Art at Queen's Park: The Macdonald Block Title Banner

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A New Era for Government Art: The Macdonald Block Complex - Section Banner
The seat of Ontario's provincial government is located at Queen's Park in central Toronto. The decade between 1950 and 1960 was one of unprecedented growth for the Ontario Public Service. With an increase representing more than 120% during these years, over 30,000 employees had outgrown existing and leased offices spread throughout Toronto's downtown core.

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Photo: Leslie Frost, J. D. Millar (Deputy Minister of Public Works), Hon. Ray Connell (Minister of Public Works) and Premier Robarts viewing the model for the new construction at Queen's Park, April 12, 1962

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Leslie Frost, J. D. Millar (Deputy Minister of Public Works), Hon. Ray Connell (Minister of Public Works) and Premier Robarts viewing the model for the new construction at Queen’s Park, April 12, 1962
Reference Code: RG 65-35-1-7-D-0262
Archives of Ontario

Plans to address this trend began during the government of Leslie Frost (1949-1961) and culminated in April 1962 when then premier John Robarts announced a project to build the largest single office building ever undertaken in Toronto.

Occupying close to two city blocks, the new building would provide almost 900,000 square feet of new space. Located at the south-west corner of Bay and Wellesley streets, four towers (named after former premiers of the province: Hepburn, Ferguson, Hearst and Mowat) would be set at the corners of a two-storey central core, named to commemorate the province's first premier, John Sandfield Macdonald.

Responsibility for implementation of the project fell to Ontario's Department of Public Works (DPW) and on January 11, 1965, Premier Robarts and DPW Minister, Ray Connell performed the official groundbreaking ceremony.

Using high quality materials and adhering to an International aesthetic in architecture, the Macdonald Block's spacious two-storey lobbies and wide, marble-lined corridors, offered excellent potential for the installation of commissioned works of art.

Photo: Queen’s Park Project, Site Preparation for Sod Turning Ceremony, January 7, 1965

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Queen’s Park Project, Site Preparation for
Sod Turning Ceremony, January 7, 1965 (detail)
Reference Code: RG 42-89-1
Archives of Ontario

Photo: Artist’s Concept for new Queen’s Park, N.E. corner, with setting of landscaped grounds, reflecting pools, fountains and tree-lined walkways between buildings, 1965

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Artist’s Concept for new Queen’s Park, N.E. corner,
with setting of landscaped grounds,
reflecting pools, fountains and tree-lined
walkways between buildings, 1965 (detail)
Government of Ontario Art Collection,
Archives of Ontario

Recognizing that the building programme should address issues beyond the basic need for increased office space, the announcement to incorporate artworks into the complex and its proposed budget was made by the Minister early in 1963.

The importance of such an undertaking was further reiterated by the Premier in the Ontario Legislature immediately following the installation of the majority of the works.

Photo: Queen’s Park Project Site with steelwork for Hepburn Block and Macdonald Block foundation walls in foreground, October, 1965

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Queen’s Park Project Site with steelwork for
Hepburn Block and Macdonald Block foundation
walls in foreground, October, 1965
Reference Code: RG 42-89-1
Archives of Ontario

While the buildings of the Queen’s Park Complex, are of course, primarily utilitarian, the architects felt that decorative panels, works of art and several major pieces of sculpture would add interest to corridors, foyers and gardens, encourage recognition of the creative abilities of Canadian artists and craftsmen, and generally enhance the aesthetic aspects of these new facilities.

The Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (R.C.A.) was approached for advice on the acquisition and placement in the building of suitable works.

The Academy, founded in Canada in 1880 under the royal patronage of H.R.H. the Princess Louise and the Marquise of Lorne, then Governor-General of Canada, represented a solid tradition of established art making.

It suggested three individuals who would form an Art Consultant Committee; they were artists Cleeve Horne, R.C.A. (Chairman), Peter Haworth, R.C.A. and Clare Bice, R.C.A.

Almost a year was spent in gathering information and compiling details of artists and their work until, by March 24th 1966, the committee was ready to make its recommendations. In addition to providing location plans, it suggested that five major sculptural works be acquired through a competition limited to ten of Canada’s most prominent sculptors.

