Kelly Page 2C.3

Great Canadian Art & Artists

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
John Cabot Raising the English Flag on Cape Breton Island, 1497 - JD Kelly
Orig. Personal Artist's Proof - Size - 36 x 44 cms
Found - Aberfoyle, ON
Titled in JD Kelly's hand, Original printer registration marks, Prov - JD Kelly friend collection

Cabot & Kelly: One of Canada's most well-known historical images came from the brush of JD Kelly, who has enshrined into history one of the abiding myths repeated by generations of school teachers - that John Cabot was the first European to discover Mainland North America and Newfoundland in 1497.

Mamma Mia! So the story goes, the first words a European ever spoke in North America were Italian. Giovanni Caboto was actually an Italian from Venice, doing exploration work for British King Henry VII, who set Canada firmly on the way to a multicultural heritage.

Actually he was following a route to a part of the New World that had been visited by numerous anonymous fishermen for decades before, from Bristol in Britain, and Spain and Portugal as well.

His discovering voyage is probably on a par with today's so-called polar adventurers, who go by ski or dog team to discover the Poles, North and South, backed up by sat phones, Twin Otters, and the best weather forecasts and top maps that money can buy. And instant rescue should your phone batteries die out or you run out of freeze dried food.

But then again, probably those nasty Norsemen had been here long before, say around 1000 AD, at L'Anse aux Meadows, looking for new places to rape and pillage, so perhaps Norwegian was probably the founding European language of Canada.

But all this anonymous stuff of people and dates is hard to teach school children. So let's just put a name and a date - John Cabot 1497 - to the glorious event celebrated by Canada's Aboriginal Peoples ever since, the arrival of the first white man, and all the blessings he brought.

And no one could beat JD Kelly at making the event look super rosy.

JD Kelly - 1862-1958 - 3

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Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Pierre de la Vérendrye on the Upper St. Maurice River, 1725 - JD Kelly
Orig. Personal Artist's Proof - Size - 36 x 44 cms
Found - Aberfoyle, ON
Titled , Annotated - Proof 2, Virendrye, etc., verso, 1934 Bank of Commerce Calendar - all in JD Kelly's hand, Original printer registration marks, Prov - JD Kelly friend collection

The Hand of Kelly: JD's hand was as powerful in portraying French-Canadian history, in his paintings, as he was shaky in grasping the nuances of Gallic spelling. Did Pierre spell his last name with an "i" and a dot - the way it sounds - or with an "e" with a grave? JD did it both ways, just to be sure, both wrong of course. But then these were just his scribbled private notes; no one would ever see them...

Pierre de la Vérendrye was a French-Canadian patriarch of a family of coureurs-de-bois in the early 1700s, when French Canadians were the most wide-ranging and enterprising explorers in North America.

Pierre had been born in Trois Rivières, Quebec, in 1685, and joined the army when he grew up, then left to work in the fur trade.

But he was a man who liked living on the edge, always moving across the borders of where French civilization stopped and that of the Indians began. He wanted to find a way to the Great Western Sea that apparently lay beyond the seemingly impenetrable Rocky Mountains.

In the early 1700s he built trading posts at Lake Nipigon, Rainy Lake, Lake of the Woods, and Lake Winnipeg. He and his sons were probably the first white men to see the waters of Lake Winnipeg, and the Red and Saskatchewan Rivers.

But cash flow problems and jittery backers made him return to Quebec.

His adventurous sons continued the push west; in 1743 they became the first white men to see the Rocky Mountains.

In 1934, the Bank of Commerce commissioned JD to paint a picture, celebrating this Great Canadian Explorer, for its annual calendar. To remember for whom he painted the picture he wrote the details on the back of his personal AP.

"Allo Gaston!" JD's magnificent print features Pierre surveying the scene as his men reload their canoe after portaging around a waterfalls, while a rival fur trader does the same on the opposite shore. As usual all JD's figures are doing something, lighting a pipe, holding the fragile canoe off the rocky shore with a paddle, packing up, or calling out to a friend on the opposite shore.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Mackenzie's First Glimpse of the Pacific, 1792 - JD Kelly
Orig. Personal Artist's Proof - Size - 36 x 44 cms
Found - Aberfoyle, ON
Titled in JD Kelly's hand, Original printer registration marks, Prov - JD Kelly friend collection

Alexander Mackenzie would achieve what the La Vérendryes always hoped that they would - be the first white people to cross the northern continent and see the Great Sea that was supposed to lie beyond the western mountains, which they were the first white men to see in 1743.

Then came the Seven Years War, when the British took over French Canada, in 1759. And Alexander Mackenzie...

He became a fur trader for the North West Company out of Montreal, and was in charge of the area in northern Alberta, centred on his headquarters on Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabaska.

In 1789, this tough and adventurous Scot, followed the river that would bear his name, the Mackenzie, to the Arctic Ocean. It was the wrong sea for him - full of ice - and he returned disappointed.

In 1792-3, he got it right, crossing the mountains and going down the Fraser River to be the first white man to make an overland crossing of the northern continent and glimpse the Wester Sea. George III knighted him in 1802.

Mackenzie's feat had so enthralled US President Thomas Jefferson, that after reading Mackenzie's book on the trip, he decided to send off the American expedition of Lewis and Clark. They repeated Mackenzie's celebrated crossing of the continent a bit further south in 1805.

JD Kelly depicts the magic of this historic moment in a painting now owned by the Toronto Art Gallery. The print was published by the Bank of Toronto. (It had been founded in 1857, and merged with the Dominion Bank in 1955 to become the Toronto-Dominion Bank.)

Fellow painter CW Jefferys also painted his version of the event in a painting that is even more well known than JD's.

Accompanying JD's print was a card in his handwriting explaining the history of the original painting and the print made from it. Under the carefully taped section are the words "three photographs" that JD once also kept as a record but have long ago disappeared.

The "glimps" as JD wrote it, was not, as he notes above, in 1792, when Mackenzie started his expedition, but occured in May of 1793. Canada's master painter was not her best speller.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Fur Traders of the West, JD Kelly
Orig. Personal Artist's Proof - Size - 36 x 44 cms
Found - Aberfoyle, ON
Title, Proof, & Signed in JD Kelly's hand, Original printer registration marks, Prov - JD Kelly friend collection

Simply Fabulous: Labeled "Proof," titled, and signed in JD Kelly's own hand, denote another precious historic document.

Horse Sense: JD thought horses were not his strong suit, but Canadian history was full of them. He usually called fellow artist Art Hider when he needed major horse compositions for a work. Or he would creatively minimize them in his paintings.

Here he has covered one with the other, but still brought out his love for them by featuring its inquisitive head right at the focus of interest in the picture. He covers up the other with a fur trader and a third he has approaching in the background.

Below, kept together with his artist's proof was this printed obverse of a 1934 Bank of Commerce calendar, for which this painting was made. He apparently noted that his name was not printed underneath, so he added, one can imagine, somewhat crossly, "by JDK" and then proudly, "used as calendar Bank of Commerce."

Great Canadian Heritage Site

The Thompson River, near Spences Bridge, in southern British Columbia, was named after the great explorer who came through here during his great exploration period from 1806-1812, when he mapped large parts of Montana, Idaho, Washington, and British Columbia. He was determined to find a route through the mountains to the Pacific that was usable for trade, which Alexander Mackenzie's route was not.

Following in the paths of the great fur traders, who once used the river's easy passage through the mountains, are the tracks of the Canadian Pacific & CN Railways, and the Trans Canada Highway, which snake along its banks.

Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. - 1996, 1999, 2005

The Caring Artist's Hand: JD Kelly was no wastrel. Somehow his print got a long knife slash in the corner. Instead of throwing it out, JD patched it on the back. After all, this was Proof 2, and probably the final one he approved before it went to the presses. The patch was not "acid free" so over the last 70 years the acidic fumes have seeped through and lightly stained the sides of the cut.

But it's easy to see why JD didn't throw out the print. This master copy of Proof 2 looks fabulous!