Barrie Historical Association seeks more than $4,000 from city to complete job
Gary Owen inspects a portrait of Sir James Robert Gowan at his downtown studio in Barrie earlier this year. The painting, by Benoni Erwin, will receive a full restoration, but the Barrie Historical Association (BHA) needs a little more than $4,000 to complete the job, and has asked city council to pitch in to help remember Simcoe County's first judge. MARK WANZEL FILE PHOTO
The restoration of Sir James Gowan's portrait requires an infusion of cold, hard cash.
The Barrie Historical Association (BHA) needs a little more than $4,000 to complete the job, and has asked city council to pitch in to help remember Simcoe County's first judge.
“The portrait is very much a part of the heritage of Barrie, for Gowan presided over the local judicial system for 40 years,” says BHA president Mark Fisher in a letter to council. “The restored portrait is a masterpiece that was formerly in very poor condition, through years of neglect, and was in danger of being lost to posterity.”
Gowan's portrait was removed from Barrie Courthouse in February and restoring the oil painting, measuring four feet by five feet, has been costly.
The BHA initially raised $14,391 – from Simcoe County council ($8,591), Simcoe County Law Association ($2,300), its own coffers ($1,400), the Strathy family ($1,250), Simcoe County Historical Association ($600) and individual donations ($250).
That funding was deemed sufficient to begin the restoration, but more costs have come.
For example, it cost $827 just to remove the painting from the Barrie Courthouse wall. There will be a similar charge to reinstall it.
It was also decided that the majority of the frame should be gilded, at a cost of $2,940.
The restoration of the painting's surface and frame is labour-intensive, and will take an additional 52 hours to complete.
The bottom line, says Fisher, is the BHA is looking at a cost overrun of $5,480.
Although the association has been successful in raising an additional $1,425 – by approaching the original contributors again – but it's still short $4,055.
“We would be remiss in not asking city council if they wish to make a contribution toward our outstanding balance,” Fisher says.
The BHA has asked council before.
In late 2011, the association requested council participate in the Gowan portrait restoration funding. Council took no action on the request.
Gowan was appointed Simcoe County's first judge in 1843 at just 27 years old, and was later prominent on the provincial and national stage.
His oil painting was commissioned in 1868 by members of the Simcoe County Bar in commemoration of Gowan's 25th anniversary as judge, a position he held until 1883.
In 1885, Gowan was appointed to the Senate by John A. Macdonald and continued to make contributions in the Red Chamber until he retired at age 92 in 1907.
Gowan was a friend, confidant and advisor to many prominent politicians and played a major part in the establishment of the judicial system of early Ontario and Canada.
Fisher has said Gowan was a key figure in the establishment of the crown prosecutor system of 1857, the consolidation of the statue law of Ontario in 1859 and 1877 and the codification of the criminal law in 1892. He was also one of three judges appointed to investigate the notorious Canadian Pacific Railway scandal that brought down Macdonald's government in 1873 – although Macdonald would later be re-elected as Canadian prime minister.
Gowan was also involved in the 1855 creation of the Upper Canada Law Journal that eventually became the Canadian Bar Review, the pre-eminent legal periodical of Canada.
During Gowan's time in the Senate during the 1890s, he also played a big part in establishing rules for matrimonial divorce. Before that, divorce could only be granted through a complicated and costly Act of Parliament, which was out of reach of most average Canadians.
Sir James Gowan was awarded a knighthood in 1905 and died in 1909, at age 94. Kempenfelt Park was donated to Barrie on his death.
Gowan's massive Ardraven estate — originally located between Duckworth Street and St. Vincent Street Park, and Blake Street and Kempenfelt Drive, and where the painting hung for many years — was built over beginning in the 1950s.
After the painting was moved from Ardraven, it was placed on permanent loan to the County of Simcoe and was later hung in the old Barrie Courthouse. It was moved to the current Barrie Courthouse in 1977, where it remained until early 2014.
It's being restored to its original grandeur by Gary Owen, of Gary Owen Framing, Fine Art and Restoration Services.
Before Gowan's portrait is returned to Barrie Courthouse, the BHA is planning a grand unveiling in the Rotunda at Barrie City Hall. All of the contributors would attend, including leading members of the local judiciary and legal community.
— With files by Ian McInroy