Also, that up to twelve minor sculptural pieces be purchased directly from younger up and coming Ontario artists.

Photo: Art Consultant Committee Members Cleeve Horne and Clare Bice with Sculptor, Gerald Gladstone, [ca. 1968]

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Art Consultant Committee Members
Cleeve Horne and Clare Bice with
Sculptor, Gerald Gladstone, [ca. 1968]
Government of Ontario Art Collection,
Archives of Ontario

Photo: Artist’s Concept for new Queen’s Park, interior of Macdonald Block Lobby, 1965

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Artist’s Concept for new Queen’s Park,
interior of Macdonald Block Lobby, 1965
Government of Ontario Art Collection,
Archives of Ontario

For the interior public spaces of the Macdonald Block’s central core, another twenty-five works, could be obtained through commission or competition from a selected group of artists.

Although the majority of the artworks were to be solicited from Ontario artists, it was also recommended that artists across Canada be approached in order to acquire the best possible work. (Unfortunately, the plan to acquire twelve smaller sculptures from the younger artists was dropped in early 1967).

The commissions for the decorative interior panels were awarded to artists working in a wide range of styles (from Jack Bush, Harold Town and Kazuo Nakamura to A. J. Casson and Alan Collier).

As well, there was an obvious attempt to present a diversity of materials including painted murals, textiles, stained glass, mosaic, ceramic, acrylic and metal. Regarded today, the total effect is one of great variety presented via a wide range of subtle and direct, representational and abstract works.

Of the ten artists invited to participate in the sculpture competition, eight submissions were received.

Five of these were selected by the committee: a two-piece bronze work by Quebec sculptor Louis Archambault for the Grosvenor Street entrance to the building; a smaller bronze by British Columbia resident Jack Harman for the area between the Macdonald and the older Whitney Block; Alfred Cox’s construction of metal and glass for the interior courtyard; Toronto artist Walter Yarwood’s bronze screen for the Wellesley Street entrance to the building, and Toronto sculptor Gerald Gladstone’s acrylic and steel sculpture for the main entrance to the complex off Bay Street.

Photo: Jack Harman supervises the placement of his sculpture, Mother and Child, 1968

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Jack Harman supervises the placement of
his sculpture, Mother and Child, 1968
Government of Ontario Art Collection,
Archives of Ontario

Photo: Hunter with Seal, Kanayook Paulosie’s soapstone maquette on which the larger work was based, 1967

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Hunter with Seal,
Paulosie Kanayook’s soapstone maquette on
which the larger work was based, 1967
Government of Ontario Art Collection,
Archives of Ontario

With the major sculptural pieces chosen, it was decided to pursue the commissioning of a sixth work, a sculpture by Inuit artist, Paulosie Kanayook.

Kanayook was from Povungnituk which lay on the shores of Hudson Bay in northern Quebec. His small soapstone carving, Hunter with Seal, had been obtained by the Art Consultant Committee and it was proposed that this be used as the model for a larger work.

Building delays frustrated the plans for the installation of the commissioned works, originally set for September of 1967. This work was finally accomplished the weekend of November 30, 1968 when all pieces, with the exception of one, were installed.

Premier Robarts rose in the House on December 5 to report on the conclusion of the project. Citing by name all of the artists, he also encouraged the members to see the works for themselves, "I hope, Mr. Speaker, that all the members will take some time to view the works. They are excellent examples of contemporary art in a variety of forms."

Photo: Contemporary View of the Macdonald Block Complex, Main Entrance at 900 Bay Street, Toronto, 2004

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Contemporary View of the Macdonald Block Complex, Main Entrance at 900 Bay Street, Toronto, 2004
Archives of Ontario

Photo: The Three Graces Fountain by Gerald Gladstone, 1972

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The Three Graces Fountain by
Gerald Gladstone, 1972, was the last work
to be installed and forms the focal point of
the courtyard at the corner of Bay Street
and Wellesley Street West, Toronto
Government of Ontario Art Collection,
Archives of Ontario

With the addition in 1972 of Gerald Gladstone’s sculpture fountain, The Three Graces, the final tally for the Macdonald Block project was thirty commissions made to twenty-nine artists at a cost of $382,473.

