Tag Archives: wanderlust

Scenes From The McMichael Canadian Art Collection

The McMichael Canadian Art Collection is synonymous with the Group of Seven. But its charm reaches beyond this obvious attention grabber. Like the paintings of these Canadian artistic pioneers, it’s all about the link between art and nature at the McMichael.

The story starts with Canadian art enthusiasts and collectors Signe and Robert McMichael, who gifted the McMichael in 1965 to the Province of Ontario (it opened a year later) with the idea of creating a centre for the nation’s artists and their works.

With grand windows throughout to offer views of the great natural landscape outside, the McMichael may be the best gallery space in the Toronto area. It also happens to be Signe and Robert McMichael’s former home, ‘Tapawingo’, which stood in the lush Humber Valley.

When the McMichael’s bought 10 acres in 1952 to build Tapawingo, the Village of Kleinburg — with its main strip just up the road on Islington Avenue — was itself a hundred years removed from its roots as a milling settlement on the Humber. The coming postwar decades would be pivotal for both the town and the museum: Kleinburg’s aim was to keep its historic integrity amongst suburban boom and the McMichael has its transition from a quiet private residence to an expanding public institution.

Kleinburg, 1905. Credit: City of Vaughan Archives.

McMichael Canadian Art Collection & Kleinburg, 1956-1975. Note the additions to Gallery. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Naturally, the galleries exhibit much of the famed works of Group of Seven — Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley — and associated artists Emily Carr and Tom Thomson. The great works of Norval Morrisseau and other Native artists are also present, demonstrating the importance of Aboriginal voices in the institution and helping in answering the perennial questions of “What is Canadian art?” and “What is included — and not included — in Canadian art?”

To keep things in the present, the McMichael also has rotating exhibits of current contemporary Canadian art. The current photo-exhibition on until October 21, 2018, “…Everything Remains Raw”, is about the history of Toronto Hip Hop.

Perhaps more impressive than the galleries themselves is everything outside them. An excellently paced and presented audio guide takes one through the grounds.

It starts with the Tom Thomson Shack where the artist himself lived and worked in the last years of his life, famously for a dollar rent. Its original home was in the Rosedale Ravine in Toronto behind the famous Studio Building. Unfortunately, he left Toronto an excursion to his beloved Algonquin Park in 1907, never returning to his work-live studio. His death remains a mystery today.

             

“Tom Thomson Shack in Art Gift to Metro”, The Globe and Mail, 20 June 1962. Credit: Toronto Public Library & Globe and Mail Archives.

A small cemetery nearby houses the resting place of the McMicheals and members of the Group of Seven. The shape of their stones reflect each person’s work and character; Lawren Harris’ triangular marker for example evokes the mountains of his Arctic paintings.

Further is a Sculpture Garden of the works of Ivan Eyre. The picturesque settings of the area as a whole allows the museum to open itself up to wedding shoots.

 

lichen, a piece by Mary Anne Barkhouse and Michael Belmore featuring canines seemingly waiting for the bus, offers a whimsical yet provocative origin story. The transit shelter idea arose from the introduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, oddly enough. In the early 20th century, all large predators were removed from the park as a safety precaution to visitors, allowing the elk population to grow unchecked.

To reintroduce ecological balance, Canadian Grey Wolves were reintroduced in 1995. Biologists who recommended the idea spoke local communities about the development, informing them the wolves would not be waiting at bus shelters for their children. The sculptures also reference the constant duality of effects of humans on nature and vice versa. Iichen was once located in the Toronto Sculpture Garden, too.

Finally, further past Wedding Hill and David Ruben Piqtoukun’s Inukshuk, a path leads one down to the Valley Trails — foot and bike paths which meander along and across the East Humber in a way that might evoke the historic Toronto Carrying Place. A less adventurous but still stunning Gallery Loop Trail leads one around the McMichael’s fieldstone walls and massive fenestration.

