Prior to the great stock market crash at the end of the decade and the ensuing economic chaos, the prevalent mood of the 1920s in many places was upbeat and carefree. Magazine covers from the era typify this, including these fabulous illustrations from Canada’s Goblin, a monthly humor magazine. Launched in 1921, it was in print for about ten years during which time its highly stylized, and at times witty, covers helped it to become Canada’s then most widely circulated magazine.
(Image Source: University of Toronto Archives)
Songbooks fascinate me, particularly when they highlight song variations from earlier times. So while browsing through a dusty stack of materials in a used bookstore a few months ago I was drawn in by this 8-page vintage booklet of songs, which was printed as a promotion around 1930 by the Dominion Life Assurance Company of Waterloo, Ontario.
This bit of ephemera is spare of graphics and contains a wide variety of songs, including songs specific to Canada (such as “O Canada!” and “Alouette”), American standards (“Home on the Range” and “She’ll Be Coming’ Round the Mountain”), and songs indicating the then closer historical connection to Great Britain (“God Save the King” and “Loch Lomond”). A few of these have lyrics that would not be considered racially sensitive but presumably reflected the time back then. It’s an interesting mix of tunes, many that I’ve not heard in ages and others for which I only knew a line or two of the lyrics.
(Click image to enlarge)
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Regent Gas Station (Left View), Toronto (1949),
Designed by John Parkin, Photo by Hugh Robertson
Although these vintage images only showcase a humble gas station they’re amazingly good! That’s because they combine the modernist industrial design of distinguished Toronto architect John Parkin and the often-dramatic photography of Hugh Robertson and his team at Toronto’s former Panda Associates firm, both of whom helped popularize modern design in Canada during the 1950s and 60s.
Regent Gas Station (Right View), Toronto (1949),
Designed by John Parkin, Photo by Hugh Robertson
A trove of other vintage architectural photos can be seen at the Panda Associates Digital Image Collection, Canadian Architectural Archives, which is maintained by the University of Calgary, and in the book John C. Parkin, Archives and Photography: Reflections on the Practice and Presentation of Modern Architecture (University of Calgary Press 2013).
(Image Credits: Hugh Robertson/Panda Associates, Canadian Architectural Archives, University of Calgary)
I recently came across a copy of an old school book, “Picture Map Geography of Canada and Alaska” by Vernon Quinn, that includes charming woodcut picture maps by Bruno da Osimo, a then noted Italian illustrator, for each of the Canadian provinces (other than Nunavut, which was then part of the Northwest Territories). Originally published in 1944 and updated in 1954, it has a light but well-written chapter devoted to individual provinces. Each map features animals, plants, activities and industries peculiar to the province depicted. In addition to the maps (scanned in above and below), the book is adorned throughout with other delightful illustrations by da Osima (some of which I’ll compile in a future post).
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City Bus on Vancouver Street (about mid-1950s)
Distinctive industrial design reveals itself in many ways and, when done well, can be a genuine pleasure to take in. While the specialness of such design is often difficult to see in our contemporary surroundings, its otherwise subtle impact jumps out when looking back at vintage images. A case in point: the humble municipal bus, operated in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and other cities across Canada. Over this period theses buses began to display a very mod sensibility as they evolved from the severe boxiness of earlier 1930s and 1940s versions to later, during the 1950s through the 1970s, being adorned with more rounded contours, sleek curves and very stylized lines and chrome elements.
“Large Two Forms” (1966 & 1969), Henry Moore
Toronto’s diversity is reflected in the wide array of public art, especially sculpture, that can be seen on block after block in its downtown core. Encounters with public art as we hustle from place to place provide moments for reflection and inspiration and help to remind us of our connections to deeper things and to one another.
These pieces from out and about merely scratch the surface of the city’s offerings. (I forgot to get the titles for a couple of these pieces.)
Headstones, Old Burying Ground, Halifax
Given its immense size, Canada is blessed with vast forests, sprawling farms and sweeping fields all of green. Adding to previous posts featuring red- and blue-themed photo galleries, this collection showcases many shades of green that I’ve encountered through my photos from coast to coast across Canada.
Andrea Kastner, Progress (2014)
Andrea Kastner is an up-and-coming young painter whose art deals with what she calls the “sacred nature of rejected things” and the stories that underlie society’s no longer useful objects, structures and places. The scenes she paints are ones that are readily familiar in urban landscapes across Canada and the U.S., with the constancy of the old being torn down or pushed aside as detritus to make way for the new.
