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The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the November 23, 2016 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Under-recognized painter captured the Hills’ beauty

By Mary Fahey

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Everyone living in the Gatineau Hills can attest to the natural beauty of this corner of Canada. The valleys, the hills, the winding rivers – vistas like these would attract even the staunchest city slicker. And that beauty acts as a magnet to the artistically inclined among us.

Florence McGillivray, a talented – if under-recognized – Canadian painter of the early 20th century who grew up in Whitby, Ontario spent a large portion of her career capturing the unique beauty of the Gatineau Hills. Bill Allen, a Toronto semi-retiree who has been researching McGillivray’s life and art, has pinpointed the locations of paintings from the 1920s that render local landmarks in McGillivray’s quintessentially Canadian style.

“She loved Wakefield and she loved to paint there,” said Allen. “The people and the places of Gatineau warmed her heart. She felt comfortable because she grew up as a Canadian pioneer on a farm. The Gatineau Valley is a special place in the world and a special place in Canada.”

McGillivray’s is not a name that springs to mind when considering great Canadian painters. David Milne, Bill Reid, the Group of Seven – these are the celebrities, whose work is featured in galleries across the country. But Allen said McGillivray likely influenced the work of some notable artists – Tom Thomson sought advice from her early in his career

Now, Allen wants the underrecognized painter who helped shape an era of Canadian art to finally get the treatment she deserves.

“I want to tell her story, because I think she’s a pretty miraculous woman… She travelled the world, she was a free spirit, she painted landscapes wherever she went,” said Allen. “Today, she’s completely forgotten.”

Allen fell into his fixation on the artist after discovering a family connection. He was digging into the family tree when he found out his wife was related to a pioneering Canadian painter. That set him off on the journey he’s on now. He spent five years researching and putting together a coffee-table book on McGillivray’s work called ‘A Collection of Works by Florence Helena McGillivray’. That book was published in July, but Allen isn’t finished yet; now, he’s taking all the information he couldn’t fit into his last book and writing a biography.

Allen doesn’t have a background in art history – he ran the family construction company at the beginning of his career and ran a film company for some years – but the more research he did, the deeper he fell into McGillivray’s story. Now, he’s one of the only people researching McGillivray, and he hopes his research will put the painter back on the map. “There were women painters who were amazing…but all we ever hear about is the Group of Seven, and these Canadian men of the wilderness,” said Allen. “[McGillivray] was a woman who cared about art...and I think she cared about enlightenment through art.”

‘A Collection of Works by Florence Helena McGillivray’ is available for $120 through the Gatineau Valley Historical Society or by emailing Allen directly at wca55@sympatico.ca.

Works by Florence Helena McGillivray
Works by Florence Helena McGillivray
The St. Andrew’s United Wakefield church on Riverside Dr. was the subject of one of Florence McGillivray’s paintings, “Church on Sunday”. McGillivray completed many paintings of idyllic scenes in the Gatineau Hills during the 1920s when she moved to Ottawa. Photos courtesy Bill Allen.
Works by Florence Helena McGillivray
Works by Florence Helena McGillivray
Bill Allen found this untitled painting of the Gatineau River from a vantage point in Wakefield during his travels to pinpoint the locations of Florence McGillivray’s paintings. Florence travelled the world, said Allen, and painted landscapes everywhere she went. Photos courtesy Bill Allen.