada
Immediate Family:

Son of John Topley and Anna Delia Topley
Husband of Helena de Courcy Topley
Father of William de Courcy Topley; Sarah K Topley and John H. Topley
Brother of Horatio Needham Topley; Joseph Harrison Topley; John George Topley; Anna Delia Thomas; Esther Lavinia Topley and 2 others

Occupation: photographer
Managed by: Kevin Lawrence Hanit
Last Updated:

About William James Topley


William James Topley (13 February 1845 – 16 November 1930) was a prolific Canadian photographer based in Ottawa, Ontario. Topley was noted for his portraiture of Canadian politicians, and was a business partner of William Notman, taking over Notman's Ottawa studio in 1872. A large number of photographs by Topley are now in the collection of Library and Archives Canada, including approximately 150,000 glass plates negatives and a set of 66 index albums covering the entire history of his Ottawa studios from 1868 until 1923.

William James Topley was born in 1845 in Montreal, and raised in Aylmer, a town just outside Ottawa in modern-day Quebec. His first exposure to photography was from his mother who purchased a camera in Montreal in the late 1850s. In 1863, at the age of 18, Topley was listed as an itinerant photographer, but by 1864 he was working at apprentice wages for William Notman in Montreal. In 1867, the year of Canada’s confederation, when Topley was only 22 years old, he was placed in charge of a new portrait studio opened by Notman (his first outside of Montreal) on Wellington Street in Ottawa in a new purpose-built structure across from the new Parliament buildings. Topley clearly had very good business sense, becoming the “proprietor” of the Notman studio by 1872, and by 1875 opening a studio under his own name. King McCord Arnoldi (architect) designed the studio and residence on Metcalfe Street at Queen Street in 1875.

After building this rather overstated studio in 1876 he soon found that he had to abandon it and move to smaller quarters on Sparks St., where he and later his son continued to operate the Topley studio until they sold it in 1923. The studio attracted many political figures, including all the Prime Ministers from Sir John A. Macdonald to Mackenzie King. The studio also attracted the wives and daughters of nobility, political and business figures, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta (Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll), The Countess of Aberdeen, Mrs. Robert Laird Borden, Mrs. Louis Philippe Brodeur, Mrs. Brown Chamberlin, Mrs. Louis Henry Davies, Lady Eileen Nina Evelyn Sibell Elliot, Mrs John Peter Featherston, Mrs. William Stevens Fielding, Mrs. Edward Griffin, Mrs. Joseph Howe. He catered to the well-to-do—as he himself said “If I can see beauty in the human face, and reproduce it, I can command three times the reward for my work than he who simply shoots a plate at his patron. True, in a small city, such a course limits trade, but one-half of the business with three times the prices is much better for mind and body and pocketbook.”

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William James Topley's Timeline

February 13, 1845
Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
September 24, 1873
Ottawa, Ottawa Division, Ontario, Canada
Ontario, Canada
November 26, 1882
Ottawa, Ottawa Division, Ontario, Canada
November 16, 1930
Age 85
Vancouver, Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
November 22, 1930
Age 85
Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa, Ottawa Division, Ontario, Canada