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The Group of Seven, the Toronto church and a problematic leak

A Toronto church needed $1M to protect some very valuable art, and it was a financial need that was hard for the collection plate to cover.

Leak at St. Anne's Anglican Church threatened valuable artwork, but required pricey repairs

Leak threatens art at St. Anne's

24 years ago
Duration 2:26
In 1998, a Toronto church needed $1 million to prevent a leak from damaging artwork that members of the Group of Seven had contributed to.

A $1-million ask was a lot for the collection plate to deal with.

But that's the kind of money a Toronto church needed to fix a leaky roof that was, in turn, threatening precious religious artwork on its ceiling that members of the Group of Seven had contributed to.

"In this Anglican church, not only their prayers, but their gaze is drawn Heaven-ward," the CBC's Robin Smythe reported on The National, as viewers at home learned about the situation at St. Anne's Anglican Church in May of 1998.

"St. Anne's ceiling is blessed with beauty, [with] murals painted in the 1920s by members of Canada's Group of Seven, including J.E.H. MacDonald, Frederick Varley and Franklin Carmichael."

'It must be saved'

In 1998, Toronto's St. Anne's Anglican Church was facing a $1-million repair bill to fix a leak that threatened the precious artwork on its ceiling. (The National/CBC Archives)

The church's congregation, however, had dwindled over the decades and had around 200 parishioners attending by the late 1990s. That meant it had limited resources to draw upon to raise the money needed for the repairs.

As such, St. Anne's was making an appeal for help covering the significant costs of preserving artwork that meant so much to the churchgoers and also to those who worshipped art.

"Everybody who comes here, whether they're here for the religious aspect or whether they're here to look at the art, everybody always agrees: 'Oh, well it must be saved,'" said Rev. Peter Orme.

'Of importance to us all'

A leaky roof at Toronto's St. Anne's Anglican Church needed a $1 million repair. Worse still, the leak threatened art on the ceiling that members of Canada's Group of Seven had contributed to. (The National/CBC Archives)

Various levels of government had recognized the building's historic status, but at the time that The National's report aired, none of those governments had offered assistance in keeping it safe from the elements.

Dennis Reid of the Art Gallery of Ontario believed the federal government needed to step in.

"The works in the church are works by artists who are of national significance," Reid told The National.

"Among them, painters who, in very specific ways, defined how we see ourselves as Canadians. So, that's of importance to us all."

More funds needed

St. Anne's Anglican Church had only a small congregation by 1998 and collection plate donations would not be nearly enough to help repair the leak that threatened the church's valuable ceiling artwork. (The National/CBC Archives)

The parishioners were trying to do what they could to raise funds to protect the art. But other reports suggested they might need more money than first anticipated.

Reporting in the Globe and Mail that same summer pegged the cost of the needed repairs at $2.25 million, though that higher figure included money to repair the church's brick exterior.

In February of 1999, the newspaper reported that Parks Canada had provided $400,000 to help with the roof repair at St. Anne's.

'Beautiful things' that are Canadian

Fundraiser for St. Anne's Anglican Church

22 years ago
Duration 0:53
In February 2000, Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson visited St. Anne's Anglican Church in Toronto ahead of a fundraiser to help pay for needed repairs there.

A year after that, CBC Toronto reported that a fundraiser was being held to help raise further funds for all needed repairs, which at that point also included foundation work and the installation of a fire-alarm system.

Adrienne Clarkson, the former CBC host and by then Canada's governor general, said the church was more than just a place where people went to worship.

"I think it's important that Canadians understand that we have this in our background, that we have this in our heritage," Clarkson said, during a visit to St. Anne's 10 days before the fundraiser was due to take place.

"That the arts and painting and music and architecture are all part of what we do, that we didn't suddenly spring up into office buildings ... that we also knew and know how to create beautiful things."

Today, the art remains a prominent feature of St. Anne's, with its Group of Seven provenance proudly highlighted on the church website.

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