Picturesque Canada: The Country As It Was and Is

Collection Spotlight

Picturesque Canada: The Country As It Was and Is

Published in 1882, Picturesque Canada: The Country As It Was and Is was one of the most ambitious topographical works of its time. The book’s 880 pages are spread over two lavish volumes and richly illustrated with more than 500 wood engravings.

Based on the idea behind its American predecessor, Picturesque America, published in the United States in 1872–74, Picturesque Canada was the brainchild of two Chicago brothers, Howard Raymond and Reuben Booth. Looking to appeal to both American and Canadian audiences, the brothers opened a branch in Toronto to publish the book under the Belden Brothers imprint. The book was initially presented as being entirely Canadian, but over three-quarters of its illustrations would be completed by Americans who had worked on Picturesque America. The Canadian contribution consisted mainly of the illustrations provided by the project’s artistic supervisor, Lucius Richard O’Brien, President of the Royal Canadian Academy. O’Brien crossed the country from east to west to complete nearly 100 of the book’s intricate wood engravings.

The text accompanying the images is both historical and descriptive. A number of authors wrote text under the direction of general editor George Monro Grant, Principal of Queen’s University in Kingston, who also contributed to the book. Picturesque Canada begins in Quebec, crosses Ontario all the way to Manitoba, returns to the Maritimes and then ends in British Columbia.


  • The two black leather-bound volumes with gilt lettering measure 33 by 26 cm and together weigh 17.1 pounds.
  • In the book’s preface, the authors thank the first parliamentary librarian, Alpheus Todd, for giving valuable information on many points. 
Two volumes with gilt lettering are stacked with a slight offset. The cover of the volume underneath is brown leather, while that of the volume on top is dark green leather.
The two volumes of Picturesque Canada
A green leather volume decorated with a red and green pattern. A maple leaf motif frames the book’s title.
Detail of the cover of Volume II
Engraving of a winter scene showing people walking or riding horse-drawn sleighs on snowy streets. The neogothic West Block sits in the background.
Engraving of Wellington Street in Ottawa with the West Block on Parliament Hill in the background