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'They should be out where people can see them': Hay River artist's work to be preserved

Three paintings by the late Mé​tis artist Don Cardinal created more than 50 years ago in Hay River are being preserved by the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority.

Legacy of Métis painter lives on in Hay River

A Don Cardinal painting of a dog team in the lobby of the old Hay River Hospital. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

Three paintings by the late Mé​tis artist Don Cardinal created more than 50 years ago in Hay River are being preserved by the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority.

An image of a caped nurse walking toward a cluster of log cabins was painted in 1965. Since then, a new hospital has been built, and Cardinal's artwork has sat in an empty building scheduled to be demolished later this year — raising concerns about the future of the paintings.

But there is a plan.

"It's incredibly important to preserve these works of art, these artifacts, because they are such a strong connection to history of healthcare in Hay River," said Erin Griffiths, CEO of the health authority.

The painting of the nurse was removed and stored late last year, Griffiths said.

This painting of a nurse walking toward log cabins was painted by Don Cardinal in 1965. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

The image of a dog team has yet to be removed because it was painted directly on gyprock and will be taken down slowly and carefully in pieces, with the help of the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre.

A third painting has also been removed and stored.

From Alberta to the N.W.T.

Don arrived in Hay River in the early 1960's.

His widow Linda, who has since remarried and lives in Spirit River, Alberta, said "Donny" was born in Edmonton and ran away from residential school at age 15. She said he worked odd construction jobs before landing in Hay River, where the two met and later married. The teen bride had two children with Cardinal, one who still lives in Hay River.

Linda said her late husband was never formally trained as an artist, but thought of the surrounding land and Indigenous communities as his greatest teachers.

Artist Don Cardinal in the in early 1980’s. (Submitted by Fran Hurcomb)

"He knew that eventually all these wonderful people with their wonderful lifestyles, their family groups, their animals and their living off the land were going to change," said Linda, adding she feels an attachment to the paintings, but is happy they will remain in the N.W.T.

"He painted to show people what was within him. They should be out where people can see them," Linda said.

The Hay River health authority hopes to relocate the paintings to the new hospital later this year.

Don Cardinal died from exposure in 1985 while the family was living in Yellowknife, around the same time his work was getting national attention. He is buried in Hay River.

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