A look at wedding photographs from 1886 to 1964 in the BHS collection.

Everybody loves a wedding

Surely only children and pets can compete with weddings when it comes to charming photographs and The Burlington Historical Society is fortunate to have a number in their collections. Unless someone has written on the backs identifying the people and the occasion, we cannot be certain that the image is wedding portrait. However, since formal portraits were quite expensive, they tended to be taken to commemorate special occasions such as weddings. All of these photographs and more can be seen on Burlington Images (enter the search term: weddings).

It can be interesting to notice the changes in wedding photographs over the years. Look for hairstyles, hats, poses, and clothing. Attention to such details on photos where you know the date can help you to date other old photographs.


This formal portrait of Joseph Burrows and his wife, Charlotte Smale Burrows is one of the earliest in our collection. No date is given but by comparing it to the photograph of Mr. & Mrs. Albert Alton, below, we can supply missing information about each.

Though no year is recorded on the back of the Burrows photograph, we note that both Mr. Burrows and Mr. Alton are dressed in very similar suits. The ladies' costumes are quite different in their basic style, but both have the straight sleeves of the late nineteenth century. In addition, their hair is dressed with fluffy, natural looking curls over the forehead. It would be fairly safe to say that they were taken in approximately the same time period. The Burrows portrait was taken at Farmer Brothers Photographers in Hamilton, Ontario. The setting is identical to that of the Alton portrait, so we know that it, too, was taken at Farmers.


This fine portrait of Albert Edward Alton (1860-1918) and Elizabeth Minerva Henderson (1862-1948)), of Appleby, taken about 1886 provides a real contrast to the Burrows portrait and is quite unusual for this date for a number of reasons. The groom takes a casual pose perched on a false wall while his bride leans slightly toward him. The image is informal for its time and the couple seem quite relaxed. The couple both look directly at the camera. Her dress is pulled up on one side to display the pleats of the underskirt.

We are not certain that this portrait was done for their wedding but it seems most likely. It would be interesting to know who was more responsible for the different poses of these two portraits, the photographer or the couples involved.


Much less casual is this studio portrait of William F. W. Fisher and his wife Sarah (née Allen). It was taken for their marriage in October 1889.

The groom wears a long frock coat, fully buttoned, and has a magnificent handle-bar moustache. He does not appear to sitting on a chair, but rather perched on a narrow ledge of some kind. He sits higher than Sarah, leaning on his left arm. The bride also leans, on a cushion, inclining toward her husband but looking away to the far left. Couples do not touch in these early wedding photographs but affection is often suggested by having the bride lean towards the groom. Sarah's costume features sleeves with fullness at the top—almost ahead of her time.

We cannot be sure, but this 1891 portrait of Andrew C. Pettit and Mary Jane Pettit may have been taken for their marriage

Here, it is the bride who stands while the groom's body inclines slightly toward her. They both gaze to the left. Their hands almost touch, hinting at affection. Mary Jane's gown has somewhat puffy sleeves coming into fashion at the time and an elaborate brocade bodice. The chair beside her has a heart-shaped design on the back, a hint that this is a wedding photograph.


By 1904, when this photograph was taken, wedding portraits were becoming a little less formal. Thompson Sherwood here takes a relaxed pose in a chair while his second wife, Maude Maxwell, stands by his side. She places her hand lightly on his left arm while they both look directly at the camera. Note the change away from mutton-chop sleeves. Maude wears a two-piece outfit with sleeves that blouse out above the cuffs. Her skirt is boldly embroidered, but otherwise of a simple design.

Thomson Sherwood already had three sons by his first marriage to Marion C. Later, he and Maude had two sons and a daughter.

What a delightful wedding photograph. Though still very early, 1903, we are out of the studio for a big family portrait where almost everyone looks directly at the camera. Were it not for the costumes, this could be any modern wedding. The groom, William Asbury Buchanan and his best man drape themselves casually on folding chairs while the bride, Alma Maude Mary Freeman and her sister, Olive, who was bridesmaid, sit demurely between them. We can see a large variety of costumes here. Several women wear fashionable large picture hats, but more are bareheaded. This is the first in our set where the bride wears the "traditional" white gown with veil.

This photograph was taken in th garden of "Maplehurst" the house built for Edwin Freeman, father of the bride. It is now at 906 Brant Street.


Here we have advanced 10 years. Gone are the sleeves puffed at the bottom and the wide, full skirts. In this 1913 photograph, the bride, Ethel Grace Gallagher and her bridesmaid wear lovely slim-liined gowns with natural waistlines and high "dog-collar" necklines, and the bride has a full-length veil. The bridesmaid's sleeves are full at the top but fit closely on the forearm. The styles were typical of the time as was the bridesmaid's wide-brimmed hat. Aside from the high collars on the men, they could fit in anywhere.

The photograph was taken in the garden of the bride's parents' house in Hamilton.

p30387f This is the wedding portrait of Garfield and Lillian Walker and attendants. As is common even today, couples would have a formal portrait taken in in a studio but also the snapshot variety taken at home. The Walkers were no exception as there is a family-style wedding snapshot in our collection as well.

There is no date but judging by the cloche hats and short, low-waisted dresses, this photograph is probably from the 1920s. Lillian's shoes are another clue to the time period. She sports Mary Jane shoes, which were very popular in the 1920s. The toes are quite pointed which suggests earlier rather than later in the decade as the toes of the 1930s were more rounded.

Aldershot_Wedding_1940_ This photograph of Norma Cutter and Frederick Thornborrow was professionally taken in 1940 at Stanley Avenue Baptist Church in Hamilton. The style is formal, with the bride's long train spread out before her. Her gown featured lilly point cuffs and a Queen Mary collar. The groom and best man, Vernon Thornborrow, wear tuxedos and have wing collars on their shirts. Bridesmaids Mildred Dryden in mauve and Chris Thornborrow in peach, and flowergirl Glenna Garry in green make a colourful complement. The ring bearer is Garry Morton. This is the first in our collection that includes child attendants. The photograph is deftly hand-coloured with special inks that have not faded.


Many of the photographs in our online collection are digital images of originals that remain with their owners rather than in our Archives. That is the case with these last two photos, both of which belong to Keith Thornborrow, a former resident of Aldershot who was keen on having a perfect wedding.

This colour photograph of Keith Thornborrow and his bride, Bernice Hupfield, was taken by Frank Wright at Park Avenue Church in Aldershot in September 1964. The bride's gown was white peau de soie, very popular at the time, and had a rounded neck and cathedral train. Her veil was held in place by a cap of pearls and lace. Maid of Honour Beverly Shelley wore gold and bridesmaids Jacqueline Sims and Susan Culver were dressed in green, with flower girl, Miriam Thornborrow in chocolate brown, all reflecting the fall season. Best man was Vance Graham and ushers were Dennis Hupfield and Brian Thornborrow. The church as since been decommissioned and converted into a retirement residence.

There are several more wedding photographs on the Burlington Images web site that we share with Burlington Public Library. As you look them over, try picking out some of the features described above. You will be surprised what you can see once you start looking for something in particular, be it costumes or backgrounds.