Day 82 – Today was another great day on this trip. I mentioned in the blog yesterday that I had a plan to try and see a private art collection near New Glasgow, and it turned out to be a totally breathtaking experience. I still can’t quite believe the works I saw there.
- Today’s Distance (miles/km): / 90
- Time in saddle: 4h
- Max/min temp (°c): 33°/10°
- Climb/descend (feet) : 2011 / 2058
- Calories used:
- Cafe (& Gallery!) time: 5h 15
The breakfast menu at Sharon’s Place yesterday had definitely caught my eye, so by 7am I was happily tucking in to plate of cinnamon french toast, eggs and coffee and listening to the locals chatting quietly as the sun rose over Pictou harbour.
After breakfast I left town and rejoined the Trans-Canadian Highway to cross over to New Glasgow, but then got off the highway straight away to cycle along a beautiful, quiet, riverside road. After a few minutes I saw this sign, and knew I’d found the place I’ve looked forward to visiting for at least two years:
As you see, The Crombie House is only open on Wednesdays, but I had noticed that you could view the collection “by appointment”, so I’d taken the plunge and booked myself a visit for 10am today. When I checked my watch I realised that I was an hour early, so cycled in to have little peek around:
I suddenly had that feeling that I was being watched, and looked round to find a young deer looking warily at me over its shoulder. We stared at each other for some time, and once again I wished that I had a decent zoom lens, but this will have to do:
As I leant on my bike I heard a voice call out, so wheeled myself back to the front door, to meet Pam, the curator of the collection. This house is owned by the Sobey family, of supermarket fame, and houses Frank H Sobey’s private collection of Canadian art. And what a collection. The centrepiece is their Group of Seven room, but they have many works by Kreighoff and several other important Canadians.
Back in early 2015 I was trying to find a couple of images of Group of Seven paintings painted on the route I was planning to cycle (the Lake Superior paintings I mentioned all that time ago in the blog), and the name “Crombie House” cropped up on a google search. A few clicks later I was trying to work out why on earth there appeared to be a significant collection of Canadian art in a very quiet corner of Nova Scotia, bang on my route through the Province. I sort of filed it under “might be interesting”, put a note in my calendar, and left it at that. I found that whenever I mentioned the Sobey collection people looked surprised, or even dubious, so I began to think that it might an internet crossed wire. The thrill of finding it to be everything it claimed to be was worth all the effort of getting here, and one of the greatest joys of this journey. It reminded me a little of a museum in Holland., the Kroller-Muller. Everyone goes to the amazing Van Gough museum in Amsterdam, but hidden in the woods 100km away, east of Utrecht, is the most staggering collection of his paintings that you could ever wish to see, When I last visited, there were no cars permitted in the woods, so you either walked or borrowed a bike and got pedalling. This is Canada’s Kroller-Muller. Toronto has the wonderful AGO Group of Seven colllection, but a mere 1,187km east (16 hours in a car) is the Crombie House.
It turned out that Pam didn’t mind in the slightest starting our tour early, and straight away offered me a cup of (excellent) coffee and some delicious snacks (more on these later) which she disappeared to sort out whilst I took a look around the paintings displayed all around me. I really don’t think I can fully do justice to them in a normal blog post, so I’ve decided to do an extra posting of just the art for those who are interested. I’ll get that online as soon as I can.
This marble-floored wing was added a few years ago to give the paintings the setting they deserve, and if you look closely you can see the outline of the old wall marked in a perfect mosaic of marble on the floor.
Whilst we sat in considerable comfort (I felt a little out of place in my lycra, but Pam put me completely at my ease. I had ditched my cycling shoes at the door so slid about happily on the marble floors) we talked a little about the background of the gallery. The Sobey family have a always had a huge commitment to Canadian art, and sponsor an annual award for young Canadian artists, worth $50,000 for the winner. (This is where we started the tour)
Pam guided me through the main Group of seven collection, with many interesting details about the artists and the context of each work. My journey has passed through many of the locations made famous through their art, and I found it almost surreal to be thinking to myself “oh yes, I went there”. She pointed out one work in particular, which was sited next to their most iconic canvas, ‘Moonlight’ by Tom Thompson:
The painting she wanted to mention in particular is called ‘Winter’, by Tom Thompson. Pam told me that it’s the least known masterpiece by any of the Group of Seven. It’s been in private hands since it was painted, and very few of those, and when she tried to research it online she found that there was not one image of it available on the internet. So, dear readers, just for you, here is the one and only online image of a beautiful painting by Tom Thompson of houses in the snow beside a near-frozen river, somewhere in Ontario I believe. I checked that the Sobey family wouldn’t mind if I posted this in the blog, and Pam assured me that they’d be delighted:
One other painting I’d like to include here is CrossingCanada2017-related. This is the view I’ve had countless times on this journey, but with updated monster-machinery!:
Before heading upstairs I met Harvey, Pam’s other half, with whom she runs this whole place. Harvey is from Ireland and spent many years running the Wexford Theatre Royal next door to the famous National Opera House. They are such great people, and have a gift for making you feel like a welcome guest. We talked about music and cycling and so on, and could have spent a happy hour or two but there was more of the house to see!
Pam also showed me a very special item in their possession – a high-fidelity stereo reproduction system (! – aka record player) called the Clairtone Project G2. It is as iconic a design as the Bang & Olufson systems were in Europe, and Pam put a record of Mahalia Jackson singing I Believe, which I didn’t know. This is only the second model ever produced, made specifically for Frank Sobey, with its extraordinary globe-shaped speakers at either end of the unit:
After we’d finished the tour, we got some pictures together in front of one of the collection. Pam pointed out that we’d finished at the same time as the 10am tour normally does, but starting an hour earlier. What a service!:
..and as if just being here wasn’t enough, Pam gave me a bag full of strawberries and the delicious snacks that she’d prepared for our coffee earlier, to take on the road with me. (I stopped whenever I possibly could for the next 80km or so, just to enjoy this gift):
Dear Canadian friends – this house is a national treasure, it’s free, and it deserves to be much better known. Tell your friends, or better still, go there yourselves. Pam & Harvey are great hosts, obviously enjoy running the house (Harvey is also the gardener and they are immaculate) and Pam has a huge knowledge of what she’s showing you. The Sobey family want you to come and see these works!
As I cycled down to New Glasgow, the first shop I passed was, appropriately enough, a Sobeys:
And a sign spotted near Antigonish (pronounced anti-g’Nish, I can now tell you, after numerous corrections from locals):
I just need to find a place called “Youcannot Causeway” and this will become funny.
And finally, remember that July evening out on Black Sturgeon Lake, when a paddle wasn’t to be had for love, money, or uke? Well they leave them lying around on the road in Nova Scotia: