The scaffolding is up inside St. Anne’s Church in west Toronto to allow art conservators to evaluate the damage done to valuable paintings, by members of the Group of Seven, on the walls of the church. Meanwhile outside, workers have begun fixing the leaking roof that threatened the art.
Work is progressing quickly at the historic Toronto parish thanks to a $400,000 federal government grant from Parks Canada’s heritage site program. The grant money must be spent by March 31, because it is part of the budget for fiscal year 1998-99. When the church learned in January that its grant request had been successful, restoration efforts kicked into high gear.
Though the grant doesn’t solve all the restoration challenges facing the Toronto church, it does address immediate needs, said Rev. Peter Orme, rector of St. Anne’s.
The rushed timetable means roofers will have to contend with winter weather, but Mr. Orme was counting on Toronto’s mild February weather extending into March.
Inside, the scaffolding is providing a way for experts to get close to the paintings to assess the damage caused by leaking water. The paintings, in the Byzantine style, were created in the 1920s by Frederick Varley, J.E.H. Macdonald and Frank Carmichael, members of the Group of Seven. They are better known for their landscape paintings.
The church also contains paintings by other important artists, including H.S. Palmer, H.S. Stansfield, Arthur Martin, Neil MacKechnie and Thoreau MacDonald, and plaster reliefs by sculptors Francis Loring and Florence Wyle.
Secretary of State Andy Mitchell formally announced the grant at a news conference at the church. “It is crucial that Parks Canada steps in to help save this valuable part of our national heritage. We must ensure that the artwork in this church is preserved for the enjoyment and inspiration of future generations.”
St. Anne’s, a national historic site, still faces up to $2 million in repairs to its buildings. The parish, which seats 1,000, has only 125 people on the parish rolls and must look outside for support.
News of the threat to Group of Seven paintings has drawn nationwide attention to the church’s efforts at restoration, and some high profile supporters, such as Allan Gotlieb, former Canadian ambassador to the United States.
A steering committee has been set up to consider fund-raising for further restoration, as well as setting up a permanent endowment. The recent grant was a particular boost, because unlike most government grants it did not require matching funds from the parish.
Bob Bettson is a Toronto-based freelance writer.