Kastner is originally from Montreal, studied art in New Brunswick and Alberta and until recently was based in Hamilton, Ontario. She is now located in the creative town of Iowa City, Iowa. More of Kastner’s terrific work can be seen at her artist website here.
Andrea Kastner, Noah’s Ark (2013)
Andrea Kastner, The One That Got Away (2013)
A. Kastner, The Inventory of Dreams (2014)
I love playing around with themes. In an earlier post, I grouped together a bunch of my photos from across Canada that featured a strong element of red. Today, I thought I’d do a similar thing with some photos that incorporate blues (of the uplifting kind).
For Canada Day weekend, this post features images that span the geography of this vast country. Around 1953, in a grand display of national pride, the Montreal-based alcohol and beverage giant Seagram Company commissioned over a dozen Canadian artists (including several among the famed Group of Seven) to create a series of watercolors of major Canadian cities. The paintings were subsequently the focus of a world tour organized by Seagram to showcase Canada and its urban landscapes.
While recently rummaging through an antique shop I came across a small booklet, dating to 1953, in which these paintings were reproduced and for which this post shows a sampling of the now somewhat faded images. While many of the provincial capitals are depicted, I find the inclusion of several less prominent cities (including Fort William, Hamilton, Sarnia, Shawinigan Falls and Trois Rivieres) to be fascinating.
“The Dream Country” by Andre Philbert
It’s definitely heavy coat and neck scarf weather around here, as it is in many places this time of year, so thoughts of winter cold are unavoidable. This painting, “The Dream Country,” by Montreal artist, Andre Philbert, with its overwhelming shades of blue and houses set with jaunty rooflines perfectly captures the quiet chill of this time of year. More of Philbert’s deep-blue winter landscapes can be seen at the site for Toronto’s Liss Gallery.
Richard Ahnert, Messenger (2012)
Richard Ahnert’s anthropomorphic art is both whimsical and brilliantly provocative. This Toronto-based artist paints intriguing images of animals engaged in activities one might expect of weary modern-day city dwellers. While his work harkens back to the playful (and disturbing) posed taxidermy of the Victorian era, Ahnert’s paintings engage the viewer with considerable satire and reflection. The images here provide only a small glimpse of his range and more of Ahnert’s fascinating paintings can be seen at his website, MyCanvas.ca: Paintings by Richard Ahnert.
Richard Ahnert, Billy Brooklyn (2011)
Richard Ahnert, Commute (2014)
Richard Ahnert, Feed (2014)
Richard Ahnert, First Light (2015)
Richard Ahnert, Panda Wear (2014)
Richard Ahnert, Pride & Ponder (2013)
Richard Ahnert, The Hemingway (2013)
Stewart Jones, Wellington Composition (2013)
Stewart Jones is an immensely talented Canadian artist with a passion for painting vivid cityscapes — many set in Ontario — that are simply wonderful. He refers to his paintings as “love letters to the forgotten corners and alleyways” of our cities. Jones’s images often depict buildings at irregular angles or vantage points and feature lush brushstrokes that together energize his work and provide a fresh perspective on the often-overlooked, uncelebrated urban structures and byways that constantly surround us. More of Jones’s beautiful art can be seen at his painting website here and on his Facebook page.
Stewart Jones, CM Composition #1 (2013)
Stewart Jones, Urban Alley (2014)
Stewart Jones, Kingston Walkway (Year Unknown)
Stewart Jones, Royal Hotel Picton (2014)
Stewart Jones, Hamilton (2014)
Image Credits: Stewart Jones
Brian Deignan, “House with View, Nova Scotia”
Because it is so unusual, the work of a highly-skilled photographic artist who intentionally seeks to blur his images stands out to me. Such are the mysterious images produced by Brian Deignan, a Toronto-area fine art photographer originally from Montreal and who also has lived in several parts of the U.S. Unlike typical bokeh photographs — where the subject is in focus against a blurred background — Deignan’s entire subject is out of focus. The resulting impressionistic images resemble paintings and conjure up deeper thoughts that often elude sharply focused photographs. Deignan hints at this with the following observation from his portfolio website: “People, places, things are what I photograph; memory, imagination, wonder are how.” Very nicely stated!
See more of Deignan’s images at his site here.
Brian Deignan, “Crosswalk #28” (High Noon in Mississauga)
Brian Deignan, “Winter Wonderland #10”
Brian Deignan, “School Bus, Route 332 — Nova Scotia”
Brian Deignan, “Sunday Drive #25”
Brian Deignan, “Sunday Drive #20”
Brian Deignan, “Friday Night — Queen Near Spadina”
(Image Credits: Brian Deignan)
This smallish window and nearby door in Toronto’s Distillery District caught my eye both because of their curves and the forest green shared by each opening. In addition to the well-preserved historic buildings, this area of the city features a wide range of exceptional restaurants, bars and small shops.
