Monthly Archives: July 2022

McMichael Canadian Art Collection

Sunday, July 31, 2022

On May 7, 1920 a new movement in Canadian art was launched at the Art Museum of Toronto (Art Gallery of Ontario). The seven men who came to be known as The Group of Seven were all friends and had worked together for several years. They had been influenced by the work of Tom Thomson who passed away before the group got started. The concept for the group had been in place in 1913-1914 when Thomson was still alive but was put on hold by the First World War. Four of the members, Harris, Jackson, Lismer and Varley were directly involved and a fifth, Carmichael had his studies in Antwerp interrupted by the war. Lawren Harris had the drive, energy and wealth to make the group happen and became the de facto leader. It was at his home at 63 Queen’s Park in Toronto that the group had its founding meeting in March of 1920. Between 1920 and 1932 the group held eight art exhibitions before they disbanded. MacDonald passed away in 1932 but the others went on to lengthy careers after the group was finished. In this post we’ll look at each of the seven as well as some other Canadian art that is housed in the collection.

Lawren S. Harris lived from 1885 until 1970 and was one of the heirs to the fortune created by the Massey- Harris farm machinery manufacturing company of Toronto. His fortune allowed him to pursue a career as an artist and he was ultimately the driving force behind the Group of Seven. His early work was mostly urban scenes but inspired by Tom Thomson he started to travel to Algoma in 1908 to paint and later to the north shores of Lake Superior. He developed a style of landscapes painted in flat colours but later developed a style of abstract formalized shapes. By the end of his career he had drifted to painting pure abstract art.

Mount Robson 1929 (oil on canvas)

Sand Lake Algoma 1922 (oil on canvas)

Tom Thomson was born in 1877 and died in July 1917 when he drowned in Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. Tom made his first journey to Algonquin in 1912 and began sharing a studio with A.Y. Jackson in 1914. Thomson began producing hundreds of oil sketches and a handful of large-scale paintings. Tom was reputed to be an avid outdoorsman, canoeist and Algonquin guide but in July 1917 he drowned in Canoe Lake in circumstances that are still not understood.

In Algonquin Park 1914 (oil on canvas)

Snow In The Woods 1916 (oil on wood panel)

J.E.H. MacDonald lived between 1873 and 1932 and like several others in the group was a commercial artist for the Toronto firm Grip Ltd. In 1911 he left the firm to organize an exhibit of his own art works. He created various styles of landscape paintings until his trips to Algoma led him to take inspiration in the style of Tom Thomson. Beginning in 1924 he started taking trips to the Rockies to paint but he was sidelined by a stroke in 1931. A second one in 1932 was fatal and his loss led to the disbanding of the Group of Seven in January 1933.

Algoma Waterfall 1920 (oil on canvas)

Cathedral Peak and Lake O’Hara 1927 (oil on paperboard)

A.Y. Jackson was born in 1882 and lived until 1974. Jackson was a friend of Thomson and travelled to Algonquin with him in 1914. He enlisted for the First World War but was injured in the battle of Sanctuary Wood and spent the rest of the war as an official army artist. In 1927 he joined an RCMP ship to explore and paint the Arctic. When he went back to the Arctic in 1930 he took Harris with him.

Radium Mine 1938 (oil on canvas)

Bent Pine 1948 (oil on canvas)

Arthur Lismer 1885-1969 was born in England and came to Canada in 1911 and joined Grip Ltd. as a commercial artist along side other future members of the Group of Seven. Lismer was also a successful art teacher who took a teaching job in Halifax in 1916. He was a witness to the Halifax Harbour Explosion in 1917. When he died in 1969 he was living in Montreal but was brought to the Artists Cemetery on the McMichael grounds to be buried with five other members of the group.

Self Portrait 1924 (oil on board)

Canadian Jungle 1946 (oil on canvas)

Frank Johnston was born in 1888 and lived until 1949. He was a very prolific painter who only participated in one of the eight exhibits with the Group of Seven. The first exhibit in 1920 wasn’t a financial success and in fact was highly criticized. Johnston put together his own show later that year in which he showed 200 paintings that sold quite well. In 1924 he resigned from the group under the belief that he could do better on his own. His painting Winter Beauty from 1935 was done with oil on board and has been used as the cover photo for this article.

Dark Waters undated (oil on board)

Frederick Horsman Varley 1881-1969 is another of the group who worked at Grip Ltd. before joining the First World War as an artist. After returning from the trenches he became prone to depression and drinking and often got involved with the sitters for his portraits. He moved to Vancouver in 1926 where he stayed until 1935. When he passed away in 1969 he was buried in the cemetery at the McMichael gallery.

Night Ferry To Vancouver 1937 (oil on canvas)

Girl in Gold 1963-1966 (oil on canvas)

Alfred Joseph Casson 1898-1992 was asked to join the group in 1926 to replace Johnston.

White Pine 1957 (oil on canvas)

The art gallery also features paintings from Edwin Holgate 1882-1977 who joined the Group of Seven in 1929 and Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald 1890-1956 who joined briefly in 1932. Several other Canadian artists are also represented in the collection but we will highlight only a couple of them in the remainder of this lengthy post.

Gathie Falk was born in 1928 and is famous for her work with everyday items including fruit, Paper Mache dresses and picnics. One of the interesting displays at the gallery is her work with ceramics in creating shoes.

Single Men’s Shoes (ceramics)

Elisapee Ishulutaq 1925-2018 documented Inuit life in her art during her 50 year career. Starting in 1970 she created colourful drawings and prints that recreated traditional life and stories of her culture.

The McMichael property is also an interesting place to go for a walk along the trails and the beautiful grounds which joins to the Humber River Trail and connects to Bindertwine Park.

Related stories: Bindertwine Park

Google Maps Link: McMichael Canadian Art Collection

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Scarborough’s Steel Dinosaurs

July 24, 2022

Over 700 different species of dinosaurs have been identified in the world with over 100 of them having been found in Canada. Half of the Canadian ones have been found in Alberta in an area known as Dinosaur Provincial Park. Others have been found in various riverbeds in Alberta as well as British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Nova Scotia, Nunavut and Northwest Territories also have produced some fossils. Ontario has revealed a lot of fossils of small sea creatures such as crinoids, trilobites and corals.

Dinosaur fossils can be found at the Royal Ontario Museum as well as other major museums around the province but there isn’t any well known deposits in nature. An unusual display of public art at the corner of Crockford Blvd. and Lawrence Avenue East in Scarborough has been created by one of the local companies. This includes multiple steel representations of dinosaur skeletons.

Although this dinosaur park has been created as a method of promoting their waterjet laser cutting the results are quite interesting. There are over a dozen models on display on a small corner of land where Taylor-Massey Creek crosses Lawrence Avenue in the former town of Wexford.

Tyrannosaurus Rex lived about 68-66 million years ago in the area of Alberta and is one of the best known dinosaurs. It was one of the largest carnivores and had a massive head and a long tail to help balance it. The name means King of the Thunder Lizards and this is an apt title for this predator.

The metal dinosaurs have been on display for nearly a decade and are rusted so there is a warning posted to be aware that they could be sharp and to avoid touching or climbing on them.

While most of the dinosaurs on display are posed in attacking or grazing positions there is one of the Tyrannosaurs that has either fallen over or been pushed over but it gives the idea of being dead.

Stegosaurus appeared 155 to 145 million years ago and was a plant eating dinosaur that had an armored body. Four spikes on the tail may have been used for defense while plates on the back are thought to have been used to regulate heat in the body.

Triceratops was an herbivorous dinosaur that lived along with Tyrannosaurus Rex and were lost around 66 million years ago when there was an extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs and allowed mammals to take over as the dominant lifeform on Earth. Its name means three-horned face.

Several other models are on display in front of the AC Waterjet building where they were created in 2013.

Toronto has lots of public art but this display is a little unusual in that it has been created by a private company as a form of advertising.

See also out post on the murals in the former community of Islington and the Ghost Town of Wexford.

Google Maps link: Crockford Dinosaurs

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Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory

July 17, 2022

The Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory opened to the general public on January 26, 2001. It was originally known as the Wings of Paradise Butterfly Conservatory but changed its name in 2011 to better reflect the community in which it operated. The conservatory is housed in a 25,000 square foot building which includes a 10,800 square foot tropical garden where the butterflies are free to roam among the plants.

There are over 120 species of tropical plants in the garden many of which are in flower providing a place for the butterflies to feed. An artificial waterfall feeds a small pond which is full of goldfish and red-eared slider turtles.

Throughout the world there are about 30,000 species of butterflies with about 275 occurring in Canada. The butterflies in the conservatory are brought in from butterfly farms in Costa Rica and the Philippines. There are four stages to a butterfly’s life. It begins when a female butterfly lays a series of tiny eggs on a plant leaf. When the eggs hatch the larva or caterpillar will emerge. The caterpillar will feed on the leaves of the host plant until it is fully grown. Often the caterpillar can only eat a single type of leaf such as the milkweed plant which hosts Monarch Butterfly caterpillars. When the caterpillar is full grown it enters the pupa stage in which it spins a chrysalis around itself. The butterflies at the conservatory are imported in their chrysalis from sustainable farms. The image below shows a batch of Blue Morpho butterflies in their chrysalis.

The conservatory glues these in pairs to small straws and sets them aside to finish the metamorphosis into adult butterflies. If you arrive at the right time you may get to see a butterfly emerge from one of them. The Tarricina in the image below had just emerged and was waiting for its wings to dry so that it could fly away. The butterflies are then free to explore the tropical garden for the remainder of their lives. The total lifespan of the insect is about 40 days of which 6-10 is spent in the chrysalis phase.

Butterflies are insects with three body segments and six legs. They feed on nectar from flowers as well as fruit juices and honey. There are several places throughout the garden where they can drink from pieces of orange or banana. The Blue Morpho in the picture below was drinking from an orange through its long probiscis.

The butterfly in this picture has its probiscis rolled up but clearly visible on the front of its face.

Insects make up about 58% of all species on the planet and are an important part of the ecosystem. Unlike most insects which are feared or at least looked upon with disgust, butterflies are embraced for their beauty and charisma. They live all over the planet from sea level to the tops of mountains and from the equator to above the Arctic Circle. Some of them have very specific habitats while others like the White Cabbage Butterfly can be found in many different habitats and on different continents. Butterflies can be distinguished from moths by their antennae which are thin compared to a moth which has feathered ones.

The Brown Clipper is native to rainforests and can usually be found around rivers and streams. The conservatory also feature a Blue Clipper.

The Asian Swallowtail Butterfly is also known as The Chinese Yellow Swallowtail because of the yellow underwing colouring. These butterflies mate several times during their lifespan and are known to migrate up to 200 kilometers during their lives.

There are several different types of tropical birds that live in the conservatory and they are all remarkably tame. They will practically walk right up to you and don’t mind posing for pictures. The Zebra Finch in the picture below is native to Australia.

There are a number of live insects in display cases in the conservatory and one of the most unusual creatures featured here is the Blue Poison Dart Frog. These frogs live in Suriname and northern parts of Brazil and were only discovered in 1969. Their diet is made up largely of ants and the phosphorus in them causes the frog to have a poisonous skin that can kill even larger predators.

Aside from live displays there are also several displays of mounted butterflies and insects.

The Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory has an admission price of $20.00 for adults and tickets need to be purchased on line in order to guarantee that you will be able to get in when you arrive. The tropical garden is hot and humid to provide a natural environment for the butterflies that live there, so you’ll want to make sure that you don’t over-dress for your visit.

While you are in the area you might want to also check out the Grand River in Galt or The Devil’s Falls

Also see our post Butterflies of the GTA

Google Maps Link: Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory

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Shouldice Hospital Estate

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Over that past 70 years the Shouldice Hospital in Thornhill has performed over 400,000 hernia operations. The hospital is located in a beautiful estate setting, for now. The property is currently the site of a five-tower development proposal that will retain the historic buildings but allow the countryside around them to be lost.

The history of the site goes back to the earliest days of Thornhill and is located on part of lots 30 and 31 in the first concession east of Yonge Street. The full 190 acre lot was first granted to Thompson Maxwell in 1803 but it appears he failed to complete his settlement requirements and forfeited the land grant. Stillwell Wilson was able to secure the patent on the property in 1808. In the 1790’s William Berczy had built John Street through the property from Yonge Street to gain access to his settlement of German Mills. The County Atlas image below shows the area in 1877 and John Street is coloured brown. The site of the Shouldice Hospital has been outlined in green. Lot 32 to the north is the site of Heintzman House which we featured last week.

The east half of the property was bought by Allan McNab in 1817 so that he could build the grist mill that is shown on the County Atlas as “G.M.”. McNab is best known for building Dundurn Castle in Hamilton. The grist mill was completed in 1820 and McNab operated it until 1844 but the town he envisioned never developed around it. He decided to sell the property to John Brunskill in 1844 and it was renamed Pomona Mills. This is now commemorated by Pomona Mills Park. Matthew Dean bought 91 acres on the east end of the lot, north of John Street and it served as a family farm until 1937 when it was bought by Clement George McCullagh who wanted to use the property to build a country estate. The picture below shows the oval driveway and stone gates that were constructed for the estate.

Clement made his money in the press and in mining. He started his career selling subscriptions to The Toronto Globe newspaper and then branched into mining operations. In 1936 he bought The Toronto Globe and the Mail & Empire and merged the two papers into the Globe and Mail. He was also a part owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. During the Great Depression he advocated for an all-party federal government to run the country based on sound business principles. The picture below shows the front of the estate mansion that he had built for himself, his wife Phyllis C. Laidlaw and their three children Robert, George and Ann.

The two and a half story house featured seven bays and which looked out over formal gardens and orchards. It was built by Donald MacKenzie Waters who had designed several other prominent buildings in Toronto including Maple Leaf Gardens. Several fruit trees are still found in front of the house.

Formal gardens and tennis courts surrounded the house and a greenhouse was also built although it has been removed in anticipation of the new development.

The house was built into the side of a hill so that the rear showed off the basement. Aluminum siding has been added which imitates the original wooden clapboard construction.

