About Nicholas Morant
Nicholas Morant (1910 - 1999) is a well-known name in Canadian photography from the twentieth century. Nicholas Morant's unique ability to capture every aspect of Canadian life and nature led to a long and successful photography career spanning over fifty years.
Nicholas Morant and his work for the Canadian Pacific company left a lasting impact on Canadian tourism and public interest in Canadian landscapes and scenery, especially the Canadian Rockies. Many of Morant's groundbreaking photographic techniques and his devotion to visual detail still inspire photographers today.
This digital exhibit, and the images herein, represent only a small selection from a lifetime of work by Nicholas Morant extending for several decades and drawing from tens of thousands of images.
Nicholas Morant ca. 1945 - ca. 1950 with cameras in mountains. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/I/C1/77/PA-26).
This website was researched and written by Kate Skelton, Archives Assistant, as part of the Young Canada Works at Building Careers in Heritage Internship Program
The Early Years
Beginnings in B.C.
Nicholas Everard Morant (1910 - 1999) was born on a dairy farm near Kamloops, B.C. to parents Francis and Mollie Morant. Nick showed a keen interest in photography from an early age, and spent much of his youth exploring the areas around his home with his camera and tripod in tow.
Nick attended the Victoria University Boys' School until 1928, where he continued to practice photography in his spare time. Many of Nick's photographs from this period feature his schoolmates, friends and the natural scenery of Kamloops and surrounding areas.
Nicholas Morant with camera gear
(ca. 1926). Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/III/A/E/PD-1/15).
Nicholas Morant (far left) and classmates from Victoria University Boys' School, ca. 1927. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/III/A/E/PD-2/13/Insert).
Nicholas Morant's school friends, Victoria, ca. 1926 - ca. 1928. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/III/A/E/PD-2/9/4).
Nicholas Morant's friends and Snaffy the dog posing for gag photo, ca. 1925 - ca. 1927. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/III/A/E/PD-2/17/1).
Two of Nicholas Morant's friends on bike ride, ca. 1925. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/III/A/E/PD-4/18/2).
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Article with image of car crash by Nicholas Morant, ca. 1928 (publisher unknown). Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/III/A/E/PD-1/13/1).
Leaving for Alberta
During and immediately after his education, Nicholas Morant took on numerous freelance gigs in an effort to kick-start his photography career. Morant would often rush across town to be the first to capture newsworthy stories with his camera.
In 1929, Morant negotiated his way into a job position with the Canadian Pacific Railway acting as their Special Photographer. Shortly thereafter, around 1930, Nick relocated to Banff, where he would later spend much of his adult life.
Text on first image reads, "-Nicholas Morant, 'Kamloops,' B.C.
Street cars can't dodge but auto drivers still seem not to realize this. The driver was killed in the smash-up above depicted and the car was totally demolished".
While living in Banff, Nicholas Morant continued his new work with the Canadian Pacific Railway company, which mostly involved producing promotional content meant to boost tourism in the Canadian Rockies.
During this time, Morant captured skiers, skaters and winter vacationers, and helped to reshape the concept of a Canadian winter vacation for the public. From 1935 to 1939, Morant also worked as a news photographer for the Winnipeg Free Press before returning to his job with Canadian Pacific.
Nicholas Morant during a photoshoot, ca. 1938. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/II/B2/2/PA-90/2).
It was not long after coming to Banff that Nick became friends with Peter and Catharine Whyte (two artists who would later become the namesakes and founders of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies).
Nick and his partner, Ivy 'Willie" Morant, shared many experiences and laughs together with the Whytes throughout their adult lives. Catharine in particular embraced Nick's wild sense of humour and his love of practical jokes. At one point, in 1952, Morant even sent a gag gift to the Whytes from across the country while he was staying in Montreal.
Photographs of Nicholas Morant, 1938, by Peter Whyte. Small pencil note by Morant reads "by Peter Whyte 1938". Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/II/B2/2/89).
April 13 : Nick Morant sent us a box the other day about the size of a hat box. It came by the big express truck and the expressman wanted so to deliver it himself he came two or three times before he found us in... [He] turned the box around in his hand and there, looking out of a cellophane window, was the cutest toy rabbit you ever saw, with ears on springs that wiggled... Underneath it was written, ‘wild animal, hurry or there will be twenty’. Can’t you imagine the box with a bunny peering out travelling across Canada in an express car!”
- From Catharine Robb Whyte's personal journal, April 1952. Quoted in "Pete 'n' Catharine - Their Story", Ed. Jon Whyte (Banff: The Whyte Foundation, 1980), p. 127.
Rabbit prank, 1952. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/I/A2/E5/NA-1).
Morant's Bear Encounter
Several years after coming to Banff, while he was still in his late 20s, Nicholas Morant endured a harrowing experience. On September 19, 1939, Morant was hiking through the mountains just outside of Banff with a well-travelled Swiss mountain guide named Christian Haessler. Morant's goal was to reach a specific location within the mountains in order to capture scenic images for his work.
