Kelly Page 2.1

Great Canadian Art & Artists

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous discovery - the huge original ink sketch that JD Kelly executed to serve as the template for his painting of one of his most famous works of Canadian historical art - Champlain Ascending the Ottawa

On the back is an original lithograph that was made from it and issued in 1895.

JD Kelly is one of Canada's most famous historical artists. His passion for Canadian history and painting the great events in her past consumed most of his talents as an artist.

His ability to express the romance of Canadian history in his paintings, and to give the people in them a degree of credible nobility, landed him many commissions to represent Canada's past to its people.

The paintings he was commissioned to make - like the many pictures he made for the Confederation Life Gallery of Canadian History - have given most Canadians their idea of what famous Canadian people and events looked like.

Champlain Ascending the Ottawa, 1613 - JD Kelly
Orig. plate - Image Size - 23 cm
Found - Eugene, OR

Insight Canada

Champlain was the first white man to actually explore what is today Ontario.

He had set up a permanent French colony at Quebec City in 1608.

Five years later, he wanted to see what was over the next hill, and set out up the Ottawa to explore the wilderness of Ontario, and to bring civilization to the Hurons who lived there.

To help out, he brought the priests and the Iroquois. It turned out that the first robbed them of their souls, the second of their lives. The Hurons practically died out as a people. In desperation many followed Champlain back to Quebec for safety.

But Champlain did leave his statue behind in Orillia.

The Essential Kelly Many Canadian artists revelled in capturing the Canadian wilderness, and rarely put in people, and when they did, made them very small.

JD Kelly loved painting the romance of Canadian history. To him the people and the historic past were what made Canada the country that he revelled in.

Along with late nineteenth and early 20th century contemporaries, CW Jefferys and AH Hider, he painted some of the most memorable pictures of Canadian history.

This expedition in 1613 - when it still had high hopes for success - is what Kelly has focused on in this painting.

Heritage Update

Sadly, today this is how you find many of the heritage lithos that once were prized in Canadian homes a century ago, and honoured with magnificent frames, now only a shadow of their gloried past.

Today, many are simply trashed; others - like this one - simple await their fate - breathlessly - in antique stores, to see if they get a reprieve from a buyer interested in restoring them to their former glory.

Judging from the frame and the old wavy glass, this one had its heyday in the Boer War era, at the end of the 19th century.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous Kelly, showing his mastery at capturing period figures in authentic detail. The officer - head bandaged from a battle wound - is spreading the alarm, and echoing a timeless warning about the benefits of approaching American civilization.

"The Americans have landed and are shooting in every direction. We are calling every patriot to help defend our homes. Americans are everywhere, shouting that they are spreading Freedom, but it looks more like Death and Destruction from where I sit. Sir, American Freedom is not something I relish, if we must be corpses from American guns and bombs to enjoy it!"


The Trooper's Warning - JD Kelly (detail)
Orig. lithograph - Size - 14" x 16"
Found - Toronto, ON
Signed JDK

The War of 1812: While the British were fighting Napoleon in Europe, war broke out with the Americans, who resented British actions at sea which they claimed violated US rights.

The Americans invaded Canada - which was a British colony - on the Niagara frontier. Canadians panicked; the militia, a volunteer group of Canadian part time soldiers, rallied under a British General, Isaac Brock, to help throw back the invaders. Bloody battles occurred all along the Niagara frontier.

In 1813, an American fleet appeared off the town of York (today's Toronto) and made a landing, with the intent of sacking the capital of the colony.

While retreating, the British exploded the powder magazine at Fort York, killing many Americans including General Zebulon Pike, the American commander-in-chief. The Americans burned the Parliament buildings and looted the town before leaving.

JD Kelly - 1862-1958 - 1

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Great Canadian Heritage Treasure The Canadian Militia: In 1889 when Kelly painted the master for the litho, left, there was a declining need for an army to defend Canada against a foreign foe. The last conflict had been the Riel Rebellion and that only involved a few hundred Indians and Métis in the remote far west. No one was threatening the heartland of the country.

Canada was now increasingly good friends with the Americans, against whose armed invasions in the past, all the fortifications along the border had been built. In fact Sir Wilfrid Laurier now actually counted on the Americans to protect Canada in case someone did attack.

But the Militia, a locally raised group of volunteers, belonging to different regiments, paraded and was emerging as the "timber" from which the new permanent Canadian army was to be built.

The Canadian Militia, 1889 - JD Kelly
Orig. lithograph 1889 - Size - 14" x 28"
Found - Toronto, ON

Signed JDK, Issued by the Christmas Globe 1889
A painting commissioned by the Globe and issued with the Christmas Edition in 1889. This print was commissioned in 1889 to show that men love to get dressed up, and strut about, as much as women. The Boer War was ten years away. Many would get a chance to show their mettle as fighting soldiers. The Minister of Militia and Defence, Frederick Borden was keen to try the men of the Canadian Militia under battle conditions. When war did come, new Canadian infantry and mounted units were specially created, and peopled with men from many of the Militia units.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure The Quebec Tercentenary: In 1908, six years after the end of the Boer War, Canada celebrated the three hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Dominion, by Champlain at Quebec, in 1608.

A huge military pageant was held on the exact battlefield of the Plains of Abraham where Wolfe had defeated Montcalm and captured Canada for the British in 1759.

JD Kelly and AH Hider collaborated on this magnificent litho to capture the occasion with all its pomp and ceremony. Hider probably painted the horses - his specialty - and Kelly did the rest.


The Quebec Tercentenary, 1908 - JD Kelly & AH Hider
Orig. lithograph - Image Size - 38 x 75
Found - Clappison's Corners, ON
Signed JD Kelly & AH Hider

Taking the salute, as the Canadian army marches past, is the Prince of Wales, who will be crowned George V, barely two years later. Standing behind, in frock coats are Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Lord Strathcona.

In 2008 the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec will be held but it will never rival the phenomenal military displays and historical pageants that were held in 1908.

Or produce one of Canada's most popular lithographs of all time. One that can still be found hanging in Canadian homes a full hundred years later. Not as an original oil or watercolour with a signature, but as a print, no less... A rare testimonial to a great pair of Canada's finest artists of all time.

Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. - 1996, 1999, 2005


I am a relative of J.D. Kelly’s and grew up listening to stories from my mom (who was his great-niece) about his visits to them.  We also have pictures of him and his sister, Annie Kelly, sitting on the porch at the farm.  We were always immersed in his artwork and grew up with that heritage.  I also remember seeing his work in my history books at school.

I just wanted to say “Thank you” for your website and it has been wonderful going through everything (a lot that I grew up with and some that I’ve never seen before).

To have access to that in one place has been wonderful.

Thank you.  (I just wish my mother was alive to be able to see this website).