“The Phenomenon of Floating”
Toronto-born Rob Gonsalves is a surrealist master whose marvelous paintings depict dreamlike illusions. It’s almost like a mashup of M.C. Escher and Rene Magritte. But, of course, Gonsalves’ style is the result of his own creative synthesis of many artistic strands. Many of his paintings feature wide landscapes and young children — which seems appropriate for both the whimsical joy and philosophical reflection conjured by this painstaking artwork. More of Gonsalves’ art can be seen on his official site here and at the site for Huckleberry Fine Art.
“Towers of Knowledge”
“Beyond the Reef”
Image Credits: Rob Gonsalves and Huckleberry Fine Art.
Back in the day, Canada needed more people to build up its country and, in particular, in its vast western inland plains. With lots of land and not so many people, the federal and provincial governments and land companies starting in the late 1800s on into the early twentieth century launched recruitment campaigns around the world, especially in Europe, with the lure of free land grants and the potential for prosperity. The distance was far and farm life was (is!) tough, but the appeal drew many new immigrants to Canada’s west. I love the variety and details in some of these posters! (Click on images to enlarge)
Stricken at the battle for Quebec City in 1759, Major General James Wolfe uttered those words as he lay dying just as his troops’ victory was assured. Imposing bas relief sculptures of Wolfe and three other early Canadian military heroes — Samuel de Champlain, John Graves Simcoe and Isaac Brock — grace the facade of the Archives and Canadiana Building at the University of Toronto. Like their real-life counterparts centuries earlier, these sculptures keep a watchful and weathered gaze upon the surrounding landscape.
Samuel de Champlain (1574-1635)
James Wolfe (1727-1759)
John Graves Simcoe (1752-1806)
Isaac Brock (1769 -1812)
Postmarked 1913. A cozy looking place.
Hospitals seem a peculiar and dreary subject for postcards. But back in the day — before routine outpatient procedures and hospitals speedily freeing up beds — time in hospital (as patient or visitor) regularly spanned several days or longer, so penning a brief note to update absent friends or loved ones was probably not so odd. And what better way to do it than with one of the colored cards conveniently available at the hospital!
Postmarked 1945. The note starts out: “Having a swell time.” Love those roadsters!
About 1948. Yikes — looks more like a prison!
About 1910. Regal digs. Notice horse and buggy to bottom left.
Postmarked 1935. Street car or bus passing by.
Art in urban settings is great to bring us out of ourselves and to refresh our minds. A wonderful example is artist Joe Fafard’s The Pasture, a group of bronze cows posed lazily resting in the bucolic setting of the Toronto-Dominion Centre office park (designed by Mies van der Rohe), is perfect for providing an unexpected feeling of being far away from the nearby hustle and bustle of the Financial District.
A. J. Casson, Rooftops
As the chill of wintry winds, snow and ice continues, a compilation of Canadian winterscapes by the Group of Seven artists seems in order. As always, the scenery by these talented artists is captivating! (Click on image to enlarge)
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This nifty selection of vintage travel posters do a nice job capturing many of the wonders to be experienced in Ontario.
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Since the early 1800s, the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto has been a traditional marketplace for fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses and all manner of other agricultural products. It’s a colorful and happily bustling scene that has the distinction of being named by National Geographic in 2012 as the world’s best market. Even if a matter of opinion, that’s high praise! Snapping these shots between bites of a warm croissant graced with some local honey provided a relaxing hour’s idyll.
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Robert McAffee, The Foot of the Falls
Toronto-based Robert McAffee’s contemporary landscape art is striking in many ways. His lush scenes of the Canadian wilderness pay homage to the influences of several Group of Seven artists — notably Lawren Harris, Tom Thomson, A.J. Casson and Arthur Lismer. McAffee seems to have internalized aspects of each with a resulting style that is wonderfully distinct from any one of them. More about McAffee’s beautiful artwork and links to galleries that carry his pieces can be found at his website here.
Robert McAffee, The Three Sisters
R. McAffee, Fishing By the Rocks
Robert McAffee, North Shore Twisty
Robert McAffee, Waterfall
(Image credits: Artist’s website)
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Crisscrossing the streets of Toronto, it struck me that I had to look harder there than in Montreal to find graffiti or street art. But what’s to be found in Toronto is every bit as varied and creatively expressed, as shown by these two examples, both in the Ossington Avenue area. I’ll post more later.