canada first photo

These are some of the first photos taken of cities in Canada

The first photo of Canada was taken in 1840, when a British traveller snapped a picture of Niagara Falls. Considering the photograph was taken 27 years before Canada even became a country, it's pretty impressive that the image exists.

Fortunately, Canadians have also preserved many early photographs showing what big cities looked like in the nineteenth century.

From Toronto to Montreal to Calgary, here's what our country looked like before vacuum cleaners and air conditioning existed.


The business district of Canada's biggest and most bustling city certainly looked different in 1870. Picture muddy streets, horse-drawn carriages, black top hats and plenty of snow in the winter (some things never change).

first photo canada

Toronto from north of Wellington Street, 1870 | Toronto Public Library


About a century before the city was home to Lululemon, Vancouver was home to a thriving lumber and sawmill industry. This photograph was taken in the heart of Gastown, a popular area named after a prominent saloon owner.

canada first photo

Vancouver from Cordova Street, 188-| Vancouver Public Library


More than 130 years before TikTok existed, Calgary was a sparse collection of farmhouses set amidst green, rolling fields. The city had a population of a few thousand people in 1885, and a massive fire would destroy many of the buildings the following year.

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Calgary from the Bow River, 1885 | Library and Archives Canada


Canada's capital city was actually pretty developed by 1860. This photograph was snapped the same year that Prince Albert would arrive to lay the cornerstone in the Parliament Buildings.

canada first photo

Ottawa from Rideau and Dalhousie Streets, 1860 | Wikimedia Commons


Montreal was the biggest city in Canada in the 1850s, with a population of roughly 60,000 people. You can already see some churches that still exist today in this photo, including St Patrick's Basilica on the right.

canada first photo

Montreal from Beaver Hill, 1851 | Library and Archives Canada

Quebec City

This photograph was snapped one year after John A. Macdonald and a number of officials met in the city to discuss Canadian confederation. Saint-Jean street was a bustling commercial hub filled with pubs, shops and other various trades.

canada first photo

Québec City from Saint-Jean Street, 1865 | Library and Archives Canada


By 1900, Halifax already had an electric tramway. Halifax locals would race yachts in the harbour and play tennis at the South End Tennis Club. In the winter, sleigh drives, snowshoeing and tobogganing were popular activities.

canada first photo

Halifax from grain elevator, 1900 | Wikimedia Commons


Winnipeg experienced a massive population boost when the railway was introduced, six years before this photograph was taken. You can already see the city's commercial hub packed with clothing stores, pubs and auction houses.

canada first photo

Winnipeg from Main Street, 1887 | Wikimedia Commons

Saint John

This picture was snapped just over 20 years after a disastrous fire burned through Saint John, destroying two-fifths of the city. The popular Victorian brick buildings that can be seen in the city today were built in the ashes.

canada first photo

Saint John from Main Street, 1900 | Provincial Archives of New Brunswick

St John's

This photograph of the area's thriving fishing industry was snapped 21 years before St. John's was even incorporated as a city. Eight years before the photo being taken, a fire had destroyed roughly two-thirds of the infrastructure.

canada first photoSt John's, 1900 | Wikimedia Commons

Lead photo by

Toronto Public Library

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