For the commitment it made to Canadian art and artists, and the variety of media it represents, it remains a precedent setting initiative. Although cancelled in 1995, the Art-in-Architecture Programme saw the addition of over 600 works of contemporary art to the Government of Ontario Art Collection spread throughout government buildings across the province.

Follow the Links Below to Tour the Artworks - Section Title

Go to Galaxy Series #2 '67 - Gerald Gladsone
Galaxy Series #2 '67
(detail)
Gerald Gladstone
1966-68

Go to Niagara Falls with a collection of famous daredevils - Tony Urquhart
Niagara Falls with a
collection of famous
daredevils
(detail)
Tony Urquhart
1968

Go to Blue Mosaic - Merton F. Chambers
Blue Mosaic

Merton F. Chambers
1966-68

Go to Man and Woman - Louis Archambault
Man and Woman
(detail)
Louis Archambault
1966-68

Go to Untitled - Harold Town
Untitled
(detail)
Harold Town
1968

Go to Untitled - A. J. Casson
Untitled
(detail)
A. J. Casson
1966-68

Go to Stratford - Donald Lewis
Stratford
(detail)
Donald Lewis
1968

Mining in Ontario - Alan Caswell
Mining in Ontario
(detail)
Alan Caswell Collier
1968

Province of Ontario - Sydney H. Watson
Province of Ontario
(detail)
Sydney H. Watson
1967

Go to Mother and Child - Jack Harman
Mother and Child
(detail)
Jack Harman
1968

Go to Untitled - Jordi Bonet
Untitled

Jordi Bonet
1966-68

Go to Pines - Walter Yarwood
Pines

Walter Yarwood
1968

Go to Untitled - Don Wallace
Untitled

Don Wallace
1966-68

Go to Untitled - Jack Bush
Untitled
(detail)
Jack Bush
1967

Go to Binary Spirit - Stephen Hobin
Binary Spirit

Stephen Hogbin
1979

Go to Days of the Year - Elford B. Cox
Days of the Year

Elford B. Cox
1968

Go to AB-1 - Micheline Beauchemin
AB-1
(detail)
Micheline Beauchemin
1968

Go to Two Horizons - Kazuo Nakamura
Two Horizons
(detail)
Kazuo Nakamura
1968

Go to Untitled - Gerald Trottier
Untitled
(detail)
Gerald Trottier
1968

Go to Untitled - Ralph Allen
Untitled

Ralph Allen
1968

Go to Homage to the Legendary and Modern Woman - Krystyna Sadowska
Homage to the Legendary and Modern Woman
(detail)
Krystyna Sadowska
1967

Go to Indian Legends - Aba Bayefsky
Indian Legends
(detail)
Aba Bayefsky
1968

Go to Ontario - York Wilson
Ontario
(detail)
York Wilson
1968

Go to Untitled - Franklin Arbuckle
Untitled
(detail)
Franklin Arbuckle
1968

Go to Pre-Cambrian Landscape - Donald Mackay Houstoun
Pre-Cambrian Landscape
(detail)
Donald Mackay Houstoun
1968

Go to Blizzard/Thaw - Daisy Bailey
Blizzard/Thaw

Daisy Bailey
1966-68

Go to Untitled - David Chavel
Untitled

David Chavel
1966-68

Go to Untitled - Herbert J. Ariss
Untitled
(detail)
Herbert J. Ariss
1966-68

Go to Untitled - Gerald E. Tooke
Untitled
(detail)
Gerald E. Tooke
1966-68

Go to Hunter With Seal - Paulosie Kanayook
Hunter With Seal

Paulosie Kanayook
1968

Go to The Three Graces - Gerald Gladstone
The Three Graces

Gerald Gladstone
1971

Link to see location maps for the artwork
Locations
- Click this
link to see location
maps for the artworks.

 


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