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Editorial: Canadian Art and the Great War

Canadian painting in the 19th century tended towards the pastoral. It depicted idyllic scenes of rural life and represented the country as a wondrous Eden. Canadian painter Homer Watson, under the influence of such American masters as Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt, created images that are serene and suffused with golden light. In On the Mohawk River (1878), for instance, a lazy river ambles between tall, overhanging trees; in the background is a light-struck mountain. In Watson’s world, nature is peaceful, unthreatening and perhaps even sacred.

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Molly Lamb Bobak

Molly Joan Bobak, née Lamb, CM, ONB, RCA, artist, teacher (born 25 February 1920 in Vancouver, BC; died 1 March 2014 in Fredericton, NB). Molly Lamb Bobak joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in 1942. In 1945, she became the first woman to be named an official Canadian war artist. She led workshops across Canada, gave live art lessons on television and served on many boards and arts councils. She was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and received honorary degrees from the University of New Brunswick, Mount Allison University and St. Thomas University. She was appointed to the  Order of Canada in 1995 and to the Order of New Brunswick in 2002.  

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Mary Riter Hamilton

Mary Matilda Hamilton (née Riter), artist (born 7 September c. 1867 in Teeswater, ON; died 5 April 1954 in Coquitlam, BC). Mary Riter Hamilton was a painter who exhibited her works in Europe and across Canada. Shortly after the fighting stopped, Hamilton travelled to Europe to paint First World War battlefield landscapes before they were cleared (see War Artists). She produced over 350 works in three years, which are a document of the destruction and devastation caused by the war.

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Representing the Home Front: The Women of the Canadian War Memorials Fund

While they may not have had access to the battlefields, a number of Canadian women artists made their mark on the visual culture of the First World War by representing the home front. First among these were the women affiliated with the Canadian War Memorials Fund, Canada’s first official war art program. Founded in 1916, the stated goal of the Fund was to provide “suitable Memorials in the form of Tablets, Oil-Paintings, etc. […], to the Canadian Heroes and Heroines in the War.” Expatriates Florence Carlyle and Caroline Armington participated in the program while overseas. Artists Henrietta Mabel May, Dorothy StevensFrances Loringand Florence Wyle were commissioned by the Fund to visually document the war effort in Canada.

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Documenting the First World War

The First World War forever changed Canada. Some 630,000 Canadians enlisted from a nation of not yet eight million. More than 66,000 were killed. As the casualties mounted on the Western Front, an expatriate Canadian, Sir Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), organized a program to document Canada’s war effort through art, photography and film. This collection of war art, made both in an official capacity and by soldiers themselves, was another method of forging a legacy of Canada’s war effort.

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Derek Holman

Derek Holman, CM, composer, organist, choir conductor, professor (born 16 May 1931 in Illogan, England; died 20 May 2019 in Ottawa, ON). Derek Holman worked at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Croydon Parish Church and the Royal School of Church Music in the United Kingdom before moving to Canada in 1965. He was organist-choirmaster at Toronto’s Grace Church on-the-Hill, choirmaster at Bishop Strachan School and a professor at the University of Toronto. He was perhaps best known for his collaborations with Robertson Davies, including on the children’s opera Doctor Canon’s Cure (1982). Holman was an associate of the Canadian Music Centre and a member of the Canadian League of Composers. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Church Music in 1972 and a Member of the Order of Canada in 2002.

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Tom Thomson

Thomas John Thomson, painter (born 5 August 1877 in Claremont, ON; died 8 July 1917 in Algonquin Provincial Park, ON). Tom Thomson was the most influential and enduringly popular Canadian artist of the early 20th century. An intense, wry and gentle artist with a canny sensibility, he was an early inspiration for what became the Group of Seven. He was one of the first painters to give acute visual form to the Canadian landscape. His works portray the natural world in a way that is poetic but still informed by direct experience. Many of his paintings, such as The West Wind (1916–17) and The Jack Pine (1916–17), have become icons of Canadian culture. He produced about 50 canvases and more than 400 sketches in his short professional career. His legend only grew after his untimely death at the age of 39.

