RMG 50

Memories, shared stories and laughter warmed a cold winter’s night at RMG Rewind, as the Robert McLaughlin Gallery continued to celebrate its 50th birthday.

On Thursday, Feb. 16, a group of gallery friends and present and former staff hit the Rewind button to remember the half-century of history of the RMG.

16837728_10154130359785706_652184353_nThe intimate event was held in the Isabel McLaughlin Gallery, transformed into a cozy living room with comfortable chairs, sofas and ottomans, against a stunning backdrop of works by local artists.

People shared their memories of the RMG in what CEO Donna Raetsen-Kemp described as “a casual evening of sharing stories.” There were laughs, many nods of agreement and even some surprises throughout the evening.

Elizabeth Sweeney, manager of public programs, got things started with a brief history of the RMG. The regional gallery, which contains the largest collection of the Painters 11 in Canada, had humble beginnings in 1967 in a commercial space on Simcoe Street South, the site of an exhibit by local artists organized by Oshawa designer William Caldwell.

Donald Dodds, former member of the gallery board, practised law in the same building as Caldwell’s office.

“I can remember when he decided that something should be done about an art gallery in Oshawa,” he said.

He added Caldwell shut down his office for months in order to work on creating the first gallery.

“It was really, really a dear little gallery.”

The artistic enterprise got the support of artist Alexandra Luke and her husband, Ewart McLaughlin, grandson of Robert McLaughlin, founder of the McLaughlin Carriage Works.

The original gallery was built on the side of the Oshawa Creek, set back between City Hall and the McLaughlin branch of Oshawa Public Libraries, in 1969 and named for Robert McLaughlin.

Local artist and long-time volunteer Jane Dixon said Caldwell had gone into the Art Gallery of Ontario for advice on building a gallery in Oshawa. He was told the best way of doing this was from the top down, not the bottom up as the Oshawa group was doing, she said. They ignored this.

“They were real pioneers and fought for something they believed in,” she said.

Noted Canadian architect, Arthur Erickson, expanded the building in 1987 with a design that “enveloped” the original building, the RMG’s Senior curator, Linda Jansma said.

Sweeney talked about “the two key women” in the RMG’s development, Luke, a member of the Painters Eleven, and Isabel McLaughlin, a modernist artist and daughter of Robert’s son, R.S. “Col. Sam” McLaughlin. Both artists provided support in terms of funds and donations of art from their private collections.

The gallery took its cue from Luke and built its permanent collection around abstract art.

Jansma remembered visiting the gallery when she was an art history student. She was doing a paper on the Painters 11 and wanted to photograph the art. The preparator at the time obliged “and took them out and put them in the backyard so I could photograph them.”

16923984_10154130358405706_18791538_nArtist Sean McQuay, who worked at the gallery as associate installer and evening security guard after high school, remembers a Painters Eleven artist attending to help install his works for a major exhibit but being dissatisfied with the results.

The artist came back the next day with his oil paints and “fixed” his paintings, McQuay said.

“Joan (Murray, director at the time) didn’t know what to do. We were shocked. By the time he left, he had altered them,” McQuay said.

Dedicated volunteers helped the RMG, said Dixon. She spoke of the “many, many schemes” the volunteers came up with to raise funds, including Art Mart, a popular arts and crafts sale, fashion shows, auctions and lunches.

“We all became good friends, the volunteers.”

Volunteers continue to help support the RMG, providing thousands of hours of service and running the Gift Shop.

Those attending RMG Rewind also ventured into the dark side, watching a film about reports of ghosts in the gallery.

“The place is haunted,” McQuay said.

While he worked in the original building, he refrained from using one staircase on his security rounds because “I’m positive there was a spirit in the corner.”

On that note, Gordon Dowsley said a group came to the board about 10 years ago, explaining the feng shui of the gallery “was out of whack.” The group suggested jacking up the building and rotating it 90 degrees, he said.

“They couldn’t understand the directors’ reluctance to jack the building up and rotate it,” he said to laughter.

Over the years, the RMG has grown to include a permanent collection of more than 4,500 works, with changing contemporary and historic exhibits in five galleries, a collection of historic photographs of Oshawa and area, an education program and popular cultural events such as RMG Fridays.

Join us on June 25th as we celebrate the gallery’s 50th birthday at our Strawberry Social Birthday Party. Stay tuned for event details!

Christy Chase is a long-time resident of Oshawa, a writer, and former reporter and editor with local newspapers. She now enjoys exploring her artistic side at the RMG.

