CBC Digital Archives

A.Y. Jackson still painting at 73

Around 1912 a loosely knit group of artists began to paint Canada as they saw it. Sketch boxes in tow, they journeyed all over the country to paint the wilderness with bold colours and a broad, decorative style. Despite the death of mentor Tom Thomson in 1917, these painters banded together as the Group of Seven in 1920 to forge a new Canadian expression. Their vision shaped how Canadians saw their own country and left a legacy that continues to provoke debate and discussion. Thanks to the estates of Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Frederick Varley, Arthur Lismer and A.J. Casson for their assistance in this archival project.

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A.Y. "Alex" Jackson got into the habit of sketching scenes on small birch panels during his wilderness trips with the Group of Seven. Painting on canvases just wasn't practical. The habit has stuck, and CBC's Newsmagazine catches up with Jackson sketching an old mill in his new home town of Manotick, Ont. Rheumatism has altered the way he grips a paintbrush, but the mill is just one of about 70 sketches Jackson will produce this year.
• Alexander Young Jackson grew up in Montreal and studied at the Académie Julian in Paris. Upon his return, he worked as a commercial artist while continuing to sketch and paint.
• After an exhibition in 1913 that sold none of his paintings, Jackson considered moving to the United States. He reconsidered when another future Group member, Lawren Harris, bought his painting The Edge of the Maple Wood and invited him to Toronto to meet other like-minded artists.

• At Harris's urging, Jackson took a space in the Studio Building. He shared it with fellow painter Tom Thomson over the winter of 1913-14.
• In 1915, Jackson joined the army to fight in the First World War. Two years later, Lord Beaverbrook - a former Canadian politician - recruited him as an official war painter. Jackson painted scenes such as gas attacks, troop movements and bombed-out villages. Some of those paintings are now in the Canadian War Museum.

• In 1955, each new canvas of Jackson's fetched between $200 and $300. Forty-five years later, a buyer paid $60,000 for a 1955 Jackson work based on a series of sketches made in Alberta. In 2002, Jackson's A Street in Quebec earned $145,000 at auction.

• Jackson moved to Manotick in 1955 in order to be closer to his niece, Naomi Jackson Groves. He stopped painting at age 85 after a stroke. In 1968, Robert and Signe McMichael invited him to live on their property adjacent to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, north of Toronto. He died there in 1974 and is buried in a small cemetery on the grounds of the museum.

• During the Canadian flag debate in 1964, Jackson submitted a proposal for a new design. It featured three red maple leaves on a single stem on a white background. At the top and bottom were two wavy blue horizontal bars. Jackson explained that the blue bars represented Canada's rivers, which had been the key to opening up the country.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Newsmagazine
Broadcast Date: July 10, 1955
Guest: A.Y. Jackson
Duration: 12:25

Last updated: August 21, 2013

Page consulted on June 10, 2014

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