The Grand Spectacular

Oliver Brown Buell was a photographer whose iconic images of Canada in the 19th Century are widely recognized. Who is the man who showed Canadians their new country, through his travelling ‘illuminated lectures’?

Born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1844, Oliver called Canada home for most of his life. From 1873-1910, he built a reputation on commercial photography, winning one of three official contracts to photograph the completion of the westward expansion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. His images of the trial of Louis Riel, and Chiefs Big Bear, Crowfoot, Poundmaker, and Whitecap are part of our nation’s identity. His ‘entertainments’, which were photography lectures on large-format screens, showed the world our nascent nation, with images from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and were used to promote immigration and tourism.

Since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, his photographs of Indigenous subjects have been increasingly reproduced by the news media. And while historians have praised his work for its superior quality and unique artistry, there remains great mystery surrounding his career and his life.

The Grand Spectacular: The Life and Work of Entertainer and Photographic Artist Oliver Brown Buell will introduce readers to an important, and until now overlooked, figure in Canadian history.