Allandale meets the Group of Seven

by John Trott


Anyone rambling through Allandale should stroll up Bayview Avenue and take a right at the first turning.  Mature trees shade sturdy two storey brick houses of another era. The avenue ends at Innisfil Street with Shear Park on the left.  The street is called Holgate and the name may remind art lovers of Edwin Holgate.

Holgate – draftsman, portraitist, landscape and figure painter, word engraver, war artist and educator was born in Allandale and  became a member of Canada’s Group of Seven in 1929.  He began his art studies in Montreal and continued his work in Paris in 1912.  An admirer of Cezanne’s solid structure and strong colour, his travels took him to Japan and the Ukraine.  With the outbreak of WWI, he enlisted in the Fourth Canadian Division and served until 1919.

After the war, he returned to Montreal and helped to form a group  of young artists into the famous Beaver Hall Group.  His first exhibition was in 1922 at the Arts Club of Montreal and during the EHolgate1920’s he joined his friend A.Y. Jackson in painting excursions in Quebec and British Columbia. From 1928 -1934 he taught wood engraving at Montreal’s Ecole des Beaux Arts.  In 1929 he was invited to join the Group of Seven and participate in their exhibitions.

In the 1930’s Holgate gained national attention with a series of female nudes posed in natural landscapes.  The foreground figures were almost like sculptures while the background captured the natural Canadian wilderness.  These paintings, Nude in a Landscape 1929, Nude in the Open 1930 – broke with tradition and provided a model for future generations.  He continued his love for nature in works such as The Naturalist and Laurentian Lake 1935; but, his focus on portraits – Ludivine 1930 – brought him new acclaim and success.  In 1935, he was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

During WWII he served as a wartime artist in England and after the war moved to England and after that to the Laurentians where he reveled in nature and his landscape paintings.  In 1975 the National Gallery held a retrospective showing of his works.  Another retrospective was organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2005 and the show was also exhibited at the McMichael Gallery in the summer of 2006.

90WilliamSurely and artistic life filled with such creative works and national acceptance was worthy of commemoration through a street name in his birthplace. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that the naming was in honour of his father, Henry Holgate, a civil engineer with the Northern Railroad, who had purchased land from James Burton.  Henry built a house at 90 William Street where Edwin was born on August 9, 1892.

Nonetheless, this shouldn’t prevent present day walkers from remembering his son’s contribution to Canadian Art.  So, on your next stroll down that shady street, think of the other Holgate,- Edwin.

Learn more and see samples of his art in the National Gallery and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.