This Week in History


Homer Watson - The Man of Doon

For the week of Monday May 10, 2010

On May 12, 2005, Canada Post announced it would feature Homer Watson's art on two new postage stamps in honour of the 150th anniversary of his birth as well as the 125th anniversaries of the National Gallery of Canada and of the Royal Canadian Academy of Art, of which Watson was a founding member. Watson was a great Canadian artist, whose paintings of pioneer life and rural landscapes of southern Ontario earned him a national and international reputation.

Postage Stamp featuring Watson's "Down in the Laurentides."
© Canada Post Corporation / Library and Archives Canada / C-136189
Watson was born on January 14, 1855, in the village of Doon (now a part of Kitchener), Ontario, to a pioneer family. He was always more interested in painting than becoming a farmer like his father. At an early age, he was encouraged to pursue drawing and painting by his aunt and schoolteacher. He drew his inspiration from the landscape, the shifting moods of nature and pioneer life in Waterloo County.

Largely self-taught, Watson became a successful artist. His career began with the sale of his first major work, “The Pioneer Mill,” in 1880. Canada’s Governor General, the Marquis de Lorne, bought the painting as a gift for Queen Victoria. The Queen was so impressed with Watson’s work that she requested another painting of his, “The Last Day of the Drought.”

"The Pioneer Mill"
© Library and Archives Canada / C-136189

In 1906, he converted his home into a gallery for his artwork. He also became a prominent local figure in Waterloo County, entertaining many guests and giving art lessons to the community. In 1907, he founded the Canadian Art Club to promote Canadian art because he felt that Canadians were not paying enough attention to their own artists.

In 1913, his love for both community and nature inspired him to save a forest known as Cressman Woods near his home in Doon that was in danger of being destroyed. Able to raise enough money to have it preserved, the forest was renamed Homer Watson Park in 1943, and, thanks to his efforts, is still standing today.

As shown by his many paintings, Homer felt a strong spiritual connection to his birthplace. He considered permanently moving to England to advance his career, but could not imagine permanently leaving Doon. All his life Watson had many well-known patrons, such as Oscar Wilde and Prime Minister Mackenzie King. Though not a pioneer in the sense that his father was, Watson would go on to become a pioneer in the realm of Canadian art.

For his contributions to Canada’s art scene, Homer Ransford Watson was designated a person of national historic significance in 1939. His house, the Homer Watson House and Gallery / Doon School of Fine Arts, is a national historic site.

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