Pictures of You in Carleton Place — Life Before Selfies



Finley and Maria McEwen and family by Willis of Carleton Place, ON – Cabinet Card

There were a few professional photographers in Carleton Place, but the most popular one to go to was George Willis. Ebenezer Duff, born 1845 in Beckwith Township, was also a photographer who worked with George Willis and later in Ottawa. Ebenezer was the  son of William Duff and Margaret Henderson who emigrated from the village of Bankfoot, Parish of Auchtergaven,Perthshire, Scotland. Duff was last known to be in Beckwith in 1871. George Willis loved taking pictures of children. Word on the street was that he would tell small children as he was taking the photo to “watch for the bird”. What no “Cheese”?

No one can say for sure who coined the phrase “say cheese” for use in getting people to smile, nor can we say with 100% certainty why that particular phrase was chosen as the smile spreader. The leading theory, however, as to the “why” of “say cheese” is that the “ch” sound causes one to position the teeth just so, and the long “ee” sound parts their lips, forming something close to a smile.

Why didn’t they smile in those old photographs? The most common reason cited for people not smiling in photographs in the Victorian era is blamed on dental hygiene. The most common cure for sick teeth during this time was to pull them out. There were no caps or other fixes to make chipped or broken teeth more aesthetically pleasing. So perhaps the reason tightly controlled mouths were considered more beautiful than beaming smiles in the Victorian era was in part due to dental hygiene.

Keep in mind too that daguerreotypes were expensive. The rich were more likely to be photographed than the poor, and even then, most families were only photographed on special occasions, perhaps only even once in a lifetime. The majority of these photographs were taken in a professional photography studio. There was nothing casual about photos taken then and the etiquette for formal occasions at that time was to act “prim and proper”. What was socially acceptable in photography during the Victorian era mirrored the beauty and etiquette standards of the times.  You wouldn’t want to pay all that money and have the one time you’re photographed in your lifetime showing you smiling like a drunkard!


The above picture has been identified as Joseph Jacobs and Ann Jane McCarter, of Carleton Place.


Sam by Willis of Carleton Place, ON 2 – Cabinet Card



Adeline Poole 

Picture taken at C. C. Hilton, Carleton Place, Ont.





About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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