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David Zafer

David Anthony Zafer, teacher, violinist, conductor (born 2 April 1934 in London, England; died 20 April 2019 in Toronto, ON); naturalized Canadian 1973.

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Bobby Curtola

Robert Allen Curtola, CM, singer, songwriter (born 17 April 1943 in Port Arthur, ON; died 4 June 2016 in EdmontonAB). Bobby Curtola emerged as a teen idol and dominated the Canadian pop chart in the 1960s. His string of hit singles, including “Fortune Teller” (1962), dominated the Canadian singles chart from 1960 to 1967 and sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. Curtola was one of the first Canadians to receive a multi-million-dollar contract to perform in Las Vegas. He also helped raise millions of dollars for charities as a host of various telethons. He was a Member of the Order of Canada, the RPM Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2019.

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Canadian War Art Programs

Since the First World War, there have been four major initiatives to allow Canadian artists to document Canadian Armed Forcesat war. Canada’s first official war art program, the Canadian War Memorials Fund (1916–19), was one of the first government-sponsored programs of its kind. It was followed by the Canadian War Art Program (1943–46) during the Second World War. The Canadian Armed Forces Civilian Artists Program (1968–95) and the Canadian Forces Artists Program (2001–present) were established to send civilian artists to combat and peacekeepingzones. Notable Canadian war artists have included A.Y. Jackson, F.H. Varley, Lawren Harris, Alex Colville and Molly Lamb Bobak.

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Chilliwack (band)

The Vancouver rock band Chilliwack produced some of the most enduring Canadian rock songs of the 1970s and early 1980s, including “Lonesome Mary,” “Fly at Night,” and “My Girl (Gone Gone Gone).” Their catchy, easygoing hooks and bright, melodic style were distinguished by the soaring falsetto and tasteful guitar playing of lead singer and principal songwriter Bill Henderson. In 18 years (1970–88), Chilliwack released 11 albums, four of which were certified platinum in Canada. They also had 19 Canadian singles. The band moved in an increasingly commercial direction through varying styles — from psychedelic, progressive and country rock to adult contemporary and pop rock. They endured multiple changes in labels and band members before achieving success in the United States. The band was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2019.

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Jeffrey Spalding

Jeffrey John Spalding, CM, artist, teacher, curator, gallery director (born 5 November 1951 in Edinburgh, Scotland; died 14 October 2019 en route to Toronto, ON). Throughout the greater part of the 1970s, Spalding produced abstract works, primarily paintings, generated through predetermined, systematic processes. His early commitment to procedural artmaking methods emerged during his senior high school years 1968 and 1969. It was refined during his initial studies at the University of Guelph (1969–72), where, associated with Eric Cameron, Spalding produced a series of abstract, hard-edge, geometric screenprints and paintings. He used procedures elaborated from elementary colour theory and from alphabetical and numerical systems.

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Katherine Govier

Katherine Mary Govier, CM, writer, editor, administrator, teacher (born 4 July 1948 in Edmonton, AB). Katherine Govier has published 10 novels and three short-story collections, as well as two acclaimed collections of travel writing. A Member of the Order of Canada, she has received the Toronto Book Award and the Marian Engel Award. She has served on the boards of the Toronto Arts Council, the Canadian Council for Civil Liberties and the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing. She has also taught at Sheridan College, Ryerson University and York University.

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Vladimir Orloff

Vladimir (Vadim) Orloff (Orlov), cellist, teacher (born 26 May 1928 in Odessa; died 1 April 2019); naturalized Canadian 1977; first prize (Bucharest Cons) 1947.

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Dan Aykroyd

Daniel Edward Aykroyd, CM, OOnt, comedian, actor, screenwriter, musician, entrepreneur (born 1 July 1952 in Ottawa, ON). Dan Aykroyd is a comedian, writer and actor best known for his four seasons on Saturday Night Live (SNL) and for such hit comedies as The Blues Brothers (1980) and Ghostbusters (1984), both of which he cowrote. He won an Emmy Award for his writing on SNL and received an Oscar nomination for his supporting performance in Driving Miss Daisy (1989). He has also enjoyed considerable success as an entrepreneur, particularly in wine and spirits. He is a Member of the Order of Canada and Order of Ontario and has a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame.

