Former ambassador's auction offers unique glimpse at Canada's past

Derek Burney, a former ambassador to the U.S. who served as Brian Mulroney's chief of staff, is auctioning off part of his family's massive collection of Canadian historical pieces in Ottawa this Saturday.

Derek Burney is auctioning off more than 300 family items in Ottawa

This pine statue of Napoleon from Nova Scotia, valued at up to $75,000, is part of the Burney family collection up for auction at Tudor Hall in Ottawa on Oct. 5, 2019. Behind Napoleon is a model of the Bluenose. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

A former ambassador to the U.S. who served as Brian Mulroney's chief of staff is auctioning off part of his family's massive collection of Canadian historical pieces in Ottawa this Saturday.

The items being sold by Derek Burney cover a broad swath of Canadian history and geography, from pre-conquest New France to the decades following Confederation.

"It's a real cross-section of fantastic quality rare items, museum-quality pieces that the public — generally speaking — doesn't get the opportunity to own or be the custodian of," said Robin Pridham, owner of Pridham's Auction House.

A pine sculpture of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, carved by Joseph Pelletier in Saint-Lin, Que., the birthplace of Canada's seventh prime minister. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Pridham said there are also items of interest for enthusiasts of Ottawa's history.

"There's some political items, carvings, there's voyageur-type items here, there's Native Canadian-type items that come from the region here."

A rare Mi'kmaq quill-decorated birch bark purse from the mid-19th century, valued between $1,500 and $2,500, according to Pridham's Auction House. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Peter Baker, an antiques dealer who's been working with the Burney family for 40 years, said the objects demonstrate human ingenuity and creativity over centuries.

He explained some of the pieces during the preview show Friday afternoon.

This paddle commemorates J.B. Charleson's surveying trip in the Ottawa River Valley in 1890. The blue markings depict the Ottawa River, as well as its lakes and tributaries. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Ottawa River paddle

Baker said this painted paddle, intended for surveyor J.B. Charleson, is an example of folk art — a piece created by artists with no formal training.

"He was surveying the timber tracts in the Ottawa River valley system, and that paddle documents this trip. Both sides of it have all the lakes, rivers and everything identified," Baker said.

"It would've been quite a canoe trip."

A three-tier, 28-arm Quebec chandelier made of wood from the early 19th century, valued between $25,000 and $45,000.

Quebec church chandelier

This chandelier dates to the late 18th or early 19th century, Baker said.

"There probably were 12 of them in the church," Baker said.

"It's a spectacular three-tier chandelier in original paint, with the original arms. It's museum-quality that you rarely, rarely ever see offered for sale on the public market." 

Detail of an 18th-century Louis XV armoire, with original pastel blue paint. It's one of a number of pieces of French-Canadian history that are part of the auction. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Louis XV armoire

Baker described this Louis XV armoire as a rare large piece of French-Canadian carpentry.

It's made without nails, he said, and includes details like  florets and a removable cornice on top.

Saturday's auction gets underway at 10 a.m. at Tudor Hall in south Ottawa.


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