Some of Canada’s most valuable art treasures hide in plain sight in the Northwest Territories.
They’re nine oil-paintings by legendary Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson, which have been hanging for more than a decade in the Northwest Territories legislative assembly in Yellowknife.
The pieces – featuring scenes from around Great Bear and Great Slave Lakes – were done when Jackson toured the territory in the1940s and ’50s.
The pictures are no secret to Northerners. Jackson gave them to the territorial government back when it was based in Ottawa. When the capital moved to Yellowknife, the paintings came North.
But southern experts, including Jackson specialist Tom Smart of Toronto’s McMichael Canadian Art Collection, were unaware of the paintings’ existence until a few years ago. “It was an amazing find, that there should be this group of works,” Smart says. “I think they just weren’t on the radar screen of the people in the south.”
The most valuable, Labine Point, Eldorado Mine, is an oil-on-canvas piece depicting the Port Radium mine on Great Bear Lake. It’s been appraised at $100,000. The other paintings are worth from $25,000 to $80,000.
Whatever the paintings’ value, they’re priceless to the NWT. The paintings are viewable as part of the assembly’s public tours, held thrice daily in the summer and once per day in winter.