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Private collection of canoes in art on display at Banff's Whyte Museum

Reference: CTV News

It's taken 20 years to amass the rare collection of roughly 90 works of canoes in art from 48 artists that are owned by Grit and Scott McCreath. This is the first time the collection has been displayed in its entirety.

Rod Green is a friend of the McCreath family and a retired art dealer who ran Masters Gallery in Calgary. He helped them acquire all the canoe art. Green says it all started with one painting when Grit was looking for a birthday present for her husband Scott who had fond memories of canoeing with his father in Saskatchewan.

"I showed (Grit a painting by) Lucius O'Brien which is called Denizens of Ottawa from 1875," he said. "It's a small picture, it's like six by eight (inches) and she thought that would be perfect."

Over two decades Green would find art featuring canoes and show them to the McCreaths who snapped them up. And the collection is vast.

"It's watercolors, oils and sculptures, it's three dimensional works," said Green. "There (are) prints, folk art, video and a couple of real canoes, they've never had it all together in one place."

The works span a 200 year time frame and are presented in chronological order in a gallery at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. Anne Ewen is the chief curator at the museum and knows the family. On a visit to the McCreath home she was admiring all the canoes in art.

"At one point I was commenting, you know (saying) wow, I really liked this painting and I really liked that one," said Ewen. "They said, well would you like to borrow them and I said, well I'd like to borrow all of them and they very generously said okay."

Ewen is honoured to be chosen to host the exhibit and says canoes had an important role in the development of Canada.

"The canoe was absolutely important to the discovery of western Canada, in fact it was important to Canada as a whole," she said. "We wouldn't have come this far (west) without the Indigenous population helping us to get here via canoe, when you think about all the settlers that came through by canoe and the trading that went on by canoe, it's really spectacular."

The newest piece to the collection is by artist John Fraser who was a contract artist for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

"It's one of the finest monumental canvases of the 1880s," said Green. "But those paintings over the last 140 years have just disappeared, there were maybe a dozen artists who were contract artists, some of them are on the walls around us right here in the 19th century selection but you can't find them anymore."

Green says the Fraser piece is in excellent condition and is of a camp at the top of Rogers Pass.

"The mountain is now (called) Mount Sir Donald but it was Mount Carroll and so it's called the fishing camp," he said "It's really a beautiful picture, the frame's original and it's a real cornerstone of the collection."

All the art can be viewed at the museum in Banff until October 2022.

"After the show closes here all the work will go back into a private collection and never, I think, to be seen again in its entirety," said Ewen. "So I really mean it when I say it's just such a privilege to have it."

Learn more about the exhibit here: More