Powell St. Wharf, Vancouver by Geoffroy Allan Rock (1923-2000), titled & dated 1979 on reverse. Up for auction next month in Ottawa at Walkers, est price: CAD500 - CAD700.
Lost David Spencer Department Store Diamond Jubilee Murals Pt 2
This is a followup post on the long lost Spencer’s department store murals originally posted here. A few clarifications I need to make over last week’s post; I originally said Golden Jubilee, but in fact, it was the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation in 1927. And to be clear, David Spencer had passed away in 1920, but it was still common to refer to the department store as David Spencer Limited. To bring you up to speed, I’ve been trying to find out just what happened to these 1927 murals painted by John Innes and G.H. Southwell. The trail goes cold in December of 1948 when Spencer’s is acquired by the Timothy Eaton Company.
At this point in time, Eaton’s takes control of the Spencer’s store in Vancouver, transforming it into an Eaton’s store. In 1972, it was time for Eaton’s to move into the brand new Pacific Centre complex. Then on May 5, 1989, Simon Fraser University at Harbour Centre officially opened its doors in the Spencer Building at 515 West Hastings. In search of the murals, I looked high and low, asking everyone I could think of, including the Vancouver Archives, the Vancouver Art Gallery Library, SFU, the Archives of Ontario which holds the Eaton’s archive, Gary Sim, Jaleen Grove, the VPL and more, but no one seemed to know the murals’ whereabouts.
I recently acquired from MacLeod’s Books the actual brochure that Spencer’s handed out in 1927 titled Tableaux of Canadian History and Industry. The VanArchives also has a copy. Regretfully, it contains no images of the murals, but it provides some context to the scenes and the Jubilee celebrations. It seems there was also a display of significant historical events in Canada’s history which they called the Historical Tableaux. This was executed by George Patterson, adapted from pictures by Charles W. Jefferys and Henry Sandham in Nelson’s Pictures of Canadian History. Furthermore, there was a series of Industrial Exhibits from Canadian manufacturers which were displayed in the store. It was like a mini Exposition!
I was about to give up early when I finally uncovered a significant clue! Page 76 of the book National Soul - Canadian Mural Painting, 1860s - 1930s by Marylin J. McKay states:
In 1927 John Innes (assisted by George Southwell) painted ten panels for the Vancouver department store of David Spencer (some panels destroyed, some panels in storage in the Art Gallery of the University of British Columbia). They represent logging, mining, fishing, and agriculture. One panel includes an image of Simon Fraser on the Fraser River…
So there you have it! I forgot to ask UBC! The book continues to offer clues, stating the paintings were removed from the store and donated to UBC, as noted in the Vancouver Sun on March 24, 1949. And I subsequently learned that according to the Spencer’s file at UBC, these two paintings did not survive this donation:
- Captain Vancouver’s Ships at Nootka
- Mackenzie Menaced by Indians at Bella Coola
Perhaps culturally, this is no great loss; early colonial depictions of First Nations are too often historically inaccurate, demeaning, and demoralizing. Had these scenes been painted by the most respected First Nations artist of the day, they certainly would have had different titles! While these murals may have a colonial naivete about them, I still feel they are a notable reflection of their time.
Since the book A National Soul was written in 2001, things have changed. Upon contacting the Belkin Art Gallery at UBC, I’ve learned that some of the 8 surviving murals were deaccessioned from their archives in August of 2008. After requesting photographs, 5 images including 4 hastily made panoramic photographs were sent documenting their poor condition. The murals were indeed a pale reflection of their former glory. The colours muted and the canvases scratched and torn, these murals certainly did not resemble the vibrant colours seen in the printed Spencer’s pamphlet from 1936. The quality of the artwork, logistical issues surrounding their storage, and the daunting task of restoration seemed too great a burden for the art gallery to maintain.
I’ve taken the roughly stitched panoramas and tried to simulate a restoration of colours to give you a slightly better indication of what the paintings may have looked like. Unfortunately, the quality of the photograph of Simon Fraser’s Canoes Descending the Fraser River is too poor to accurately correct, but at least you have some indication of the colours that cannot be seen in the black and white photograph. This painting was perhaps aesthetically the best work in the series, and it’s a shame it has not found it’s way to the art collection at SFU.
