Photography in the Convent: Grey Nuns, Québec, 1861


  • Colleen Skidmore


The photograph Grey Nuns enjoys canonical status among connoisseurs and scholars of nineteenth-century photography in Canada, mainly because of its aesthetic value and the artistic genius credited to the photographer, George Ellisson. A focus on the subjects of the photograph and on the historical context in which it was taken reveals another dimension of its significance as part of the visual history of the Sisters of Charity of Quebec. The subjects, Célina and Séraphine Roy, were the first postulants to join the convent on its founding in 1849; during vocations lasting more than six decades each, these women assumed a variety of administrative roles and expanded the congregation and its work through eastern Quebec. The abundance and orderliness of the portrait photographs in the collection of the Sisters of Charity of Quebec show that such portraits were considered an important part of the historical record, documenting and linking the convent’s members.