              

Scenes From Elora

A venture through the town of Elora and its surroundings produces nothing less than beauty and awe. There’s beauty in its more-than-a-century-old streetscapes. There’s awe in its more-than-ten-thousand-year-old limestone cliffs. The allure of the area is the marriage of built and natural, which makes it well worth a visit.

Aerial view of Elora, Ontario, ca. 1950. Credit: Wellington County Museum & Archives.

The town is located in Wellington County on the banks of the mighty Grand River, a waterway that historically provided sustenance to the Attawandaron or Neutral Confederacy. The wide river and its majestic walls has a history far beyond even those inhabitants, being carved out of the last ice age 14,000 years ago. The water provided the power for early industry while its cliffs were source for the towns early constructions.

One such structure that falls into both categories – stone walls and industry — is the Elora Mill on the west end of the aptly named Mill Street. It was established in the 1850s by J.M. Fraser. In recent memory, it was closed for many years awaiting redevelopment. As of July 2018, it is reopened as a multi-faceted hotel and hospitality venue.

Elora is full of quaint boutiques, sweet shops, and galleries, such as those at the Elora Mews and the main strip of shops at the juncture of Metcalfe and further north.

           

As modern are the enterprises and restored are their exteriors, Elora still maintains its historic character. They are seen in the 1865 Gordon’s Block (otherwise known as the Flat Iron Building because of the triangular junction at Geddes and Metcalfe), the Elora Public Library (funded by Andrew Carnegie in 1909 and built the following year), the 1911 Post Office, and further up, the 1889 St. Mary’s Schoolhouse.

Dalby House/Gordon’s Block. Credit: Wellington County Museum & Archives.

One geography that has not completely survived is the old red bricked Elora Town Hall on Geddes Street next to the Post Office. Its history goes back to 1874 when it was built as a market building. The space in front of it was once known as Market Square. A cenotaph honouring the town’s contributions to World War I was added in the square in 1929. The Town Hall was demolished because of its deteriorating state and new civic offices were constructed in 1992 near the old hall.

Geddes St., Elora, ca. 1910 Postcard. Credit: Wellington County Museum & Archives.

Town Hall [left] and Post Office [right], ca. 1910.  House on Henderson Street and St. John’s Anglican Church visible behind Post Office at centre. Credit: Wellington County Museum & Archives.

A punt ride on the Grand River allots a great way to view the town’s waterfront. Through Elora Raft Rides, one takes in the history and geography of the town — including neat views of ancient fossils in the limestone cliffs.

A curious sighting is a stone abutment located near the Mill, which is the phantom remainder of the former Victoria Street Bridge. A structure spanning the river has been since 1842, but last incarnation of the bridges was closed to vehicle traffic in the Sixties following the opening of the adjacent Metcalfe Bridge and subsequently demolished. As a part of the Elora Mill redevelopment, Victoria Street Bridge might rise again.

Outside of the town’s built environs, one finds himself in the phenomenal landscapes of the Elora Quarry and Elora Gorge. Both fall under the management of the Grand River Conservation Authority which protects the surrounding watershed while providing recreational activities. The Quarry itself is a sensational post-industrial swimming hole with hiking trails which came under the GRCA in the 1970s. 

Elora Gorge Conservation Area offers neat nature hikes and thrilling (and calming) tube rides — seriously, try it! Through Victoria Park, one can access part of the rocks through a set of stairs, as well as gaze over the Grand & Irvine Rivers with lookouts like the Elora Falls & Tooth of Time, Lover’s Leap and toward the gorge and David Street/Irvine River Bridge.

Exploring the town and environs, Elora’s identity of the merger of culture and nature then becomes truly apparent. Its many plaques tell the story of its shakers. It’s also a great arts & culture town with references everywhere to musical showcases like the Elora Festival and Riverfest at Bissell Park. Culinary and historic walking tours guide visitors through the significance of the town.

       

Other landmarks like the Wellington County Museum & Archives – a former House of Industry and keeper of Elora’s past – and the Elora Cataract Trail – a lost railway turned scenic recreational path – also are major draws. For a small town like it and its neighbour Fergus, Elora does an excellent job at marketing itself as a true tourist destination with dual appeal.