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Important Moments in Canadian Art History

Compiled by Dr. Robert J. Belton

Prehistoryto 1800


Note: Dates before 1497 are approximate.


5000 B.C.
Unknown natives make petroglyphs in what is now the northwest portion of Ontario.

3200 B.C.
A Sto:lo pit house is erected alongside the Fraser River near what is now Mission, B.C.

3000 B.C.
Unknown natives carve a human face into the surface of a rock at Coteau-du-lac in what is now the southwest corner of Québec.

2000 B.C.
A Pre-Dorset Inuit people moves through the Bering Strait into what is now the Northwest Territories, bringing a visual culture of simple projectile points and the like.

500 B.C.
Ancestors of the Northwest Coast Indians begin to develop totem poles. The Marpole Indian culture flourishes in the vicinity of what is now the Fraser River Delta, producing a wide variety of ceremonial craft objects.

100 B.C.
The Sechelt image is made by prehistoric inhabitants of British Columbia (possibly as late as 500 A.D.).

500 A.D.
The Dorset Inuit culture begins to produce a distinct visual culture (although the Tyara maskette from Sugluk Island may have been made as early as 700 B.C.).

900
Ancestors of the Iroquoian people produce decorated pottery, pipes, and other artifacts.

c. 1000
The first European architecture in what later becomes Canada consists of crude constructions in stone, earth and timber at l'Anse-aux-Meadows.

1000-1200
The Thule Inuit culture spreads across most of the Canadian Arctic, producing many decorated utensils influenced by Alaskan cultures.

1556
In Venice, Giovanni Ramusio publishes the earliest illustration of Canada.

1576
John White makes some paintings of the Inuit encountered on Frobisher's expeditions.

1603-35
Champlain makes occasional drawings, some of which are later interpreted as prints for his collected works (published 1922- 36).

1608
Champlain's residence in Québec illustrates how the form of early buildings is determined jointly by environmental conditions and dependency on French vernacular building.

1626
Nova Scotia is granted its first official coat of arms (superseded in 1868 and 1929).

1633
In Nova Scotia, Sir William Alexander, earl of Stirling, is the first to use the beaver as a visual emblem.

1637
Newfoundland's coat of arms is officially granted.

c. 1640
The Iroquois are the first Canadian natives to use wampum belts for messages -- a practice first recorded among the Susquehannock in Pennsylvania in 1620 -- and European glass beads on patterned clothing, instead of the traditional natural materials.

1641
The Ursuline convent in Québec (established in 1639, but without a building until now) may have initiated the exchange of decorative techniques with Indian craftswomen.

1642
The sieur de Maisonneuve's Point-à-Callières fort, Montréal.

1655
The earliest French-Canadian pottery is built in Québec.

1670
The first coins struck for use in Canada are produced in Paris.

1670-71
Frère Luc brings some aspects of French Baroque to Canada.

1671
Intendant Jean Talon commissions sculptures for a ship under construction, initiating a steady stream of visits by French sculptors. The soon-to-be abbé Jean Guyon begins painting, making him probably the first native-born painter. La Mère des Anges, soon to be known as a maker of bas-reliefs for altars, arrives in Québec.

1684-97
Claude Baillif's Notre-Dame in Québec is one of the earliest examples of a provincial Baroque building style.

1685
Tradition has it that Bishop Laval established the first school of arts and crafts at St Joachim. The current consensus insists this is apocryphal.

1686
The first non-native public art, a bust of Louis XIV, appears in Québec.

1688
Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Chapel provides a focal point for Québec's growing commercial quarter, mostly designed by civil engineers Claude Baillif, Chaussegros de Léry, and Levasseur de Léry.

1690
The Kebeca Liberata medal is minted to celebrate Frontenac's defence of Québec, marking the first French-Canadian use of the beaver as a visual emblem. It represents a wild, but industrious Canada at the feet of an allegory of France. Carvers begin what is now the oldest extant sculptural ensemble in Canada, a baldachin originally designed for monsignor Saint-Vallier but now in Neuville, Québec.

1698
Louis Hennepin publishes Nouveau voyage d'un pais plus grand que l'Europe, illustrating it with the first image of Niagara Falls. As a representation, it is considerably more trustworthy than any of the preceding illustrated books (Ramusio [1556], Lescarbot [1609], Cornut [1635-62], Du Creux [1660], Nicolas [1685]).

1700
Pierre Le Ber assists in founding an alms-house in Montréal, possibly offering early art instruction.

1713
Jean-Francois de Verville builds the huge fortress of Louisbourg along lines suggested by Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban's French fortifications.

1720s
Producing decorated drums and pipes of peace and war, the Abenaki Indians along the lower St. Lawrence begin to practice the Calumet Dance ritual (begun around 1660 by the Pawnee in what is now the American midwest).

1732-7
Noël Levasseur's altarpiece in Québec's Ursuline Chapel intitiates a lengthy period of family success in sculpture.

1740
The Naskapi Indians in northern Labrador begin to produce painted skins with ceremonial abstractions.

1743
The James Bay Cree adopt a European fashion by slicing their parkas vertically up the front.

1751
Jean Ferment produces the first locally-manufactured silver liturgical implements for an Acadian church.

1757
Posted to the garrison in Halifax, Thomas Davies is one of the earliest topographic artists.

1777
Although there had been a small printing press in Halifax since 1751, the first Canadian print actually produced for consumption as an image is Anthon Henrich's vista of Halifax, published in the Nova Scotia Calendar.

1779
The first print made without plans for publication in contemporary newspapers is James Peachey's view of Montmorency Falls.

1780s
European textiles are incorporated into Algonkin and Huron sashes produced by the traditional finger-weaving technique, itself practiced well before the arrival of the French settlers. By now, eastern native peoples have adopted European architectural forms.

1781
Upon his return from three years of study in France, François Baillargé sets up a studio in Québec, initiating a second great family dynasty of French-Canadian carvers.

1784
Although Iroquoians have been in Canada since at least 1676, when they were in Caughnawaga, they now begin to settle in the Six Nations Lands set aside for them along the Grand River. There they continue to produce wampum belts and they begin to produce their famous False Faces.

1787
Louis-Chrétien de Herr offers the earliest lessons in landscape painting in Montréal. The Halifax Chess, Pencil and Brush Club, the first Canadian organization to direct at least some of its energies to visual arts, is formed, operating until around 1817. Laurent Amiot, returning from studies in Paris, introduces neoclassical elements to Québec silversmithy. The first Ontario silver is produced by Jordan Post, a Loyalist in York.

1790s
American and British settlers begin to make distinctive Canadian quilts.

1792
The publishers of the Quebec Magazine, Samuel and John Neilson, make the first wholehearted effort to establish an intaglio press in Canada.

1794
English Canada's earliest pottery is established. William Berczy settles near Markham, Ontario.

1798
In Montréal, Jeanne-Charlotte Allamand is one of the first women on record as a teacher of art, among other things.

Last reviewed shim12/19/2012 11:17:53 PM