The rear of the house looked out over the pond which is held in place by a stone retaining wall dated 1937. The pond is now obscured by trees in the summer months.

A painted turtle was sunning itself on the overflow to the pond at the time of my visit. These are the most common native turtles in North America and can be found from Canada to Mexico. They continue to grow until they reach sexual maturity and have been known to live for over 50 years in the wild.

McCullagh was a founding member of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and was instrumental in the restoration of Fort York. It is therefore fitting that his estate should be preserved. He was fond of horses and the property still features a “U” shaped stable that sits adjacent to Bayview Avenue. It is located in a zone which has been reserved for future expansion of the roadway and may need to be relocated at some time in the future to avoid being demolished.

A gatehouse is located on the north end of the stables and is also on the road allowance for an expanded Bayview Avenue.

In 1953 the property was sold to Dr. Edward Earl Shouldice who perfected an operation to repair hernias during the Second World War. He converted the main estate residence into a private hospital and later added another wing to accommodate more patients. The other estate building that remains on the property is the gardener’s cottage. It also sits beside Bayview Avenue but like the other buildings featured here is protected by an heritage designation.

The artists concept below shows the new development with the Shouldice Hospital in the background.

The property is under a new development proposal but the historic buildings are to be retained among the new towers. A formal trail network is expected to connect to Ponoma Mills Park to the west of the property.

Update on Dec. 19, 2022.

The city of Markham has purchased the property from the developer and will be converting it to a public park. The condo development will not be happening.

Related posts: Heintzman House, Dundurn Castle, Fort York

Google maps link: Shouldice Hospital

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Heintzman House

July 3, 2022

Heintzman and Company was founded in 1866 to produce pianos in a facility located in The Junction area of Toronto. It was started by Theodore Heintzman who was a German immigrant while his nephew started a rival company called Gerhard Heintzman Piano Company. When Theodore died in 1899 his son George took over running the business. The piano manufacturing business was moved to Hanover, Ontario in 1962. The company changed its name to Heintzman Limited in 1978 and then was sold to Sklar Peppler in 1981. This ownership only lasted until 1987 when it was sold to The Music Stand Company of Ontario who started to apply the name Heintzman to various pianos manufactured in the United States. The Heintzman name is still used by a Chinese and Canadian company called Heintzman Distributors and they supplied the grand piano that was used in the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The archive photo below shows the Heintzman and Company piano factory when it was located in The Junction area in the west part of Toronto near Keele and Dundas Street.

Lot 32 in Markham township fronted onto Yonge Street and covered the 190 acres between there and today’s Bayview Avenue. It was originally allocated to Anthony Hollingshead in 1798. Anthony had been a United Empire Loyalist having served in the American Revolutionary War as an officer. One of the conditions of earning the patent, or deed, for a property was the construction of a home that was a minimum of 16 feet by 20 feet in size. Hollingshead built a small story and a half home of adobe, or mudbrick and received the patent in 1802. This home was recorded as the first adobe home built in Upper Canada. The map below is from the 1877 county atlas and shows the property in the hands of the Lemon family and the house is circled in green.

The property changed hands many times and the house has had several additions and renovations over the past 200 years. Anthony Hollingshead died in 1817 and the property was sold to George Crookshank. Anthony’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Soules, was married to Samuel Lount who was one of two people executed following the failed Rebellion of 1837. Samuel Lount is buried in The Necropolis in Toronto.

George Crookshank was a close friend of Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe and was a wealthy businessman and member of the early government of Upper Canada. During the War of 1812 he was in charge of supplies to Fort York and after the war he bought several properties in the area. He married Susan Lambert in 1821 and then built a 13-room mansion on the site of Holligshead’s farmhouse. It was at this time that the property began to be called Sunnyside Farm.

In 1881 the farm was sold to John Francis Newtonbrook. His family farmed the land for almost 50 years including the period that their son Samuel owned Sunnyside Manor.

Charles and Marion Heintzman, owners of the piano company, bought the house in 1930. They made extensive renovations to it including adding a conservatory. A small greenhouse was added to the north end of the building.

The house was the scene of many social gatherings over the years that the Heintzmans owned it. They continued to operate it as a farm where they raised prized Jersey cattle. When Charles died in 1959 the property was sold to developers who started to build the homes that enclose the house on every side. The Town of Markham was persuaded by local residents to preserve the manor and it was renamed Heintzman House in honour of the last private family that owned it.

A unique planter stands on the front lawn and pays tribute to the piano manufacturers who completed the last set of expansions and renovations on the home.

The fields surrounding Heintzman House may have been developed for housing but the home is now used as an event venue.

Related stories: West Toronto Railpath, Rebellion of 1837, The Necropolis, Fort York

Google Maps Link: Heintzman House

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