• By: Kat Walcott

OAG Celebrates 45 Years of the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art

Photos provided by Ottawa Art Gallery

City leaders, artists, gallery members and more gathered at the gorgeous Ottawa Art Gallery on Thursday night to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art.

In 1973, art enthusiast couple O.J. and Isobel Firestone donated their collection to the Ontario Heritage Foundation who transferred its ownership to the City of Ottawa to ensure that it remained available to the public. The city then assigned custodianship of the collection to OAG who catalogues, conserves, and displays it through changing exhibitions.

The collection – numbered at over 1600 works – touches on the major groups and regional movements in Canada, with an emphasis on the Group of Seven. It includes influential Canadian artists such as Lawren Harris, Emily Carr, Paul-Émile Borduas, Marian Scott, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Rita Letendre, and Franz Johnston.

The evening started out with Mayor Jim Watson expressing the significance of the collection and what it means for it to call Ottawa its home saying, “Ottawa is proud and fortunate to be home to the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art, one of the largest and most impressive collection of works by the Group of Seven and other important Canadian artists. This collection highlights our beautiful and untamed Canadian landscapes, while giving the viewer a glimpse into our rich Canadian history.”

OAG Director and CEO Alexandra Badzak further expressed the importance of the collection saying, “As an immigrant, O.J. Firestone collected art as a means of understanding his adopted country and healing from the ravages of war. 45 years ago and over 1600 artworks later, he and his family, made the decision to donate their incredible collection of art to all of us.”

Though this vast collection has been publicly owned for 45 years, it has an even longer history. The Firestones’ eldest child Brenda Firestone was on hand to enthusiastically and emotionally share her parents’ story.

“My mother was born in Ottawa and grew up in Lowertown, which was a big Jewish community at the time. My father was an Austrian Jew who fled his home country to escape Nazi occupation,” Firestone shares of the roots of her late parents’, who were later married and began the collection in the early 1950s, “It was the wish of my parents that our art collection be exhibited in the City of Ottawa and be available for viewing by a wide audience. Our family is thrilled that the City of Ottawa together with the Ottawa Art Gallery has created this wonderful new art gallery to exhibit works from our collection. The new Ottawa Art Gallery is a beautiful, warm and welcoming space and a perfect home for our gift to the city.”

Since the Firestones were known for always having the doors of their gorgeous home, which was demolished in 2007, open to family, friends and the community at large who wished to admire their beautiful collection, it seems more than appropriate for the pieces to be now housed in a place where the public can freely admire it. The staircase leading up to the Firestone Gallery on the 3rd floor of the gallery is actually the original staircase from the Firestone home. A perfect homage to the family’s hospitality and legacy in the community.

If you haven’t already, check out the works of the Firestone Collection in the Ottawa Art Gallery’s permanent Firestone Gallery. The pieces are on continual exhibition rotation and various artist talks, screenings and workshops are available to learn more about these fascinating pieces of Canadian history and natural beauty.