Partway through their trip, the pair unwittingly came into close contact with a mother grizzly bear, who became aggressive as her cub was nearby. Both men hurried up trees to reach safety, but Haessler was not quick enough and the bear pulled him down by his leg. Sitting safely in a tree nearby, Morant decided to climb down and attempt to rescue his friend by distracting the bear with a stick. The grizzly then turned on Morant, mauling him badly.
Meanwhile, Haessler, who was himself badly injured, went off in search of help. Luckily, the grizzly bear's cub let out a sound during Morant's attack which drew the mother bear away. Morant then made his way through the mountains for several hours, with a broken leg, broken arm and severe cuts across his body, before he was rescued.
'Get well soon' Christmas card for Nicholas Morant, signed by Canadian Pacific staff (1939). Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (M300/II/B2/3/37/1).
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Article "To the attack! Bare fists against a grizzly" by Philip H. Godsell (Published in Forest & Outdoors magazine, July 1941). Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (M300/II/B2/3/79,81,82).
'With a terrific roar the bear turned on me. I poked my stick in her face, knowing I waged a losing battle. Here was a primeval situation - man versus beast."
- Nicholas Morant, quoted in Star Weekly article 'Ordeal by Grizzly' by Dan Holmes, September 1939.
Below: listen to Nicholas Morant's account of his 1939 bear attack (1950 interview)
Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds (S37/15).
To view a copy of this interview with closed captioning, click here.
Both Haessler and Morant spent several months recovering from their injuries after the bear attack. Haessler improved at first, but tragically died from related complications one year later; Morant was lucky enough to make a full recovery, and returned to his photography work in 1940.
World War II
The injuries which Nicholas Morant received from his grizzly bear encounter in 1939 meant that he was no longer fit for active duty in the War. Instead, Morant was loaned by Canadian Pacific to the Department of Information in Ottawa as a wartime photographer for the Canadian government. Morant filled this role for four years between 1940 and 1944, during which time he photographed a diverse range of individuals and scenes related to the war effort in Canada.
Many of Morant's images at this time were of munitions workers and factories where war materials (tanks, shells, warship components, etc.) were being produced. These images were often included in Canadian newspapers, magazines and posters during this period to encourage Canadians to fill jobs in factories or to otherwise help with the war effort.
Nicholas Morant (third left) dodging a tank after taking a photograph (ca. 1940 - ca. 1944). Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/II/C/5/PA-615).
Wartime factory workers (ca. 1940 - ca. 1944). Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/I/C1/1/PA-24).
Click images to zoom:
"Typical Newfie village" photograph by Nicholas Morant (front and back), 1943. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/II/C/5/PA-635).
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"Baptism of Fire", ca. 1940 - ca. 1944. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/I/C1/120/PA-1).
Coastal view of war plane (ca. 1940 - ca. 1944). Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/I/C1/83/PA-8).
Some of Nick's wartime images also depicted "action shots" of soldiers which were taken in a military training camp. This location provided the Canadian government with controlled promotional and educational images of the war without the risk which could arise when taking photographs on the real war front in Europe.
Morant spent some of his time living in Ottawa and Montreal during this period, although he also travelled along the eastern coast of Canada for many of his wartime photographs. After reaching the end of his contract in 1944, Nick returned to his role as Canadian Pacific's Special Photographer, which he would fill for the following 37 years.
Ivy "Willie" Morant
Ivy May Morant (1910 - 1986), known affectionately as "Willie", was Nicholas Morant's professional partner and co-traveller throughout his career. Nick and Willie met in 1929, and the two quickly became close, eventually marrying in 1936. Willie and Nick travelled across Canada together throughout their careers, with Willie assisting with staging, lighting and other important elements of Nick's photographic projects. Willie was also the subject of many of Nick's photos throughout her life.
Although Willie did not gain the same level of professional recognition as her husband, she was also a skilled photographer in her own right. Many of Willie's photographs followed a similar theme to Nick's - images of steam trains, natural scenes, etc. However, Willie also had a knack for capturing candid aspects of her own life and experiences (along with many portraits of Nick). While some of Willie's photographs ended up in newspapers or other publications, others were kept as personal mementos.
Steam train turning corner in Rocky Mountains, photo by Willie Morant, ca. 1930 - ca. 1940. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/I/C1/6/PA-28).
Nick and Willie Morant at Banff home, ca. 1980 - ca. 1985. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/I/C1/77/PA-13).
Ivy "Willie" Morant climbing, ca. 1935 - ca. 1940. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/I/C1/79/PA-23).
"No entry to chairlift on this side", photo by Willie Morant, ca. 1940 - ca. 1950. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/I/C1/83/PA-28).