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Documenting the Second World War

When Canada declared war on Germany on 10 September 1939, tens of thousands of Canadians enlisted to serve in the armynavyair force and supporting services. The military scrambled to buy equipment, train recruits and prepare for war. Little thought was given, at first, to documenting the war effort. By 1940, however, the military was recruiting historians, most notably Charles Stacey, to collect records and write accounts of Canadian operations. In the following years, artists, photographers and filmmakers also served with the various branches of the armed forces. Today, their diligent work provides a rich visual and written catalogue of Canada’s history in the Second World War.

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Oscar Peterson

Oscar Emmanuel Peterson, CC, CQ, OOnt, jazz pianist, composer, educator (born 15 August 1925 in Montréal, QC; died 23 December 2007 in Mississauga, ON). Oscar Peterson is one of Canada’s most honoured musicians. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. He was renowned for his remarkable speed and dexterity, meticulous and ornate technique, and dazzling, swinging style. He earned the nicknames “the brown bomber of boogie-woogie” and “master of swing.” A prolific recording artist, he typically released several albums a year from the 1950s until his death. He also appeared on more than 200 albums by other artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, who called him “the man with four hands.” His sensitivity in these supporting roles, as well as his acclaimed compositions such as Canadiana Suite and “Hymn to Freedom,” was overshadowed by his stunning virtuosity as a soloist. Also a noted jazz educator and advocate for racial equality, Peterson won a Juno Award and eight Grammy Awards, including one for lifetime achievement. The first recipient of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement, he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the International Jazz Hall of Fame. He was also made an Officer and then Companion of the Order of Canada, and an Officer in the Order of Arts and Letters in France, among many other honours.

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Ed Bickert

Edward Isaac Bickert, CM, jazz guitarist (born 29 November 1932 in Hochfeld, MB; died 28 February 2019 in Toronto, ON). Ed Bickert was Canada’s best-known jazz guitarist. He developed a unique, understated style of considerable harmonic sophistication. Rooted in bebop, his intuitive, pianistic approach was characterized by lyrical and rhythmic ease, a deceptively complex simplicity and a generally muted tone. He is noted for his work with Ron Collier, Rob McConnell, Don Thompson and Moe Koffman. Bickert achieved international prominence through his work in the mid-1970s with American saxophonist Paul Desmond. A Member of the Order of Canada, Bickert won a Juno Award and multiple National Jazz Awards. He also played on dozens of Juno- and Grammy-nominated and award-winning recordings.

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Group of Seven

The Group of Seven, also known as the Algonquin School, was a school of landscape painters. It was founded in 1920 as an organization of self-proclaimed modern artists and disbanded in 1933. The group presented the dense, northern boreal forest of the Canadian Shield as a transcendent, spiritual force. Their depictions of Canada’s rugged wind-swept forest panoramas were eventually equated with a romanticized notion of Canadian strength and independence. Their works were noted for their bright colours, tactile paint handling, and simple yet dynamic forms. In addition to Tom ThomsonDavid Milne and Emily Carr, the Group of Seven were the most important Canadian artists of the early 20th century. Their influence is seen in artists as diverse as abstract painter Jack Bush, the Painters Eleven, and Scottish painter Peter Doig.

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Peter Mansbridge

Peter Mansbridge, OC, television news anchor, journalist, columnist (born 6 July 1948 in London, England). A widely respected journalist, Peter Mansbridge was the face of CBC News for nearly 30 years. As the chief correspondent and lead anchor of The National from 1988 to 2017, he won 12 Gemini Awards for broadcast excellence, including the Gordon Sinclair Award for best overall broadcast journalist in 1990 and 1998. His other honours include two Canadian Screen Awards as well as numerous honorary degrees and lifetime achievement awards. He has been inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.