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February 28, 2014

Now here’s a milestone. Tomorrow marks the sesquicentennial (150!) birthday celebration of Florence Helena McGillivray, one of Whitby’s most famed historical artists! She was born March 1, 1864 on a farm at the corner of Taunton and Lakeridge Roads. In the early 1900s she taught at what is now Trafalgar Castle School.

McGillivray travelled to France in 1913 to further her art studies, where she came under the influence of Impressionism and Fauvism. She actively exhibited her work while there, before returning to Canada in 1914 on the eve of WWI and settling in Ottawa. Continuing to actively pursue her career as an artist, she was elected a member of the Ontario Society of Artists in 1917, and became an associate of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1925. She retired to live in Toronto in the 1930s, where she died in 1938. Her paintings are represented in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Many believe that she taught Tom Thomson as trick or two about painting. Happy Birthday, Florence!
Portrait of Florence McGillivray

June 1, 2012

A double-shot of jury duty summoned me to small town Ontario last weekend. On Friday it was Alton, near Caledon, that I co-juried for the Headwaters Art Centre. From there it was on to the Georgian Bay coast and the small town of Meaford, where adjudication awaited at the stunningly refurbished Meaford Hall on Sunday. Saturday was free. This merited an evening outing to Owen Sound. En route, a sign pointed seven kilometers off the beaten path to a Tom Thomson historical plaque. “Maybe on the way back,” I thought. Later that evening, there it was again. The decision: go for it or save it for another day. After all, it was only seven kilometers down a dark country road to a small Ontario hamlet, and to top it off, something about Tom Thomson at the other end. The choice was clear–it’ll be a leap of faith. Down the midnight road we rolled to sleepy Leith, Ontario.

At the heart of Leith is a historic church and graveyard where one of Canada’s legendary painters, Tom Thomson is allegedly buried. This came as a surprise to me. I somehow thought that Thomson was buried in Algonquin Park at Canoe Lake where he drowned. I began to second-guess myself. Had I slept through the Canadian art history lesson that covered Thomson and his legend? I just had to find Thomson’s grave. Surely, there’s something fitting about searching for the legend’s alleged resting place in the warm, star-filled Ontario night.

After some fumbling about the cemetery, there it was. Thomson’s modest headstone is adorned with coins, votive trinkets and a paintbrush left by Thomson devotees. I had no camera to mark this late-night discovery. I did have my computer with me and managed to snap a few images with the built-in camera. What an exhilarating experience! You never know where dark country roads and leaps of faith will lead…

Headstone reads: Tom Thomson, Landscape Painter, Drowned in Canoe Lake, July 8, 1917, aged 39 years, 11 months, 3 days…

Midnight with Tom