"The Author (as a young man)", portrait of Nicholas Morant by Willie Morant, ca. 1980. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/I/C1/9/PA-11).
Willie and backyard visitors at the Morant home in Banff, ca. 1952 - ca. 1960. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/I/C1/77/PA-19).
Nick and Willie also found time to travel together beyond Canada - they explored Central and South America in their later adult years, visiting Mexico and Peru. Although the pair traveled often, they kept Banff as their home base. In 1952, Willie and Nick built a wooden house in Banff, which continued to serve as their permanent residence until Willie passed away in 1986.
Nicholas Morant's Later Career
Following his return to the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, Nicholas Morant was once again the face of Canadian tourism and travel photography. A large portion of his work focused on promoting trips across the trans-Canada railway, as well as cruise lines and hotels which were also owned and run by Canadian Pacific at the time. Morant's photographs were published in calendars, advertisements, magazines and newspapers - some of his images were even used on editions of the 50 cent Canadian stamp and the ten dollar bill!
Although Nicholas Morant took tens of thousands of photographs depicting all manner of people and subjects, he became best known for capturing a very particular view. Throughout his career, Morant focused heavily on steam trains and the Canadian Pacific Railway as his subject matter - he was even known to have trains travel to a specific location and then stop on the railway tracks while he captured them at just the right angle. Morant's location of choice for the perfect train image was at a spot not far outside of Banff, heading towards Lake Louise. Now widely referred to as "Morant's Curve", this spot has become a planned excursion for many photographers visiting the Banff area who want to achieve that perfect train shot.
Winter view of a cargo train at Morant's Curve, ca. 1945 - ca. 1960. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/I/C1/105/PA-20).
Wildlife in Photographs
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Nick Morant also had a love of wildlife and nature, and he regularly photographed the animals he encountered during his travels and while at home in Banff. Black bears, beavers, moose, deer, birds and other wildlife can all be found within his photographic collections. Although the occasional animal made its way into his professional photographs, a large number of Morant's animal images were kept for the sake of his personal memories and were never published.
Two bear cubs, ca. 1950 - ca. 1960. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/I/C1/4/PA-6).
"A Talk Without Words"
Later in their careers, Nick and Willie created their own travelling exhibitions which featured original photographs of various places across Canada, as well as pictures from their travels in Peru and Mexico. One of Nick and Willie's most famous presentations was "A Talk Without Words", a musical slideshow of their work which the couple presented to audiences for a span of 15 years in the 1950s and 1960s. "A Talk Without Words" was presented exactly as described- Nick and Willie would give an introduction explaining their work, and then the remainder of the show would consist only of their photographs and accompanying music.
"A Talk Without Words" promotional poster, ca. 1950 - ca. 1965. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (M300/II/C/6/71).
To view an adapted version of the original slideshow, click here.
The adapted version provided in the link above was produced in 2011 as an homage (but not an identical copy) of the original presentation "A Talk Without Words", which was approximately one hour in length. Nick and Willie's original images are accompanied by Nick's RCA Victor 78 rpm recording of Gymnopédie no. 1 and no. 2 by Satie (1949), performed by Boston Symphony Orchestra with conductor Serge Koussevitzky. This music is also used in the 2011 version.
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50 cent stamp with Nicholas Morant's photograph, ca. 1940 - ca. 1945. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/I/B2/3/NS-6).
Life After Canadian Pacific
Nicholas Morant formally retired in 1981, following a 51 year career in photography. However, Nick continued to take photographs in his spare time, and would occasionally send copies of his photographs to authors such as D. M. Bain, Don Beers and Adolf Hungry Wolf to include in their books. Some of Morant's work was also used by National Geographic and other publishers throughout the 1980s.
In 1991, John F. Garden published the book "Nicholas Morant's Canadian Pacific" which included 454 pages of Morant's original photographs taken for the Canadian Pacific company. Another book by Garden, "Nicholas Morant's Canada", was published in 1998.
Nicholas Morant posing with pack and tripod, colour, ca. 1965 - ca. 1975. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/II/C/5/PA-599).
Nicholas Morant's recognition as a great photographer was not limited to publications. In 1990, Morant was chosen to receive the Order of Canada, in honour of the valuable contributions to Canadian heritage and culture which he made through his work. Morant officially received the award at a ceremony held on October 24, 1990.
Morant remained involved in photography and passionate about the topic of Canada's railways for the rest of his life. Nick passed away peacefully in a hospital in Calgary on March 13, 1999, leaving behind an impressive legacy and a well-defined footprint in Canadian history.
Nicholas Morant posing with tripod in mountains, ca. 1985 - ca. 1995. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/II/C/5/PA-576).
In commemoration of Nicholas Morant and his work, a bonus gallery of photographs depicting highlights and entertaining moments from Nick's life can be viewed below.
Click the image to view full gallery: