WHEN the Winnipeg office of Power Corp. received a 5.5-metre-long painting by Canadian artist William Kurelek a number of years ago, it didn’t take long to figure out it wouldn’t fit in the elevator.
Carrying the piece, called Smoothly fleet, they swept the long savannas of blue, up 26 flights of stairs in the Richardson Building wasn’t an option, so the staff went to Plan B — hooking it up to the bottom of the elevator and carefully extricating it when it got to the right floor.
Jim Burns, director emeritus of the Montreal-based company, which owns Great-West Lifeco and Investors Group in Winnipeg, is a big fan of the painting, which features a western Canadian landscape and was completed in 1968. "That’s a fabulous piece. The only market for it would be another company. Where the hell are you going to hang it?
"Do you know anybody’s house that’s big enough? In the hallway?" he said with a laugh.
Burns, who was inducted into Junior Achievement of Manitoba’s Business Hall of Fame last month, is very proud of the paintings and sculptures in every room of the company’s immaculate office. Every piece came from the company’s head office in Montreal, where late CEO Paul Desmarais Sr. was an avid collector.
Also in the boardroom is an 89-yearold painting by Group of Seven member Lionel Lemoine Fitzgerald, called Evening on the Assiniboine River.
Red Rock and Snow, a 1927 painting from Frederick H. Varley, the founding member of the Group of Seven, is in the conference room.
Other renowned artists whose works are in the Power collection include William Brymner, John Hammond, S.E. Hodgson, Otto Reinhold Jacobi, George Horne Russell and Henry Sandham.
The many sculptures were created by the likes of Henri Bouchard, Louis-Philippe Hébert, Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté and Carl Kauba.
Burns jokingly refers to it as "the best art collection in Winnipeg." It hasn’t been seen by many people, but some representatives from the Winnipeg Art Gallery are among the lucky few.
Dr. Stephen Borys, CEO of the WAG, said Power Corp. has one of the finest collections of Canadian art of all companies across the country.
"The corporation’s acquisition of works by celebrated Canadian artists has aimed to trace the development and reflect the quality and diversity of Canadian art from 1800 to 1970. It’s exceptional," he said.
Amid the many millions of dollars worth of paintings and sculptures, there is one piece of modern art that stands out in the Power library — an autographed skateboard. It was given to Burns in recognition of his sponsoring the skateboard park at The Forks.
He said he goes by periodically to check things out.
"It’s always busy. The police love it. Now they’ll say to kids skateboarding downtown, ‘Pick up the board and go to The Forks. If we see you again, we’re taking away your board,’ " he said.