Main Street, Merrimac House on left , St. James (Presbyterian) Church in the background, c 1910

Main Street, Merrimac House on left , St. James (Presbyterian) Church in the background, c 1910. Photography: Notman Studios. Courtesy of Nova Scotia Archives, Accession No. 1983-310 number 68408/Negative: N-4820.

B13 - Main Street, Merrimac House on left , St. James  (Presbyterian) Church in the background, c 1910

The Notman Studio photographs in the Nova Scotia Archives cover the period ca. 1869 to ca. 1920, and include photo portraits, Halifax streets, buildings and general views, and similar landscapes from several other Nova Scotia communities, including this one of Antigonish.

A search of the Notman archive generated this photo of Main Street, which was one of three photos on one piece of paper. The other photos were of an unidentified man and another view of Main Street.

Notman Studio, Halifax opened in 1869, the fourth branch studio of the photographic firm established by William Notman at Montreal in 1856. Oliver M. Hill, trained in the studio, became manager in 1876. In 1885 Notman bought out The Halifax Photographic Company, also known as Millman and Ray, from W.H. Webb who had purchased it in 1880. Hill purchased Notman Studio, Halifax from Notman’s heirs after the latter’s death in 1891 and operated it until his own death in 1923. Hill left instructions in his will that the studio be sold. His daughter Amy (Isabella Amelia), a partner in the studio since 1912, continued to manage it for two years after his death. His daughter (Olive) Muriel then managed it for about a year until it closed in 1925 or 1926.

Notman’s autobiography offers insights into the relational art of photography when photography was in its infancy.

In the late 1860s Notman published a booklet called Photography: things you ought to know.Designed as a handout to customers, it is full of advice on what to do in order to help the photographer make a good portrait. He talks about making an appointment, feeling at ease at the moment of posing, assuming a natural expression, and so on. Particularly helpful is the advice on what to wear.

The restriction on certain colours, particularly in wide areas such as women’s dresses, was necessary because of the limitations of the slow emulsions of the time. Light colours would become overexposed on the negative and therefore difficult or impossible to print. Red, on the other hand, would come out much darker than its true colour because the emulsion was insensitive to red. Thus in the finished print a red uniform might look black and freckles might be unnaturally pronounced. To tone down a ruddy complexion Notman offered a makeup service. “The temporary use of some white powder for a red countenance, or of some cosmetic to darken light eyebrows, moustache, or beard will be found useful. These will be supplied if asked for and assistance given to apply them if necessary.”2 One of Notman’s staff was available to assist the female patrons with hair styling and change of costume. Presumably she doubled as a makeup artist as well.

The Merrimac Hotel, formerly Cunningham’s Hotel, was one of several establishments on Main Street, which provided accommodation for travellers and lodgers. The Merrimac Hotel had 25 rooms. Rufus Hale served as hotel keeper at the Merrimac, when he moved to Antigonish in 1885 (he has originally come to Nova Scotia from Newport, Massachusetts during Guysborough’s gold boom of 1880). At the turn of the century, Hale promised guests a telephone, hot and cold baths, electric lights, “commodious sample rooms,” and “good stabling.” (Stanley-Blackwell & MacLean, 2004, p. 73).

The Merrimac Hotel provided both lodging and venue for travelling salesmen. A man’s photo accompanied this ad in The Casket, October 3, 1918, p. 5:

I shall make a full week’s visit to the Merrimac House.

To everyone that is suffering for the want of correct glasses, have your eyes measured by the Rand Special System.

Charles A. Rand, Optical Expert, Robinson Block, St. John, N.B.

The Casket, March 25, 1897, p. 8 reported on a fire in the ell of the Merrimac House. Fire-fighting in the 19th century took this form:

The alarm, which was sounded at 12 o’clock was soon responded to by the firemen, who could hear it, and two streams of water were placed on the flames, which had the effect of confining the fire to the rear wing and soon subduing it. The fire is said to have originated in the boy’s room by the upsetting of a lamp. This, however the boy denies. … The building is owned by Mr. F. Cunningham and is insured in the Norwich Union of England for $2.00. … The fire bell should be removed from its present location to a more elevated one or an additional bell procured. In several portions of the Town a fire alarm at night is never heard.

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