Art Lights My Fire – what exhibiting artists think of artmaking

In preparation of Durham Reach, we asked exhibiting artists to submit quotes that inspire them, resonate with them, or get their creative juices flowing. Here’s what we got back:


Ingrid Ruthig
“From fragments, we continue to rebuild the story of ourselves.”
“Imagine us in this incomplete story with the unknowable end.”
“Each generation should ask, What will you know of us?”

Jay Dart
“Take time fer ponderin’
and keep on wanderin’.

While the ponderers ponder
and the wonderers wonder,
the wanderers wander
and the plunderers plunder.”

Laura M. Hair
“Boundaries fade, dimensions alter and identities merge”

Edward Falkenberg
“Art Lights My Fire”
(A riff on the song from the 80’s Baby you Light my Fire.)

Karolina Baker
“When themes start showing up in artwork, take note…artists are like canaries in the coal mines.”
“Art that creates a conversation of any sort has served its purpose”

Olexander Wlasenko
“We see images through images we’ve already seen.”

Ruth Latimer
“When making art, always be a beginner.”

Jay McCarten
“I am continually humbled by nature”
“Nature is bigger than our human experience ”
“Within a seemingly indiscriminate collision of forms, a long established and powerful system of order emerges.”

Dani Crosby
“Evidence of the invisible.”

Judith Tinkl
TRA TAR RAT – you have to look!
tra tar rat – you have to look!

Jeff Morrison
“If inspiration is water, pray for rain”

Wes Peel
“Simply make meaning of the world in which you live.”
“Art is fuelled by both aspirations of grandeur and the mundane details of life.”

Sean McQuay
“If you walk around and around in circles, you circle and circle around.”
“I equate art making to hill walking; the more vigorous the climb the more rewarding the view.”
“If you don’t know what it is it must be art”.

Photos worth more than 1000 words – The Thomas Bouckley Collection

By: Raechel Bonomo

There is a rich sense of history behind the photographs in the Thomas Bouckley Collection. Each work freezes a moment in time that captures the unique history of Oshawa and how the city is constantly changing.

vintage photo

Cedar Dale Hockey Team, c. 1925

From historic buildings to events that shaped Oshawa, this collection comprises of photographs taken by Bouckley, photos from his father’s collection and found photographs, in addition in recent years there has been many donations from the community to the Thomas Bouckley Collection. Like Bouckley himself, they all wanted to preserve this history and by contributing their personal photographs they’ve done just that.

Thomas Llewellyn Bouckley was born in Blackpool, England, in 1904 to Aubrey Llewellyn (Mike) Bouckley and Elizabeth Moss, Thomas Bouckley came to Oshawa with his family as an infant. The Bouckley’s immersed themselves in the history of their new home, specifically the in the oral history of Oshawa. Thomas Bouckley began to develop an extensive level of expertise about Oshawa and the surrounding area and was an early member of the Oshawa Historical Society.

This reputation led Bouckley into assisting historian Leslie Frost in uncovering Oshawa’s connection with the Scugog Carrying Place.

The Scugog Carrying Place was a set of paths used by Aboriginal peoples and early settlers to travel around Durham Region. These paths are considered to be the foundation for Oshawa and neighbouring cities and towns.

Bouckley speculated a French trading post where Benjamin Wilson, the first known settler in Oshawa, resided in was actually Cabane de Plomb, a known part of the Scugog Carrying Place. This post was located 150 yards east from Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery in what is now known as Whitby.

Rum Running During Prohibition, 1920

Rum Running During Prohibition, The Thomas Bouckley Collection, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery

Through the power of oral history and photography, Bouckley continued to help tell the story of Oshawa. Like his father, he began photographing Oshawa in order to preserve the city he knew and loved. This passion for history and storytelling is what lead to what we now know as the Thomas Bouckley Collection.

Originating from Bouckley’s deep admiration for his father’s photographs depicting scenes, people and infrastructure from Oshawa’s past this array of work has grown from telling one man’s story to telling an entire city’s.

The Thomas Bouckley Collection was gifted to the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in 1985, three years before Bouckley’s death at age 84, and sits at more than 4000 photographs. The RMG continues to tell Bouckley’s account of Oshawa then to now and maintains his legacy by collecting images from the city’s bustling past. From WWI to the opening of the beloved Wilson Furniture, which is still in business today, each photo in Bouckley’s collection tells well over it’s 1000 words worth of history.

Raechel Bonomo is a writer and Oshawa-native. As a journalism-grad, Raechel looks to tell stories in various forms about various topics. Her lifelong love affair with art fuels her freelance writing but, by day, she works as the editorial coordinator for a conservation organization.

In her free time, she can be found either wielding a paintbrush or trekking through the unbeaten path in a forest somewhere in southern Ontario.