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"Canadian Illustrated News" and "L'Opinion publique", Canada's First Illustrated Newspaper

Newspapers have long represented a unique and continuous source of information. Privileged witnesses, they provide a glimpse of society at a particular time and place. In Canada, two newcomers distinguished themselves among the 30 or so newspapers available in Montreal around 1870, in the years after Confederation.

Canadian Illustrated News (CIN) and L'Opinion publique (OP) were weeklies presented more like magazines than newspapers. Founded by George E. Desbarats with (on OP) his partners J.-A. Mousseau and L.-O. David, these two weeklies were highly innovative for the many illustrations they contained. A 16-page weekly with a 10,000 initial print run, CIN was published in Montreal on Saturdays from 1869 to 1883. Its French-language counterpart, OP, which began as an 8-page weekly with a 5, 200 print run, was published on Thursdays from 1870 to 1883.

As the editor George E. Desbarats wrote in the first edition of CIN in 1869, the paper would provide in-depth news on fashion every month. Its new process for printing illustrations, known as Leggotype and patented in 1865 by William Auguste Leggo and Desbarats, made it possible for the weekly to compete head on with other Montreal publications containing fashion plates - The New Dominion Monthly and l'Album de la Minerve. In fact, the new process produced superior-quality images at lower cost and more rapidly. According to Desbarats, CIN would print a variety of articles and, "By picturing to our own people the broad dominion they possess, its resources and progress, its monuments and industry, its great men and great events, such a paper would teach them to know and love it better, and by it they would learn to feel still prouder of the proud Canadian name." CIN was however first and foremost a family newspaper. On average 40 per cent of each issue was illustrations, with the overall content falling into the categories: advertising; national and international news; literary, scientific and arts reports; parliamentary reports; business, agricultural and industrial news; the family page and serialized novels.

L'Opinion publique resembled CIN in many respects. Although the two papers published many of the same illustrations, their editorial content was meant to be entirely different. In general focussing on political and literary reporting, OP saw itself as halfway between a newspaper and a magazine. Originally conceived as a non-partisan, non-doctrinaire publication focused on politics and the literary world - a forum for discussing principles rather than those espousing them - the publication became primarily an independent arts and literary review before being gradually transformed into a family paper. Its lack of competition and the originality of its formula and type of political reporting enabled OP to attract a large and diverse audience in the early years; but it ultimately failed, apparently because it failed to adapt to the tastes of a precise audience. Apart from its numerous illustrations, the paper offered in-depth articles on Quebec society, news analysis, serialized fiction, gossip and essays as well as an advertising section.

Illustrated newspapers

The first illustration published in Canadian Illustrated News in 1869 was a portrait of the Prince of Wales, made from a photograph taken by William Notman. Thereafter, every issue of the weekly contained at least seven pages of illustrations. Over the years Canadian Illustrated News published almost 300 portraits in its series titled Canadian Portrait Gallery, in addition to illustrations of Canadian cities, industries and monuments. L'Opinion publique, which had the same publisher, carried many of the illustrations that appeared in Canadian Illustrated News.

Among the numerous artists who contributed illustrations to these two papers were Henri Julien, Eugene Haberer, A. Leroux, William Carlisle, Edward Jump, I. J. Pranishnikoff, John Wilson Bengough and John Henry Walker, in addition to several anonymous artists. Some of the published lithographs were produced from photographs, especially those of William Notman.

At the forefront of technology for the new printing process that they used, the weeklies Canadian Illustrated News and L'Opinion publique were, for almost 13 years, highly influential periodicals.


Beaulieu, André and Jean Hamelin. Les journaux du Québec de 1764 à 1964. Quebec City: Les Presses de l'Université Laval, 1965.

Beaulieu, André and Jean Hamelin. La presse québécoise des origines à nos jours. Quebec City: Les Presses de l'Université Laval, 1975.


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