McMichael Canadian Collection a cultural gem: MPP Arnott
Ted Arnott, MPP
Wellington – Halton Hills
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 12, 2011
McMichael Canadian Collection a cultural gem: MPP Arnott
(Queen’s Park) – The McMichael Canadian Art Collection is a cultural gem that is among the best in
the world, says Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott.
Mr. Arnott, as the PC Critic to the Minister of Tourism and Culture, led off the debate on behalf of the
PC Caucus in the Ontario Legislature today in response to the government’s Bill 188. That
legislation is intended to provide the McMichael gallery with greater flexibility to develop its collection
“As I’ve said many times, the McMichael showcases the very best in our province and our country.
We want it to succeed, indeed, to continue to show our best to the world,” said Mr. Arnott in the
In addition to speaking about the McMichael, Mr. Arnott used the opportunity to recount a recent visit
to artcetera – a three-day fundraising silent and live art auction benefiting the Elora Centre for the
Arts as well as local and regional artists. Organizers invited Mr. Arnott to attend the event.
“The Elora Centre for the Arts is a tremendous asset to our community, and this event went a long
way to make it even stronger,” Mr. Arnott said, congratulating everyone involved, the staff and
volunteers, for making this event such a success.
Mr. Arnott also noted his chance to be present 20 years ago at the ceremony honouring A.J. Casson
with the Order of Ontario, just before the end of Mr. Casson’s long and productive life. The
prominent artist was one member of the Group of Seven, whose artistic works are the focus of the
“Mr. Casson also had a connection to Wellington-Halton Hills, having spent considerable time
painting watercolour scenes of Elora, Glen Williams, Salem, Rockwood and Norval,” Mr. Arnott later
– 30 –
Attached: Mr. Arnott’s speaking notes
Ted Arnott, MPP
Ted Arnott’s speaking notes – May 12, 2011
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Thomson, Jackson, Macdonald, Harris, Lismer, Varley, Carmichael, Casson, Johnston and
McMichael—some of the most illustrious names in the history of Canadian art.
On behalf of the Ontario PC Caucus, I am very pleased to have this opportunity today to speak in
response to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection Amendment Act, 2011.
First and foremost, we want to ensure the McMichael Canadian Collection gallery continues to
succeed. We also want to see the memory of Bob and Signe McMichael, as well as their generous
philanthropy, to be suitably honoured in perpetuity, ensuring that the collection would be enjoyed not
by a select few but by all Canadians and the world.
And we also believe that the Group of Seven, their contemporaries and First Nations, should
continue to be the primary focus of the collection, in keeping with the vision of the founders.
Any serious efforts that would further these worthy goals should, I believe, merit the support of all
members of this House.
When I spoke about the McMichael Gallery in this House on May 3 , I said we would approach this
bill carefully, with an open mind, as we always do.
But before I speak in greater detail about the substance of the bill, and how it would affect the
McMichael collection, I want to share a recent experience I had in Wellington-Halton Hills at an
event in Elora.
Last Saturday, May 7 , I attended artcetera – a three-day fundraising silent and live art auction
featuring our local and regional artists’ work. The proceeds from this event benefited one of our
province’s premiere arts organizations – the Elora Centre for the Arts – as well as our local and
The Elora Centre for the Arts is a tremendous asset to our community, and this event went a long
way to make it even stronger.
I want to inform the House of the Elora Centre for the Arts’ own account of their role and mission:
The Elora Centre for the Arts is a vibrant and community-oriented arts organization that inspires and
stimulates artistic excellence, aesthetic maturity and critical insight through exhibition, performance
and education. It is a national model of a regional centre for artistic endeavor and education.
It provides opportunities for both artists and the broader community to engage in artistic pursuits of
all kinds in a unique historic setting. It offers innovative and creative programs in a broad range of
disciplines, including visual arts, spoken word, music, dance and crafts.
It serves as a home for the local and regional artistic community and provides a venue for people of
all ages to experience enriching artistic activities and expression. The Centre is a leader in and
encourages artistic freedom of expression, innovation and creativity.
Through its arts education programming, it encourages youth to embrace the arts as integral to life.
To me, artcetera only confirmed that the Elora Centre for the Arts is, indeed, fulfilling that important
and impressive mission in our community and beyond.
For that, I want to thank and congratulate everyone involved, the staff and volunteers, for making
artcetera such a success.
Even though we as MPPs may not be directly involved in the arts, we too, in this legislature and
beyond, have the opportunity—indeed, we have the responsibility—to contribute to the success of
the arts in Ontario.
In 1994 and 1995, during my first term as an elected representative, I was honoured to serve as the
PC Critic for Culture—just as I am again today. At that time we were the third party in the
Bob McMichael came to visit me at my constituency office in Arthur. At that time, our office was in
Arthur. In that meeting, he invited me to come to Kleinburg to tour the McMichael Canadian
Collection and visit him and Signe at their new scenic country home in Belfountain.
