The test of time

Pair of WAG exhibitions commemorate, examine city's foundations


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Few organizations in the city have been around as long as the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Winnipeg Foundation.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/05/2021 (582 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Few organizations in the city have been around as long as the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Winnipeg Foundation.

So it’s natural when the foundation celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, the gallery would mark the occasion with an exhibition.

The Alloways’ Gift is a collection of photographs, paintings of Winnipeg dating back as far back as 1890 and historical documents from the foundation’s archives. It also profiles the couple that laid the cornerstone of Canada’s first community foundation.

Collection of Oseredok, the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre (Ivan Bobersky Collection) Ivan Bobersky’s 1926 photograph Immigrants Arriving at Railway Station

They were William and Elizabeth Alloway, and it was his $100,000 donation on June 6, 1921 — a blown-up photograph of that historic cheque is front-and-centre in the exhibition — that got the ball rolling. The foundation in 2020 received more than $187 million in donations and disbursed more than $73 million to the community, including to many arts groups hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The show is more than just a pat on the back for a century’s worth of good deeds.

Stephen Borys, the gallery’s director and chief executive officer, suggested the second exhibition to Rick Frost, who prior to his retirement on April 26 had been the CEO of the Winnipeg Foundation for more than 20 years. It’s an Indigenous response to the foundation’s exhibit, and Frost welcomed it.

“We must also recognize some of the more troubling aspects of the society in which the foundation was created; by doing so, we can work together to build an equitable future for all,” Frost said in a statement released along with the exhibition’s opening.

That is addressed in The Alloways’ Gift with a small panel that mentions the history of Métis scrip, certificates or vouchers given to Métis in Western Canada in exchange for their land rights. It says William Alloway and Peter Lowe, the foundation’s first executive director, had used “execrable means” to obtain scrip, which was then used to obtain land that could be sold to settlers.

Collection of Oseredok, the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre (Ivan Bobersky Collection) Ivan Bobersky’s photograph Back Alley, Hargrave Street and Donald Street, from the 1920s, is part of The Alloways’ Gift at the WAG.

A second show, titled Rosalie Favell’s Family Legacy by Winnipeg-born Métis artist Rosalie Favell, contrasts with The Alloways’ Gift, and the two shows provide a look back at Winnipeg’s history from differing perspectives: the growth of and evolution of a city built by settlers at a longtime meeting place for Indigenous people and the growth and evolution of a Métis family within that city.

‘I’m not sure how much my relatives or any other Métis relatives were aware of the implications when the banking people or land speculators came along and said, ‘Here we’ll give you cash for those certificates,’ and that’s how they lost their land,” says Favell, who has traced her family tree back to the 1700s, when her ancestor, John Favel, a British employee with the Hudson’s Bay Company, came to Winnipeg.

“I guess it pushed some buttons but it also brought further awareness for me. I think it’s a good conversation between the different realities that were going on: his lifestyle and his love of Winnipeg and commitment to it and I think my work talks about a different love of Winnipeg and commitment to it.”

The Alloways’ Gift includes a number of black-and-white photographs on loan from the Manitoba Archives and the Ivan Bobersky Collection held by the Oseredok Ukrainian and Cultural Education Centre. Many of the downtown landmarks Bobersky photographed in 1920 remain and show how much Winnipeg has changed around the buildings that have stood the test of time.

Favell uses contemporary scenes of Winnipeg and Manitoba to provide backgrounds of her grandmother’s holiday photographs from the 1950s and ‘60s that her family have preserved. She died in 1976 at 80 years old.

Rosalie Favell’s print, Holding Her Ground.

“Postcards people would send back home, unlike text messages. People would go on trips and quite often they’d write and say ‘Hi’ and ‘Wish you were here,’” says Favell of the series of photos, titled Wish You Were Here. “The sentiment of the postcard is also my sentiment for my grandmother, ‘I really wish you were here.’ She passed away when I was 18, so my actual memories of her are from a young person.

“When I had by great-nephews there the other day, they never knew her but I can show them her strength and resilience in the series of portraits.”

Visitors should also linger around her large 2021 photo Walking Through Time, which uses a lenticular printing process that creates several images in one.

Favell’s parents are holding hands at the centre of the photograph, while there are other images such as her grandparents, printing from Métis scrip and illustrations of DNA genome sequencing that can be seen and then vanish, depending on which angle the picture is viewed.

The special paper had to be shipped from China, and pandemic-related supply-chain delays meant Walking Through Time was printed mere days before it was hung at the WAG.

William Notman’s albumen print of Main Street is circa 1888. Acquired with funds from the Photography Endowment of The Winnipeg Art Gallery Foundation Inc. (Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery)

“Not really knowing how it was going to flip as you walked by, I could sort of imagine,” Favell says of the growing concern about the photographic paper shipment. “The printing was rushed; the concept, I’ve been working for the past year on it.”


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Skaters behind the Legislative Building in 1921. (Collection of the Archives of Manitoba)
D. Macdonald’s oil painting of Winnipeg’s Main Street, 1882. (D. Macdonald / Permanent loan to the WAG Collection from the City of Winnipeg)
Alan Small

Alan Small

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.


Updated on Monday, May 3, 2021 9:18 AM CDT: Fixes typo

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