On today’s date in 1845, Paul Kane departed present-day Toronto, Ont., for a painting expedition to the west, where he sketched in the areas near Lake Huron and Lake Michigan throughout the following summer.
Kane came to Canada from County Cork, Ireland, where he was born in 1810. His days as a boy in York — the tiny pioneer settlement of a few thousand people that eventually became Toronto — put him in frequent contact with the Mississaugas, a First Nations tribe who frequented the shores of Lake Ontario. While working at a furniture factory as a sign and furniture painter, he also painted several portraits of local personalities, including the sheriff and his employer’s wife.
He then travelled across the U.S. and into Europe, where he trained himself and refined his art by copying European masters.
BACK TO CANADA
After studying abroad for a few years, Kane returned to Canada to put his new skills to good use.
On two separate voyages through the Canadian northwest, he captured scenes that illustrated the contemporary way of life. The first trip brought him to Sault Ste. Marie and back; however, with the support of the Hudson’s Bay Company for his second trip, he set out on a much longer voyage from Toronto – across the Rocky Mountains – to Fort Vancouver and Fort Victoria in what Canadians called Oregon Country.
When Kane finally returned to Toronto, he produced more than 100 oil paintings from the sketches he made in his travels across the country. Kane’s work – in particular, his field sketches – remain a valuable ethnological resource. His oil paintings, however, are considered a part of Canadian heritage, as he would often embellish his sketches when reproducing them on canvas, forgoing accuracy for more dramatic scenes.
His work provides a visual record of early life among Canada’s First Nations. Widely recognized for these illuminating paintings, he also provided great insight into the same subject with his descriptive journal, Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America from Canada to Vancouver’s Island and Oregon through the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Territory and Back Again.
Kane died on Feb. 20, 1871, and was buried in Toronto’s St. James’s Cemetery, where a stone was erected to commemorate his legacy.
1971 KANE STAMP
In August 1971 – a century after Kane died – Canada’s Post Office Department (now Canada Post) featured the Irish-born Canadian painter on a seven-cent stamp (Scott #553) designed by William Rueter.
The stamp was based on Kane’s painting, Indian Encampment on Lake Huron, from 1845. Printed by the British American Bank Note Company, the stamp measures 32 millimetres by 40 millimetres (horizontal).