Historic portraits shown decades after rescue from Winnipeg dumpster

Never-before-seen historic portraits were unveiled in Edmonton on Wednesday, more than 30 years after they were dug out of a dumpster by a Winnipeg antique shop owner.

Fathers of Confederation

10 years ago
Duration 2:06
Never before seen portraits which were rescued from a dumpster years ago went on display in Edmonton

Never-before-seen portraits of one of Canada's Fathers of Confederation and one of the country's earliest cabinet ministers were unveiled in Edmonton on Wednesday, more than 30 years after some of them were dug out of a dumpster by a Winnipeg antique shop owner.

The 18 portraits languished in the shop until 2003 when an Edmonton man stumbled across them while he was seeking a gift for his wife.

"Just as I was about to leave, I saw that there was a pile of antique picture frames on the floor and some up against the wall," Wayne MacDonald said.

Wayne MacDonald stumbled across the portraits in a Winnipeg antique store in 2003. (CBC)
  "I looked and then my heart almost jumped out of my chest ... Pictures of my own relatives were looking back at me."

Included in the collection were portraits of MacDonald's great-great grandfather James MacDonald, a minister in the cabinet of Sir John A. MacDonald, Charles Tupper, Canada's 6th Prime Minister and a Father of Confederation, and their families.

MacDonald served as a legal adviser to the Fathers of Confederation and was one of Tupper's political allies.

"From that moment on, I knew I had to leave owning these things," MacDonald said. 

The antique dealer Faye Settler then told MacDonald the story behind the images.

In the late 1970s, Settler received a phone call from a Winnipeg landlord who was looking to sell some old picture frames.

Settler bought the frames containing the historic pictures that were in the best condition and left the most damaged ones behind.

But she went back for the rest of the pictures after her mother convinced her of their historical value. Meantime, the landlord had thrown out the remaining frames so Settler and her mother had to rescue them from the dumpster. 

MacDonald brought the portraits back to Edmonton. He fixed the frames himself and hired a local photo restorer to fix the damaged images. 

The portraits were unveiled to the public for the very first time on Wednesday at an exhibit titled Serendipity. 

"These photographs are like a string back to those founding fathers and their principles that I think helped build the kind of country we live in and love today," MacDonald said. 

MacDonald hopes to have the portraits displayed one day at Canada's archives