Notman was born in Paisley, Scotland in 1826. He moved to Montreal in 1856. An amateur photographer, he quickly established a flourishing professional photography studio on De Bleury Street. His first important commission was the documentation of the construction of the Victoria Bridge across the St. Lawrence River. The bridge opened with great fanfare in 1860, attended by the Prince of Wales and Notman’s camera. The gift to the Prince of a maple box containing Notman’s photographs of the construction of the bridge and scenes of Canada East and Canada West so pleased Queen Victoria that, according to family tradition, she named him “Photographer to the Queen.”
Notman’s reputation and business grew over the next three decades, he became the first Canadian photographer with an international reputation. He established several branches across Canada from Halifax to Toronto and in the Eastern United States. Notman was highly regarded by his colleagues for his innovative photography, he won medals at exhibitions in Montreal, Philadelphia, London, Paris, and Australia. William Notman passed away on November 25, 1891, following an episode of pneumonia, at the age of 65. His sons, William McFarlane and Charles Frederick, managed the Wm. Notman & Son studio until 1935.