• Panorama of Victoria, 1880s

    Panorama of Victoria, 1880s. Library and Archives Canada, e011092618-21. (Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada)

You can see an entire city in one blink.

A new exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa showcases stunning panoramic images of growing Canadian cities in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

“I was interested in the interrelation between urban growth and the panorama as a format that was chosen by photographers to display that type of growth,” says Jill Delaney, a photography archivist at Library and Archives Canada who proposed the idea for the exhibition.

Quebec from Point Lévis, 1858—65. Compiled by Thomas E. Blackwell. Library and Archives Canada, e011092613. (Photo: Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada)

She says the exhibit “Taking It All In: The Photographic Panorama and Canadian Cities” features some of the finest Canadian examples of how the panoramic photograph was used to represent the rapidly growing cities and towns of a young nation.

While anyone with a smartphone can take a panoramic shot nowadays, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, the first panoramic images weren’t photographs, but large paintings that created a sense of “being there.”

Quickly realizing the entertainment value in this format, photographers started spending hours stitching together individual photos. The oldest panorama in the exhibit is of an urbanizing Toronto in 1856, with the most recent exhibit photo being Medicine Hat, Alta. in 1913.

“I find it fascinating to look closely at the photograph and the details,” Delaney says. “You can see buildings being built that still exist today. I think there’s always an interesting link.”

But this exhibit isn’t just photographs on walls. Alongside an electronic viewer presenting a slideshow of panoramic images of cities like New York, the exhibit also features a lithograph that was made from a panoramic photograph of St. John, N.B. in the early 1860s.

The exhibit is on display until March 1, 2015.

A view from the Rossin House Hotel, from York Street to King Street East, Toronto, Ont. 1856. Library and Archives Canada, e004155566. (Acquired with the assistance of a grant from the Minister of Communications under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act.) (Photo: Courtesy of Armstrong, Beere & Hime/National Gallery of Canada)