Of the four panoramic murals, the Pioneer Fishing mural and Pioneer Farming mural appear to have the same dimensions. Likewise, the Pioneer Logging and Pioneer Mining murals appear to have matching dimensions. While we may not be able to determine precisely where these paintings hung inside Spencer’s, future photographic discoveries may one day help to answer this question. I do think the Pioneer Fishing mural would have looked handsome on display somewhere in town today, even in its unrestored state. The scene clearly depicts the Burrard Inlet and the North Shore Mountains, one of the most popular and recognizable views in the city. It did appear to have been in the best condition of the 5 photographed murals.
I had presumed that deaccession most certainly meant these paintings were now lost, but in fact, this is not the case. There was one other person I wanted to ask about these murals, and as it turns out, this was precisely the person I needed to speak with. Upon emailing Cheryle Harrison of Conserv-Arte, I’ve learned that these four pioneer murals have been entrusted to her! Cheryle was the conservator for the Southwell paintings in the B.C. Legislature and she led the restoration of the Malaspina Hotel murals created by EJ Hughes, Orville Fisher, and Paul Goranson, so there is perhaps no more qualified guardian for their future. As for the other four murals of historical scenes, I’m not quite certain where they’ve ended up. Lost, destroyed, stolen, or deaccessioned, I have yet to track them down. To review, here are the missing titles once again:
- Captain Vancouver Exploring Burrard Inlet
- Ships of Spain off Point Grey
- Simon Fraser’s Canoes Descending the Fraser River
- Trading with the Indians at Fort Victoria, 1845
And so, I must conclude my epic search for the long lost Spencer’s department store murals (for now at least). Like so many murals around the world, they have slipped into the past, nearly forgotten. The story behind these murals seems to me almost as fragile as the murals themselves. Having pieced together the details above, I take some consolation in the fact that their story has once again been told. There are so few specimens that do survive, increased awareness of the rarity and fragility of historical murals is perhaps one of the best possible outcomes of this quest. The next time you see a mural in situ, be sure to treasure it!
So Many Things cruise ship mural, located at 325 Columbia Street in the DTES, artist unknown. As you can see from Jeremy’s photo a few years ago, this mural has gotten a bit smaller with the removal of those cheering the cruise ships from the shore.
The Sun Princess by North Vancouver artist Keith Campbell. This painting was commissioned in 1994 by the father of the current proprietor of the Peg General Store on Commercial Drive. The Peg shopkeeper reminisced how his father used to live at International Plaza in North Vancouver with a great view of the Lions Gate Bridge. When he moved up to Lynn Valley, he missed seeing the ships coming in and out of the Burrard Inlet, so he commissioned this painting! I cannot find any biographical information about Keith Campbell, but perhaps this is him? Any additional comments would be appreciated!
This is a particularly nostalgic view, depicting the ship known as the Sun Princess circa 1974-1988. Originally built as the Spirit of London wikipedia tells us it was an Italian built cruise ship put into service in 1972. More lore from wikipedia:
The ship appeared in the 1975 Columbo episode “Troubled Waters”, guest starring Robert Vaughn, as well as in Herbie Goes Bananas (1980). She was also featured in at least one episode of The Love Boat involving a competition between Captain Stubing of the Pacific Princess and the captain of the Sun Princess.
The current ship named the Sun Princess also built in Italy had her maiden voyage on December 2, 1995. Thanks to the Peg General Store for this great nautical gem! ps: the painting is available for sale!
Vancouver, circa 1962 from the opening pages of George Kuthan’s book Vancouver: Sights & Insights. This colourized variation is a scan of an electronic reproduction of what could be an aquatint or perhaps a hand coloured drawing. None of the images in the above mentioned books are shown in colour, but this print demonstrates the possibilities. The print came from Robert R. Reid’s studio, via Heavenly Monkey. Robert was a close friend of George Kuthan, and this colour treatment was likely done by Robert in more recent years. From the Heavenly Monkey website:
…The two met at Reid’s printing shop in Vancouver in 1951, shortly after Kuthan’s arrival in Canada. Born in Klatovy, Czechoslovakia in 1916, Kuthan was a medical student at the University of Prague when the Nazis closed it, in 1939. It was at this time that he turned his attention to art, which he studied at Prague’s School of Decorative Arts for the next six years. After the war he went on to study painting and various forms of printmaking in Paris for several years. What few published details of his life exist indicate he enjoyed some success while there, making his decision to emigrate to Canada somewhat puzzling (especially since he first landed in Saskatchewan!). Shortly after arriving in Vancouver, he was introduced to Reid…
The Lions Gate Bridge, with Stanley Park to the right, seen from the North Shore. This painting by Lyttle is dated 1980; I am unable to determine who this might have been, so any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!
Another item from MacLeod’s Books in Vancouver, this time it’s the Vantech yearbook from 1931.