When I finally had the time to visit, I was overwhelmed with the McMichaels’ warm hospitality. I
spent about an hour with Bob and Signe, and they showed me their still-private collection of
Canadian art, which adorned their walls. I’ll never forget it.
Looking at that Canadian art, and listening to Bob and Signe, Ontarians who had done so much for
the arts in our province, was very much a privilege. Their passion was palpable; their vision, clear.
Even at that time, they were especially concerned about the need to preserve that vision, their
vision, for the McMichael Canadian Collection. And while it became a public collection because of
their public generosity, it was really their collection—one he had acquired on their own, with their
own resources, before donating it to the province for all to appreciate.
To be sure, I found this special couple to be inspiring.
And so I was pleased when, in the year 2000, our government passed legislation that Bob had
sought, ensuring that as long as he and Signe were alive, they would continue to have a very
significant role in the acquisition of works of art and temporary exhibitions.
When I reassumed my role as Critic to the Minister of Culture, I knew that one of the first places I
wanted to visit was the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, as I had done more than once over the
years since I first visited during my university days in the 1980s. I visited again in September 2009.
While the gallery is never quite the same as it was on a previous visit, it remains one of my favourite
art galleries as it is for many Ontarians.
The history of this gallery is remarkable. Bob and Signe began their collection in 1955, and just ten
years later it had expanded to over 300 works. In co-operation with the provincial government, the
McMichaels donated the collection and their home in Kleinburg to the Province of Ontario. The
province, in turn, assumed responsibility for the protection and maintenance of the artwork and the
grounds. This took place in 1965, when the gallery was known as the McMichael conservation
Collection of Art.
In 1972, Premier Bill Davis, one of Ontario’s greatest Premiers, introduced legislation changing the
name to the McMichael Canadian Collection; the legislation also appointed Bob as Director and formed a nine-member Board of Trustees. In 1981, Bob resigned the directorship and became
Founder Director-Emeritus; meanwhile, Michael Bell was appointed Director and Chief Executive
Officer. In 1982, Ian Thom joined the staff, becoming the Curator of Collections.
In the years following its inception as a public gallery, the collection broadened to accommodate the
McMichaels’ vision to include First Nations and Inuit prints, sculptures, paintings and masks; also
added were works by artists such as Clarence Gagnon, Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald and J.W.
But the Group of Seven has always been the primary focus of the gallery. That’s a fitting focus, I
think, for such a gallery set in such beautiful natural surroundings.
This leads me to quote from a Group of Seven Catalogue from 1920, as published in The McMichael
Canadian Collection, published in 1983:
“The group of seven artists whose pictures are here exhibited have for several years held a like
vision concerning Art in Canada. They are all imbued with the idea that an Art must grow and flower
in the land before the country will be a real home for its people.”
While I obviously wasn’t present in 1920, I was very fortunate to have been present at the 1991
ceremony awarding A.J. Casson the Order of Ontario. I think the only MPP who was prouder to be
there, perhaps, was Premier Bob Rae, who seemed to be having the time of his life.
But for me, to be in the presence of this iconic figure of Canadian culture, was an amazing
experience I’ll never forget.
As I’ve said many times, the McMichael showcases the very best in our province and our country.
We want it to succeed, indeed, to continue to show our best to the world.
In a briefing last week, officials from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture told us that the number of
visitors to the McMichael in recent years has diminished somewhat.
Given that this government appears to take Ontario’s tourism industry for granted, this fact is
perhaps not surprising.
I’m told that in 2009-2010, there were more than 97,000 visitors, while in 2010-2011, that number
slipped to more than 89,000 visitors.
The question, therefore, is how we reverse that trend, bringing more visitors, bringing repeat visitors,
bringing new visitors to experience the McMichael. And this should be part of a concerted overall
strategy to market Ontario as the premiere tourist destinations that we know it is: the best
attractions, the best hospitality, the best festivals and events.
What about the Sorbara report and its many recommendations that seem to be gathering dust?
What about its aim to double tourism receipts by 2020? What about its call to bring our tourism and
cultural attractions up to leading global standards? What about its call to take action, to
fundamentally improve tourism in Ontario?
This government’s pace in making these changes is frustratingly slow. We’re not making the
progress we need to make to meet and exceed those global standards.
In the McMichael, we have a cultural gem that can be counted as one of the best in the world.
But how do we ensure that people know that, both at home and abroad?
Will Bill 188 contribute to its success?
We sincerely hope so. I was encouraged to read that the Chair of the McMichael Canadian
Collection, as well as Penny and Jack Fenwick, members of the McMichael family, are supportive of
Given their written endorsements, and given that we have received no indications of opposition to
this legislation from within Ontario’s artistic community, the official opposition will not stand in the
way of the government’s efforts on this issue, and I wish to express support for this Bill at Second
Again, Mr. Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to speak about an institution of such importance
to the arts in Ontario.