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Historic Toronto: Paul Kane's House on Wellesley Avenue
Doug Taylor | July 3, 2018

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From Issue No. 270 | July 20, 2018

I first learned about the Irish/Canadian artist Paul Kane in the 1950s, in the Native People’s Gallery in the basement of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Compared to the galleries in the ROM today, it was a modest display, but as a young man it created a lasting impression on me. Today, I can still picture the large canoe that occupied a prominent part of the exhibit, as well as the detailed dioramas and numerous paintings of Paul Kane. Because of this experience, I was keenly interested when I read years later that the home of Paul Kane had been identified on Wellesley Street East, a short distance east of the Wellesley Subway Station, on the Yonge Line.

Kane was born in Mallow County, Cork, in Ireland in 1810, and arrived in Canada with his family in 1820 at age nine. The Kane family settled in the small colonial capital of York in Upper Canada (Ontario). As a young man, he was employed in Toronto at the Wilson S. Congers factory, painting decorative detailing on furniture. In 1834 he relocated to Cobourg and worked in the same trade at the F. S. Clench’s furniture factory. While in Cobourg, he began painting portraits and after he departed the town in 1836, he earned a modest living as a travelling portrait painter.

In 1841, the same year that Upper Canada became Canada West (now Ontario), his ambitions pushed him toward a life-altering decision—to depart for Europe to study art. He remained overseas for almost four years, where he meticulously copied the old masters in Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice and London. His goal was to acquire the skills to allow him to become a professional painter. While in London, he saw the "Wild West Show, " which included paintings, lectures, and theatrical performances, all staged by the 32-year old artist George Catlin. The show was based on Catlin’s journey in the American west in the 1830s, where he had captured images of 48 different tribes of the American Great Plains.

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