Perhaps it might be appropriate to mention two upcoming events here. It’s soon the 100th Anniversary of the death of E. Pauline Johnson / Tekahionwake. Join The City of Victoria’s Poet Laureate Janet Rogers for a talk called The Inspiration of E. Pauline at Rhizome Cafe on Saturday, March 9th at 7:00pm.
Then the next day, it’s Poetry in the Park for Pauline: Poetry Offerings at Stanley Park, at Johnson’s Memorial at 1:00pm (Johnson’s birthday). More info at http://www.herstorycafe.ca/
And for those who visit VPL Library Square, look for the display cabinet filled with Pauline Johnson ephemera on the seventh floor in Special Collections.
Vancouver Panorama, artist unknown, printed by Pierre Marc Products, Berkeley, California and distributed by the Vancouver Magazine Service Ltd. Because the Grouse Mountain tram is red, we can probably date this some time after or around 1976, when the original blue tram was upgraded with the new red Super Skyride tram. Seen via ebay.
Vancouver Magazine from October, 1997 illustrated by Ken Steacy. This was Ken’s first collaboration with Douglas Coupland, and was the foldout centrespread from the magazine that Doug guest edited titled “The Bridge That Keeps On Going”.
Souvenir Book of Eight Pictures depicting various phases in the Pioneering History of British Columbia. This booklet features the oil paintings of John Innes, with text printed on onionskin paper written by the Native Sons of British Columbia historian Bruce Alistair McKelvie. Part of a commission by the Native Sons of British Columbia, these paintings were commissioned in 1922, completed in 1925, and a few years later, this booklet of photochrome reproductions was offered for the grand total of $25 (this would be more like $325 today!)
These paintings were initially loaned to UBC, where they hung in the library of the university. Today, these eight paintings are part of the SFU art collection where all but two hang in the hall of art in the Quadrangle.
This booklet carries slightly different titles than I mentioned in my previous post, so I will list them again in the order they appear in the book.
- Captain George Vancouver Meets Spaniards off Point Grey
- Hudson’s Bay Company Fur Brigade Passing Lake Okanagan
- Governor Douglas Takes Oath of Office at Fort Langley
- Overland Expedition on Way to Cariboo
- Simon Fraser Following the Great River to the Sea
- The Building of Fort Victoria
- Alexander Mackenzie Records his Great Achievement
- Discovery of Gold at Williams Creek, 1861
The title of the final painting changed completely, previously called Finding Placer Gold by Pioneer Miners in the Cariboo, 1858. It’s possible these titles in the book were penned by Bruce McKelvie, whereas the previous titles may have come from Innes. One slight error I noticed, however; the first painting Captain George Vancouver Meets Spaniards off Point Grey is mistakenly titled Commander Vancouver Meeting with Spaniards of Point Grey, 1792 in the small description of the artwork at SFU. The Spaniards were no more residents of Point Grey than Captain Vancouver himself! Funny how a single character can potentially change history!
Cross-posted to VancouverIsAwesome.com with alternate text.
Captain Vancouver Exploring Burrard Inlet, 1792, which was apparently commissioned by the David Spencer department store and painted by John Innes and George Henry Southwell, via a pamphlet on ebay. Southwell, you will recall, painted the murals in the Legislative Building in Victoria.
In this VanArchives photo, you can see John Innes painting another mural depicting Simon Fraser traversing the river that bears his name. This photo shows G.H. Southwell painting Captain Vancouver’s ship “Chatham” while John Innes looks on. Were these two paintings also part of the Spencer’s murals?
When I went to visit the Comfort mural a little over a year ago in the SFU great hall of art, I noticed these paintings by John Innes, dated 1925:
- Commander Vancouver Meeting with Spaniards off Point Grey, 1792
- Simon Fraser in the Fraser Canyon on his Journey to the Sea, 1808
- The Hudson’s Bay Fur Brigade Passing Down the Okanagan, 1825-1835
- James Douglas Taking the Oath as First Governor of BC, 1858
- Finding Placer Gold by Pioneer Miners in the Cariboo, 1858
- The Overland Pioneers Journeying Through the Rockies, 1862
According to this article in BC Studies, these six paintings were commissioned by the Native Sons of BC in 1922. Originally, I had presumed these paintings were all part of one big series, but now I wonder if there were two completely separate series of historical paintings; the Spencer’s paintings and the Native Sons paintings?
SFU indicates the six paintings listed above were donated by the Native Sons of BC, Post # 2, but I’m not entirely sure when this happened.
