THE FOUNDERS’ STORY: THE EARLY YEARS OF THE McMICHAEL CANADIAN ART COLLECTION
When Robert and Signe McMichael bought ten acres of land in Kleinburg in 1952 their dream of owning a home in the country began to take shape. Soon after they built a log cabin on the property, and began to buy Canadian paintings that depicted the wilderness landscapes they so loved. They were especially drawn to works by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven members.
Unlike many other art collectors, the McMichaels were neither wealthy nor well connected in the art world. They were, however, passionate about art collecting and spent their spare time visiting galleries, and forging relationships with artists, dealers and collectors in order to educate themselves and learn of opportunities to acquire art works.
Their collection grew rapidly and by the early 1960s, the McMichaels realized that they held a national treasure and began to think seriously about creating a public gallery. In 1964 they offered to donate their art collection, home and land to the Province. On November 18, 1965 the historic agreement was signed and in July of the following year, the McMichael Conservation Collection of Art opened.
Over the next two decades, the collection and building expanded considerably. By the time Robert and Signe McMichael retired in 1981 the collection had grown to include more than 2,000 artworks. Today, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection’s permanent holdings comprise 5,500 works, making it one of the largest and most distinctive public galleries in Canada.
Robert McMichael signing the Gift Agreement, with Premier John Robarts
and Signe McMichael, November 18th, 1965
Photo by the Ontario Department of Tourism and Information