Three Generations of Photographers
This stone building with the rounded façade located at Saint-Jean and Couillard used to house the studios of Québec City’s leading photographers, the Livernois family. The huge dormer on the roof provided ideal lighting for studio portraits, but many other types of images are included in the incredibly rich collection of some 300,000 photographs that the family has left to posterity.
Photographer and entrepreneur
Jules-Isaïe Benoît dit Livernois opened his first photography studio in Québec City in 1854. This was still very recent technology, having been invented some 15 years earlier, but it was already very popular with local residents. Livernois worked mainly as a portrait photographer. His customers were especially fond of his little “calling card”–sized paper portraits that were exchanged between friends and family.
The business was so profitable that Livernois soon opened two other studios. In addition to taking portraits, he also photographed monuments, artwork, and historic artefacts to educate the public and conserve French Canadian heritage. He sold these images in his three studios.
A photographer in her own right
When Jules-Isaïe Livernois died at the age of only 34 in 1865, his widow Élise L’Hérault dit L’Heureux took over the family business. She had been involved in every aspect since the opening of the first studio, from operating the camera to developing film in the darkroom. She had all the experience required.
She partnered shortly thereafter with her son-in-law, the photographer Louis Bienvenu, and the Livernois & Bienvenu studio expanded its business with photographs of tourist attractions in Québec City and the surrounding area. Tourists could now buy souvenirs of their visits to Charlevoix or their outings to the Sainte-Anne Falls some fifty kilometres from Québec City.
A refined artistic touch
Jules-Ernest Livernois, son of Élise and Jules-Isaïe, took over the family business in 1873. In 1889 he consolidated all operations at the rue Saint-Jean location and set up his studio and his home in this expansive building, which was perfectly suited for photography. The large, south-facing dormer window provided the bright lighting needed to take photos on plates and paper at a time when powerful artificial lighting was not yet available.
Jules-Ernest Livernois became Québec City’s most sought-after photographer. The artistic touch he added to his landscape photos created a strong demand for his work from clients such as railway companies and Québec’s Ministry of Public Works. He documented the construction of the parliament building, the inauguration of the Dufferin terrace, and the opening of many new rail lines. His scenic images of Lac-Saint-Jean helped promote colonization in the region, and his photos of the great tourists resorts were used for promotional purposes.
The end of a great era
Jules Livernois took over from his father Jules-Ernest in 1898. In addition to the studio, he looked after the pharmacy his father had opened on the building’s ground floor. Under his direction, the business continued to dominate Québec City’s photography market. He was hired for some very big projects, including the 300th anniversary of the city’s founding in 1908. But by the time of his death in 1952, though the studio was still in business, the golden age of Livernois photography had passed, a victim of easy consumer access to cameras. After over a hundred years in business, the studio closed its doors in 1974.
A seemingly endless collection of photos
Today, the massive archive of photos collected over decades by three generations of the Livernois family is stored at Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. These photos offer a glimpse of the past, bear witness to the transformation of Québec City and the surrounding regions, and reveal surprising historical facts.