So just who were the Native Sons of BC? Modeled after the Native Sons of The Golden West in California, the Native Sons of BC existed to “promote the memory of pioneers, and to unite all worthy sons of British Columbia”. Membership was open to every male person who was born in British Columbia and had resided in the province for over 40 years. You can read more about the Native Sons of BC in this blog post here at the site for Victoria: The Unknown City. Furthermore, a PDF of the complete Native Sons ritual book can be downloaded here, courtesy of the author and blogger Ross Crockford.
If anyone can help to clarify the distinction between the Spencer’s and Native Sons paintings, please feel free to speak up!
Update! I’ve since learned from SFU that there are two more paintings in the Native Sons of BC series, both of which are in storage.
7. Alexander Mackenzie Recording his Arrival at the Pacific, 1793
8. James Douglas Building the Hudson’s Bay Post at Victoria, 1843
There were at least 2 more sets of historical paintings by Innes, which I believe became part of the HBC collection. However, the Spencer paintings remain somewhat elusive and mysterious! More to come!
The Sentinel of Stanley Park, a colour image by Paul Goranson, 14 x 18 inches. This was done in 1939 just before Paul went off to WWII, where along with E.J. Hughes and Orville Fisher, he became a celebrated war artist. Construction of the Lions Gate bridge had just been completed, there was no seawall around Stanley Park, and there was a famous cave to the right of Siwash Rock.
This appeared on Craigslist recently, and it seems it was a wedding gift to someone in the 1950s. A rare and extraordinary find; it might actually be the gouache original Goranson used to produce a linocut of the same image.
A fantastic souvenir knife for the CPR showing the steamship docks, “the Sleeping Beauty” (Crown Mountain) from Stanley Park (which may be based on this postcard), and the Empress. Exactly which Empress steamship is undetermined. From the item description:
This is a great early souvenir knife from Canada. It has great scales with different images on both sides. The knife was made by Griffon from Germany. The image of the Empress ship that was owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway is great. The Empress of Ireland sank in 1914 killing 1012 people, and became the deadliest Maritime disaster in Canadian history. The blades have never been sharpened and are tight with great snap. This knife measures 3-1/16” long when closed.
A bit more about Griffon Cutlery Works from the web:
The Griffon Cutlery Works was founded in 1888 by Albert L. Silberstein (1866-?)…Originally located on Broadway (until around 1915), then at 74-76 Fifth Avenue, they moved into [a] building on West 19th Street in 1920 and remained [t]here until 1968. They also had a factory and branch outlet in Solingen, Germany.
The CPR actually had 16 steamships with the “Empress” moniker, about half of which saw service in the Pacific (the other half traversed the Atlantic). These ships included the Empress of Asia, Australia, Britain, Canada, China, France, India, Ireland, Japan, Russia, and Scotland. You can probably guess which ships sailed in the Pacific and which were in the Atlantic based on their names.
According to wikipedia & the web, here are the ships of the Pacific: Empress of Asia, Australia, China, India, Japan, and Russia. And these ships sailed the Atlantic: Empress of Britain, Canada, France, Ireland, and Scotland (though the second ship to bear the name Empress of Scotland was actually the Empress of Japan before 1942).
We can try to deduce which Empress is depicted on the knife if we narrow down the number of Pacific ships with just two smoke stacks. Process of elimination leaves the Empress of China, India, or Japan, but to confuse things further, there were more than one vessel using each one of these names. Actually, I think this image depicts TWO ships, with just tail end of the second ship at the right. Determined nautical enthusiasts might be able to make a more precise response, and a special prize goes to anyone who locates a photograph of the same image.
Vancouver by Ken Steacy. Ken tells me this illustration was from the September 1994 issue of Vancouver Magazine, and was originally slated to grace the cover, but got bumped inside to illustrate an article titled “The Way We Weren’t”. Note also the work is dated ‘34, not ‘94. He also points out this illustration was traditionally rendered in a multi-media melange of pencil, ink, acrylic, and gouache.
Airships, rockets, and gyrocopters! I wanted to save this illustration until Christmas, but I just couldn’t wait!
From his official bio:
KEN STEACY is a Canadian Air Force brat who decided at age eleven to become a professional comic book artist. He pursued this intent until the magic moment occurred in 1974 with the publication in ORB magazine of Super Student, a two page strip that he wrote, penciled, inked, and lettered. This holistic approach has been a hallmark of his work ever since, true to his belief that specialization is for insects, not artists. He also believes that the arbitrary distinctions between Art and Illustration should go away forever. His favorite colour is currently sanguine…