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The Forgotten Years


October 2009 - M ay2010

Capt. John Shawe"Rural Matinee" by Capt. John Shawe

The closing of the Queen’s Royal Hotel symbolizes the end of one tourism era in the town’s history, much like the opening of the Shaw Festival Theatre marks the modern era of tourism to Niagara. In between these dates, the town functioned like many other small rural towns. Much like the rest of Canada, Niagara was hit by the depression, however, prosperity did not return in the 1940s, 50s or 60s.

This exhibition explores the craftsmen and artists of Niagara who found the town to be a wonderful place to live and enjoy life. Their art shows us the faces, buildings and landscapes of the town. They saw the beauty when the rest of the world did not.

Remembering Niagara in the 1950s

Fort Niagara by Margaret Peake-Benton"Fort Niagara" by Margaret Peake-Benton

It wouldn’t have been unusual to go down to the dock area of town in the 1950s and witness one, two or several people painting away. Many of these people socialized together and created their own enjoyment through art. Dinner parties consisted of people singing and playing instruments. The main group of locals involved in these parties were Dr. Bruce Rigg, Mary Jones and local coal yard owner Bill Richardson, but many other came and went. It was at one of the groups parties where the concept of the RJR Tile shop was founded. The group started using clay as a medium of their art.
Others would join in as well. Betty Lane is remembered as a gracious woman who would play the violin at parties and was the Bohemian of the group. In contrast to Mrs. Lane, was the flamboyant Mary Jones. One resident described her as a “wonderfully eccentric individual” who was frequently seen with a cape on.
The few wealthy Americans who summered in town fuelled the craziness of the time. Lavish parties were the norm in the summer and art and culture were always at the center of things.
Most of these artists did it for the love of art. Few were trained, most just enjoyed the work.

Capt. Shawe"The Slip, Niagara" by Capt. John Shawe

Why These 44 Years

To the casual observer, the years of 1929 until 1973 may seem like an odd delineation of time for an art exhibition.
Although this period is generally one of economic hardship for the people who lived here, many of them would never trade their experiences in the town during that time. In 1929, the Queen’s Royal Hotel closed it’s doors for the last time. This was merely a symbolic moment, the loss of tourism revenue in the town started years prior to this event. For the next 44 years, Niagara-on-the-Lake remained a small and sleepy community with very little industry. Not until the opening of the Shaw Festival Theatre on the commons does the town awake from its sleep and show signs of recovery.
As a result of this inactivity, historians tend to overlook this time period for the town. It lacks the energy of refugees, war, military and industrial history and as a result becomes a void in the fabric of the community’s history.

An Atmosphere of Creativity

This exhibition focuses on the artists that were in town during this era. The atmosphere was conducive to creativity. Many of these artists socialized with each other and their parties were filled with creativity, music and art. Some of these artists were home grown, others moved here because it was inexpensive to do so and a few others were leftovers from the tourism era when wealthy Americans would summer here. The exhibition also has some work of Niagara area artists who saw the beauty in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Most of the artists exhibited, were not trying to make a living on their art. They produced these for friends, family and themselves. It was love of art and the town that tied them together.

Mary Jones Emse Allen
Mary Jones

Esme Allen

Jacobine Jones Captain John D. Shawe
Jacobine Jones Captain John D. Shawe

The Artists

This exhibition features the art of many individuals who brought their talents to town as artists and left us with their legacy of paintings and other works of art. The exhibition features work from the following artists: John Freeling Hunt, RJR Tile Shop, Dr. Bruce Rigg, Margaret Peake-Benton, J.G. Williams, Esme Allen, Mary Jones, Carl Banke, Betty Lane, Rand Sheets, Captain John Shawe and Jacobine Jones.


® Image: View of Fort George, Oil on canvass, C. Kreighoff 1823